A nostalgia-infused ode to youthful stumbles and joys.

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EXHUMING MARY MCCARTHY

Lamirand’s memoir, a debut, recounts the friendships she formed during her first few years at Colorado College in the mid-’90s.

With wistful eloquence, Lamirand writes of “experiencing the beautiful beginning of what would become a bittersweet story of friendship and…blossoming into young adulthood” when she started college. Introverted, used to living in her family’s home, and prone to comparing the real world with Anne of Green Gables (“I could relate little to our modern times”), she was naïve at first, but she quickly met a group of girls who put her at ease: “the group,” whose members included beautiful Sophie and grunge-loving Selena, grew close through their shared experiences and explorations—primarily those related to young love. Lamirand developed an infatuation with Stéphane, a classmate who kept his distance, and all the girls displayed their creativity through the nicknames they bestowed upon the boys they met—Sexy Ears Sam and Squeaky Voice Gothic Boy. The title of Lamirand’s memoir may seem macabre—and the group did experiment with forming a coven—but her story is one of life’s daily dramas, all small in the grand scheme but monumental as they occur. (The title is a reference both to the author of the 1963 novel The Group and to the R.E.M. song “Exhuming McCarthy.”) Evocative images and impressions permeate the recollections, as when Lamirand writes of one of the group members, “Leigh always used her cigarette to express herself—with grace, sexuality, or pain—even with no one else around.” For readers of a certain generation, the mid-to-late ’90s setting is bound to evoke memories, particularly when references are made to The Limited, My So-Called Life, Pearl Jam, and other cultural markers. Jessica’s trajectory may be a common one, of which she is aware, but it’s told with uncommon finesse and warmth. It’s not told with brevity. The nearly 500 pages might have been condensed without loss to the overall effect, and the ending does not answer as many questions as might be desired.

A nostalgia-infused ode to youthful stumbles and joys.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 507

Publisher: Ambient Light Publishers

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2015

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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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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