An absorbing, emotionally raw memoir.

An intimate chronicle of the cruel and dehumanizing experience of incarceration.

At the age of 53, Schwartz (Angels Crest, 2004, etc.), a fiction writer, essayist, and writing teacher, began a 90-day sentence at a Los Angeles county jail for DUI. By the time she began her term, she had been sober for six months, following a devastating 414-day relapse of drinking and drugs. In “a chronic state of blackout,” her writing career tanked; her husband, teenage daughter, and most of her friends left her; twice, she nearly died from an overdose. Arrested four times, mostly for DUI, she crashed two cars and lost her license and most of her money. Ashamed and grateful that she never killed anyone when driving drunk, she was overcome with anger and self-pity despite realizing the pain that her alcoholism had inflicted on those closest to her. “Sometimes I would look at you when you were drunk and wish you were dead,” her daughter told her. For Schwartz, incarceration was both “soul crushing” and ultimately liberating. Jail was a leveler, where everyone—prostitutes, addicts, murderers, and women too poor to pay parking tickets—was reduced to a barcoded wristband. In jail, she reflects, “it was impossible to stereotype. Everything I thought I knew about what and who people supposedly were was forever stripped from me.” She forged close, empathetic friendships with her cellmates: obese Duckie, who took Schwartz under her wing; “tough, wise Wynell,” a prostitute who revealed a life story of poverty, violence, and fear. The author witnessed “the depravity of power” that pervades the criminal justice system. Besides her relationships with her fellow prisoners, she found solace in 22 books—fiction, poetry, and the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous—that she read hungrily. From Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, she learned that “change is only possible through self-forgiveness,” and “sanity meant I had to stop blaming everyone for the fury of my addiction.”

An absorbing, emotionally raw memoir.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-53463-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Blue Rider Press

Review Posted Online: April 10, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018


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



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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