The childhood memories are great fun; the crime reporting workmanlike; the portrait of the adult relationships touching.

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GIRLS OF TENDER AGE

A MEMOIR

Smith (Love Her Madly, 2002, etc.) intertwines delightful stories from childhood with a grim chronicle of a sexual predator whose murder of the author’s grade-school classmate has haunted her for decades.

By alternating chapters on the pedophile stalker’s sorry life with chapters on her youthful past, Smith creates almost unbearable tension as she makes the reader wait for the two stories’ lines to intersect. Her vivid account of growing up in a working-class Italian Catholic neighborhood in Hartford, Conn., is filled with memorable characters: besides a raft of close relatives, there’s her indifferent mother, perpetually “on the verge of a nervous breakdown,” her hardworking, distracted father and her autistic older brother, who chews on his arm if he hears noise, cannot bear the color red or the word “Thursday” and is fixated on World War II—he advises the White House via his Campbell’s soup-can phone. As the normal kid sister, Smith is largely overlooked, gulping swigs of Hershey syrup for her breakfast before dashing off to school. In fifth grade, everything changes when Bob Malm abducts and strangles 11-year-old Irene a few blocks from Smith’s house. Adults try to protect the children through silence, telling them nothing, keeping newspapers from them and forbidding them to discuss Irene. Smith says her memories of the next two-and-a-half years are blank. Years later, when she is an established writer, she includes Irene’s story in an essay for a Hartford literary journal that triggers a call from Irene’s brother and launches her on a quest to, as she puts it, “build a memorial to Irene.” From newspapers and court records, which she quotes extensively, she garners details of Malm’s life, of his trial and appeal and even his execution, an electrocution that went awry. The reader may not know Irene better, but Smith, who gives only glimpses of her own life after fifth grade, illuminates Malm.

The childhood memories are great fun; the crime reporting workmanlike; the portrait of the adult relationships touching.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2006

ISBN: 0-7432-7977-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2005

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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

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