Delightful vignettes of childhood and a heartfelt tribute to a devoted grandfather.

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GIRL UNDER CONSTRUCTION

Nostalgic reflections on a Depression-era childhood in western Pennsylvania.

Ward spent her first years in New Kensington, Pa., living across the street from her paternal grandparents, whom she visited often for jam-filled cookies, long walks and tales of the past. Times were tough in the 1930s, and even as a preschooler, the author felt this tension. At home, her mother would disapprove of almost every suggestion she made, and her father would slam his fist on the table to quiet idle dinner-table chatter. “Nobody could stay in my house and live,” Ward writes. With her grandparents, however, she learned to celebrate life’s ups and downs and its full palette of sights, sounds and smells. In this debut memoir, Ward excels at creating atmosphere with sensory detail; her own home, for example, smelled of Nair hair remover, “terrible stinky stuff...that gasped the oxygen out of the air,” but her Grampa’s garage smelled of earth and leather: “One whiff set my brain tingling with visions of adventure.” Her grandfather was a fighter, undaunted by bank foreclosures, a tornado that swept up his vaudeville road show or his narrow escape from a mine explosion. He also taught Ward that she could accomplish anything. At one point, she writes skillfully about a time, in 1936, that the Allegheny River burst its banks and flooded the entire Pittsburgh area, relating historical facts yet maintaining a childlike perspective: “ ‘Will the river get us?’ I screamed. ‘Is it coming?’ ” Indeed, the river got the whole town, but young Ward soon forgot the devastation during a “long, happy visit” to her maternal grandmother’s high-and-dry home. After the flood, her grandparents moved to Lake Erie to start a fishing business; Ward visited them often and learned to maneuver boats, gut fish and catch night crawlers. Overall, the book reads more like a series of memories than a cohesive story, but it works well, as each chapter is like a single bite of a warm, jam-filled cookie.

Delightful vignettes of childhood and a heartfelt tribute to a devoted grandfather.

Pub Date: Dec. 13, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4921-1673-8

Page Count: 186

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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