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A lost childhood reclaimed in profound triumph, and with the promise of a sequel to match.

A searing, soaring memoir of one girl’s complicated and almost unbelievable childhood.

Jennifer Lauck’s mother died in the fall of 1970, leaving Jennifer’s father to look after her and her brother B.J. on his own. With dizzying speed, shock after shock followed this initial tragedy. Out of frustration, B.J. disclosed the secret of Jennifer’s adoption, which her father confirmed. Soon he introduced his two children to Deb, the materialistic, impractical woman he had apparently been seeing since before his wife’s death; eventually he and Deb (who had three children from an earlier marriage) wed. An emotional tug-of-war ensued between the Lauck children and their surrogate mother, and, during her stay at a summer camp, Jennifer was sexually molested by one of the male counselors. Not long afterward, her father suffered a fatal cardiac arrest, leaving Deb in charge of all five kids. Guided by the High Early Seventies idealism of the commune-like Freedom Church, Deb and the kids moved to northern California in a brief attempt at living off the land near Stanford University, before returning south in defeat. On the brink of losing total control, Deb enrolled Jennifer, who was 11, in a program sponsored by her “church” that allowed her to live under the supervision of a married couple near downtown Los Angeles; she was expected to work for her room and board there, while simultaneously seeing herself through school. The story ends with rescue: some Lauck relatives from Nevada who happened to be visiting Los Angeles looked up the kids, discovered their plight, and claimed custody. This hairpin-curve existence is narrated entirely from a young girl’s viewpoint, and Lauck’s literary achievements—voice, characterization, pacing—are as extraordinary as those of Frank McCourt and Dave Eggers, if not more so.

A lost childhood reclaimed in profound triumph, and with the promise of a sequel to match.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2000

ISBN: 0-671-04255-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2000

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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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