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An unusually creative memoir of a bicultural life.

An “ordinary girl” rebels against her unstable life in Puerto Rico and Miami Beach until military service helps her gain a life-altering self-confidence.

Growing up in housing projects in Puerto Rico, Díaz (editor: 15 Views of Miami, 2014) tossed aside the blonde-haired Barbie dolls her elders gave her. “They always made me feel ugly, the brown kid who would never look like her white mother,” she writes in her inventive debut memoir. It didn’t help that her philandering father sold drugs, her mother showed alarming signs of her soon-to-be-diagnosed schizophrenia, and only her loving grandmother provided a stable presence in her life and those of her two siblings. Hoping for better, her father moved the family to Miami Beach when Díaz was in elementary school. But the money ran out, and the family was evicted repeatedly from shabby apartments. As “a closeted queer girl in a homophobic place,” the author couldn’t adjust, kept getting arrested, and ended up in Narcotics Anonymous and a juvenile detention center. Depressed and desperate to end the free fall, she dropped out of high school at 16, married at 17, and made a life-changing move at 18, enlisting in the U.S. Navy. As she aced military tests, her faith in herself grew and led eventually to a graduate degree and a literary career that has earned her two Pushcart Prizes. Using flashbacks, shifts in tense, and other novelistic devices, Díaz weaves impressionistic vignettes about Puerto Rican history and culture into her story, which begins when she watches an activist’s funeral procession in Puerto Rico in 1985 and ends after a recent visit to the island in the wake of Hurricane María. Along the way, she withholds key dates and other facts that would have made it easier to put some events in context. However, the literary bells and whistles give her story a broader interest than many memoirs that are more solipsistic. This book isn’t just about the author’s quest for self-determination; it’s also about Puerto Rico’s.

An unusually creative memoir of a bicultural life.

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61620-913-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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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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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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