A story rich in emotional description but hastily recounted at times.

I'M STILL HERE

A cancer survivor recalls her treatment, recovery, and life before her diagnosis in her debut memoir.

In the “uncommonly hot” summer of 1969, Reaves relocated to San Francisco after two years at Pomona College in Claremont, California. The opening chapter describes her going about her summer job answering calls at the Greyhound bus company and meeting an alluring streetcar driver named David. The memoir then fast-forwards to 2008, when Reaves was diagnosed with tongue cancer. The author sets about recounting her earlier years in which she lived in a six-bedroom commune started by David, whom she later married before they relocated to the British Virgin Islands to work as teachers. Chapters that chronicle the various stages of her cancer treatments are interspersed with those that tell of her attending law school, coming out, and meeting her life partner, Tanya. In 1986, Reaves gave birth to their son, Cooper, and afterward had chemotherapy for lymphoma. Her memoir is about how she learned to live her life regardless of her challenges, and she is skilled in conveying complex emotions. Recalling her drug regimen for tongue cancer, she writes: “I imagine my death, my memorial service, life in my household without me. Tears flow randomly, without warning. At times, I’m at peace, gazing out the window at brilliant blue skies and leafless trees, feeling the golden light pouring over my bed where I doze.” Such passages evoke an overwhelming sense of pathos. Other aspects of Reaves’ richly textured life are hurriedly described. In depicting the Virgin Islands, the author attempts to set the scene in the space of a sentence that doesn’t transport the reader: “St. Thomas teems with life: kids yelling, dogs barking, horns tooting, music blasting, parents yelling, mosquitoes buzzing, mice skittering, cockroaches crunching, lizards slithering, everyone laughing, laughing, laughing.” The central focus of the memoir, Reaves’ battle against cancer, is reflective and hopeful but not a step-by-step guide to coping. The emphasis is on the author’s courageous journey, which is in itself empowering.

A story rich in emotional description but hastily recounted at times.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63152-876-7

Page Count: 262

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 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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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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