An impressive blend of dispassionate reporting, pungent condemnation of public welfare, and gritty humanity.



A closely observed chronicle of a year in the life of a homeless single mother as she negotiates the system of public assistance.

Brooklyn-based journalist Sandler shadows Camila, a 22-year-old Dominican mother of a newborn living in New York City without a supportive family or a stable place to call home. As the author writes, she “wanted to witness and understand how deepening inequality is lived in America, and particularly in New York, a city that gets richer as the poor get poorer.” Throughout the narrative is an overarching indictment of the catastrophe of financial inequality in America, where “most people in poverty are women, specifically women of color. Furthermore, they are single mothers.” Sandler displays her journalistic talent by unerringly presenting this dire situation: the vanishing safety net, the stubbornness of entrenched racism, and the snowballing burdens of poor women. As galling as the statistics are—e.g., 2.5 million homeless children in America—it is following in Camila’s footsteps that drives the story home. She possesses an agile mind and a flabbergasting degree of patience, but her circumstances are dictated by the sum of her paperwork. Camila is a force, but force only goes so far as she experiences progressive brutality. Showing how public assistance programs have continually been cut back—in 1970, the average check was $1,125 a month; in 2015, it was “barely more than two hundred bucks”—the author also pays close attention to Camila’s particular circumstances amid a bizarre bureaucracy. These included the loss of child care payments, Medicaid, eligibility for emergency shelter, child support payments, and numerous temporary homes. “Respect had always been the most important thing to her,” writes Sandler, “but taking a stand for it had become a luxury she couldn’t afford.” Remarkably, Camila manages to juggle caring for her young son, attending school (a two-hour commute) and work-study, and desperately trying to establish ties with her exploded biological family.

An impressive blend of dispassionate reporting, pungent condemnation of public welfare, and gritty humanity.

Pub Date: April 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-399-58995-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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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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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.


Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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