The teaching profession’s loss is the reading public’s gain, entirely.

TEACHER MAN

A MEMOIR

McCourt’s latest memoir focuses on what ’Tis (1999) gave short shrift to: his life as a teacher.

The same dark humor, lyric voice and gift for dialogue are apparent here as McCourt tells the tale of a 30-year career teaching English in New York City high schools. He begins with his scary first day facing a roomful of 16-year-olds at McKee Vocational and Technical High School on Staten Island, where his job was to teach five English classes per day to teenagers preparing for futures as plumbers, carpenters and auto mechanics. The year was 1958 and McCourt was 27, just out of New York University. One doesn’t have to be a teacher to relish his account of how reading the students’ obviously self-authored absence excuses inspired him to create a composition assignment they couldn’t resist: write a note of excuse from Adam to God. After eight years of stifling bureaucracy at McKee, McCourt taught briefly at New York Community College in Brooklyn, Fashion Industries High School and Seward Park on the Lower East Side. At 38, he left for a doctoral program at Dublin’s Trinity College, returning two years later without a degree. (That misadventure could fill another book.) After drifting as a substitute teacher for a year, he landed a job at prestigious Stuyvesant High School, where thousands of the city’s top students compete for a few hundred spots. McCourt’s self-deprecating tone diminishes in this section, for now this innovative teacher is given free rein, and it is clear that he’s having a grand time. He recalls an unforgettable vocabulary lesson involving a picnic in the park with ethnic foods brought by students in his creative-writing class, and a recipe-as-poetry class in which students read recipes aloud to the accompaniment of assorted musical instruments.

The teaching profession’s loss is the reading public’s gain, entirely.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-4377-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2005

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US

A MEMOIR

In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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