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Reads like a first draft.

An uneven look back at an abusive childhood.

Castro, an English professor at Wabash College, in Indiana, grew up in horrific, and unusual, circumstances. She was adopted by parents who were Jehovah’s Witnesses. When they divorced, she lived with her astoundingly irresponsible, and emotionally absent adoptive mother. (When Mom goes out for a night on the town and Joy begs her to come home at 11 p.m., mom angrily replies, “Do you have to ruin everything for me?”) Then Castro’s mother remarries, and things go from bad to worse. Castro’s stepfather beats everyone in the family, and forbids Castro and her younger brother to talk to their father. Castro’s church community is aware that things are not harmonious in Joy’s home, but no one steps in. Eventually, Castro escapes and moves in with her adoptive father. Living with him is a decided improvement, even though he has a disturbing habit of commenting on the figure of every woman they meet and refuses to pay for his children to go to college. Castro has plenty of raw material for a powerful story, but the book is seriously flawed. The narrative veers back and forth, from adulthood to childhood to adolescence and back again: The opening eight pages skip from a first-person monologue from the mouth of Joy’s birth mother, to a thickly sensory description of Marrakech and San Cristóbal de las Casas, to a four-page reminiscence about Castro’s interviews for academic jobs in 1997. In a Cormac McCarthy novel, this episodic style is a strength. Here, it is a confusing distraction, likely to deter all but the most committed reader. The final 85 pages, which follow a clearer chronology, and include a carefully crafted account of Castro’s reunion with her birth mother, are stronger…but one wonders whether anyone will get that far.

Reads like a first draft.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2005

ISBN: 1-55970-787-9

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2005

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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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