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OUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE

SCENES OF A FAMILY AND A PLANET IN CRISIS

An impassioned call to action and a vulnerable family portrait of neurodiversity.

A collective portrait of activist Greta Thunberg's family, encompassing not only climate change, but also issues of mental health.

In this moving text, Swedish opera singer Malena Ernman, her husband, Svante Thunberg, and their daughters, Greta and Beata, stitch together vignettes about "burned-out people on a burned out planet.” Before Greta stepped into the public eye with her 2018 strike outside the Swedish Parliament, she had fallen into depression. Ernman details the end of her music career, when Greta refused to eat or speak. Through distilled recollections, she elucidates how autism and selective mutism unfolded in her household, with all its initial hardship, and how Swedish society views spectrum disorders in general. When Greta was finally diagnosed with Asperger’s and OCD, and Beata with ADHD and other conditions, the family found a measure of solace. But they still struggled: “We scream. We kick down doors. We scratch. We pound walls. We wrestle. We cry. We ask for help and we somehow endure.” The narrative delivers a potent, challenging, and heartening portrayal of a family's struggle to hold it all together. The text is more problematic when it conflates environmental issues—such as sustainability and the climate crisis—with mental health problems, positing that society’s prioritization of economy over ecology has led to increasing isolation and desperation. While provocative, the argument feels grounded in simplified conviction. Passages about carbon emissions, damage wrought by air travel, the failure of world leaders to take charge, and related issues are unabashedly alarmist and valuable. Because these elements echo Greta's many speeches, they come off as repetitive in the book. The buildup to Greta's strike—and the strike itself—is an inspiring depiction of the teen who has become a leader on the world stage and of the family who supports her behind the scenes. It also represents a courageous triumph over many of her demons.

An impassioned call to action and a vulnerable family portrait of neurodiversity.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-14-313357-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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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.”

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  • 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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