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THE BOY WITH THE PERPETUAL NERVOUSNESS

A MEMOIR

Raw, compelling, and darkly lyrical.

A British journalist and critic tells the story of a working-class adolescence overshadowed by traumatic experiences with sexual abuse at the hands of a teacher.

The son of northern English Catholic parents, Caveney (Screaming with Joy: The Life of Allen Ginsberg, 1999, etc.) was a “devout child” who didn’t know he was working-class until he was in grammar school and “met people who weren’t.” He worked through his feelings of rejection and made friends with fellow outsiders. Together, they bonded over the music of Patti Smith, the Pretenders, and Joy Division while Caveney found personal solace in the novels of Kafka. As he grew up and became more critical of his world, he began to hate the “parochiality [and]…lack of imagination” that characterized the people around him. His life changed drastically after he met “Rev. Kev,” the rebel English teacher at his Catholic high school who “smoked ‘pot’…[and] was into Stevie Wonder.” Drawn to Rev. Kev’s culture and intelligence, Caveney regularly chatted with his teacher about books, ideas, and his hatred of the “small-souled petty-minded white working class.” Their conversations led to a night out to the theater, which ended with the Rev. Kev’s forcing himself on Caveney before taking him home. Unwilling to speak of that episode and of many similar ones that followed, the author kept the molestation a secret from his parents. The author ultimately broke free of his teacher’s influence; but the helplessness and rage simmering just below the surface impacted almost every subsequent personal relationship he had. Even more devastatingly, it pushed the adult Caveney into “psych wards, rehabs, [and] therapists’ offices” to find answers for the anguish that continued to torment him long after he left home. Despite its dark subject matter, the book is neither hopeless nor despairing thanks in large part to the author’s mordant wit. Caveney seeks to understand pain and find redemption through the very act of surviving.

Raw, compelling, and darkly lyrical.

Pub Date: July 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6596-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Awards & Accolades

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  • Kirkus Reviews'
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  • IndieBound Bestseller


  • National Book Award Winner


  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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