A searingly poignant account of forced adoption and its consequences.

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PHILOMENA

A MOTHER, HER SON, AND A FIFTY-YEAR SEARCH

A British journalist’s novelistic biography about an unwed Irish mother and the son she was forced to give up for adoption.

In the sexually repressive Ireland of the 1950s, single motherhood was a mark of shame not only for girls and women, but also for their families. So when 18-year-old Philomena Lee became pregnant in late 1952, her father sent her to a convent for fallen women. Philomena worked as a virtual slave for the nuns who ran it in exchange for room and board. She gave birth to and cared for an infant son she called Anthony, a son who would be forcibly turned over to a Catholic couple willing to offer a “donation” for the privilege of adopting. Against Philomena’s wishes, an American doctor and his wife adopted her son, along with a female playmate he adored. The couple renamed the boy Michael and took him and his “sister” Mary to live in the United States. Michael grew up a model child, but Sixsmith’s (Russia: A 1,000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East, 2011, etc.) psychologically probing portrait of Philomena’s son reveals how he also suffered from a “secret certainty of his own worthlessness,” which stemmed from the pain of maternal abandonment and a growing awareness of his own homosexuality. Michael became a successful Washington, D.C., lawyer whose expertise in gerrymandering issues garnered him the attention of Republican Party elites. Yet due to the fact that Michael could not accept himself, he indulged in darker compulsions—risky sex, alcohol and drugs—that destroyed his relationships and eventually caused him to contract AIDS. His personal tragedy was compounded by the fact that he and his mother searched for each other without success. Since the secretive Catholic Church could not reveal the sordid truth behind the adoption to either Philomena or Michael, the pair “reunited” only after Sixsmith’s chance intervention—and only after it was too late. Judi Dench, who provides the foreword, will star in the upcoming film adaptation.

A searingly poignant account of forced adoption and its consequences.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-14-312472-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

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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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  • New York Times Bestseller

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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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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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