An incisive, welcome look at prison life in the U.S.

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A GRIP OF TIME

WHEN PRISON IS YOUR LIFE

An intrepid journalist immerses herself in a maximum security prison.

Displaying her impeccable observational skills, Kessler (Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts, and My Midlife Quest to Dance The Nutcracker, 2015, etc.) takes on the complex, fraught subject of incarceration in America. For most Americans, she writes, the portrayals of prisons in dramas like The Shawshank Redemption and Orange Is the New Black are the only sources of information about that world. “We figured we knew what was what. But of course we didn’t,” she explains, stating that her mission was to “learn about this hidden world. So that we all could. I could teach these men to craft stories. They could educate me about prison life. I needed to know—I thought we all needed to know—who these people were that we put away, far away from us, in a country that puts more people in prison than any other country on earth.” After arduously pursuing permission to launch a writers group at Oregon State Penitentiary, she finally succeeded and spent the next three years visiting inmates willing to participate in the Lifers’ Writing Group. Her group included a dozen convicted murderers of varying ages serving life sentences, some with, others without, parole. Some participated regularly, others came and went, but the core became committed to expressing themselves through the written word. Discussing everything from “joy” to “privacy” to topics like recidivism, Kessler moved deeper into these men’s collective life experiences as they revealed themselves both verbally and on the page. Their inner thoughts and feelings are as eye-opening as they are enlightening. “I am, time and again, struck by their intelligence, their insight, their candor, their humor,” writes the author. Between poignant moments tossed up with the drudgeries, frustrations, and clever dodges of prison life, Kessler gives a pulsing heart and a human face to this portion of the population all too often forgotten outside the walls.

An incisive, welcome look at prison life in the U.S.

Pub Date: May 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68435-078-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Red Lightning Books

Review Posted Online: March 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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