The key to the memoir’s cumulative power is Walker’s narrative command; the rite of passage is rockier than most, making the...

A memoir in which a young boy comes to terms with the religious cult that had given his family hope.

In this follow-up to the author’s Street Shadows: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion, and Redemption (2011), a debut that proved a breakthrough in terms of awards and recognition, the focus is tighter and the narrative challenge considerable, as Walker (Creative Writing/Emerson Coll.) assumes the perspective of the boy he was from ages 6 through 14, in a black family belonging to the overwhelmingly white (and segregationist) Worldwide Church of God. Its charismatic founder, Herbert W. Armstrong, had prophesied that only the anointed “chosen” would find redemption upon the Earth’s imminent destruction. Young “Jerry” would barely be 11 years old when this would happen, and he accepted the prophecy on faith, though the specifics of his religion confused his young mind. His alcoholic, epileptic father and his mother—both blind—had embraced the cult in part because they thought sight would be their reward. They also had some secrets in their pasts that their son would only learn later. As the predicted apocalypse of 1975 failed to happen and the boy matured and experienced more of the world, he lost faith in the church, as did other congregants and members of his family. He found himself torn between Armstrong’s vision of a better life to come and the streetwise testimony of Iceberg Slim and other hustlers. At a pivotal point, he writes, “my life isn’t becoming a real horror show, I’m thinking. It’s been one for a long time.” He asked his older brother, “How do you un-believe a belief?” and he learned “how the world is full of deception, how very few people can really be trusted, how it’s important that I learn to think and make decisions on my own.”

The key to the memoir’s cumulative power is Walker’s narrative command; the rite of passage is rockier than most, making the redemption well-earned.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8070-2750-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: June 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016


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



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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