A sometimes-saccharine but positive collection of personal and imagined accounts.

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A DIFFERENT KIND OF MEMOIR

A woman charts her own life’s journey and provides an account of the African-American experience through a kaleidoscope of nonfiction essays and fictionalized vignettes.

Using “conversations, some in fantasy, most in reality,” this collection incorporates many years’ worth of essays, poems, songs, plays, and journal entries by Robinson (Brewer Genealogy, 2016) over her life as a writer and a storyteller. The collection is divided into five sections: “Expressions of Hope,” “Expressions of Wonder,” “Faith,” “Introspection,” and “Pain and Contemplation.” Except for the last, the tone is unvaryingly uplifting and often humorous. Robinson’s Christian beliefs are also infused into her work; for example, she includes short biblical verses at the beginning of each section and lyrics from public-domain spirituals in her plays. However, her faith is a touchstone rather than her primary subject, which is African-American history. When one historical figure, educator, and civil-rights activist, Mary McLeod Bethune, shows up as a subject in one of the plays, Robinson makes a key point about biographical fiction that also informs this work: “writers have to use their common sense and imagination while being as true as they can to all the information that is available to them.” In “Pain and Contemplation,” she grows more serious and laments disunity in families—the backbiting, pettiness, and dysfunction that can tear people apart or even kill them. Most of her characters are women, but she also memorably creates a grandfather who’s exploited by a troubled free spirit. The book aims for a tone similar to that of the famous 1954 E.B. White story “The Second Tree from the Corner,” but it falls short of White’s wit and wry style; instead, it’s a bit syrupy and too often peppered with exclamation points. Robinson also could have let her tales unfold more naturally, instead of offering long soliloquies and expository dialogue. The book’s portrayal of the way young people talk also seems a bit idealized and unrealistic (“Really! That’s neat”).

A sometimes-saccharine but positive collection of personal and imagined accounts.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5127-5306-6

Page Count: 170

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2017

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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