A disturbing but inspiring memoir of a difficult childhood and adulthood.

CHOICES

A STORY OF SURVIVAL

In this debut memoir, Runyan describes how she was shaped by her hardscrabble upbringing.

The author was born in the early 1940s in the tiny home of poor tomato farmers in the Red River Valley of Texas. Her father frequently moved the family in his pursuit of better opportunities—from studying at a Bible college in Arkansas to driving a school bus in West Texas to working at a sawmill in Oregon—until his crippling depression made him unable to work. Runyan writes that her harsh, often violent mother did her best to keep the family fed, but there were many times when the kids went without food. The author writes that she was raped by her older sister’s husband when she was young, and not long afterward, at 16, she eloped with a boy from her school and tried to build an adult life—one far removed from poverty and instability. However, the boy she married turned out to be an unreliable husband, and having three kids of her own quickly taught her that life is never easy. Indeed, as she attempted to find lessons about how to be a woman in the world, she looked back on her mother’s behavior with greater understanding. Runyan’s prose is folksy but sharp, particularly when it’s filtered through her perspective as a young girl: “It turned out that Daddy had heard God call on him to preach the Gospel….Did he come right down from heaven, walk into the house, and call out to Daddy to come and listen to him? Maybe he sent an angel down to tell him.” The book’s tone is often cheery despite the subject matter’s bleakness, and several scenes contrast childhood play with grim reality, as when Runyan and her brother found a bullet at an Army base and left it on the kitchen stove—only to have it explode and injure their mother. The author also does an excellent job of documenting mid-20th-century American poverty in a way that feels simultaneously unusual and completely relatable.

A disturbing but inspiring memoir of a difficult childhood and adulthood.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72744-155-0

Page Count: 153

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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