The private hell of anorexia laid bare in a heart-rending story of self-torment and survival.

Mary Lives - A Story of Anorexia Nervosa and Bipolar Disorder.

Brooks’ memoir about her feverish battle with her own mind.

Mental illness has been the “cruel conductor” of Brooks’ life. The Australia native began suffering from bouts of depression at age 12. By her teens, she was trapped in the tortuous grip of anorexia, punishing her body through starvation and relentless exercise. Plagued by guilt and self-loathing, she withered to 62 pounds as an adult. Her bipolar disorder brought destabilizing mood swings, pushing her to the brink of suicide. With raw emotion and lurid detail, Brooks reveals her secret compulsions in a patchwork of prose and poetry. Readers must navigate the labyrinth of a disturbed mind as the author describes her struggles for sanity. In the screedy poem “The Cost,” Brooks describes the depths of her self-abuse: “I ate the vilest messes of pseudo-food, to fill my stomach—knowing it was largely indigestible and would cause bloating and painful spasms, and ferment inside me. I endured the awful gut torture with fascination, the tempting fear that bowel obstruction, or internal bleeding would kill me.” Despite two failed marriages and numerous hospitalizations, Brooks attended medical school and became a practicing physician. She also raised two children, whom she credits with helping her turn her life around. Throughout the book, Brooks searches for what drives her destructive urges. Was it her relationship with her parents? Her belief that she was “evil” in the sight of God? Her oppressive feelings of loneliness? At its best, the writing is fervid, gripping and excruciatingly candid. But the book lacks editorial restraint. The jumble of verse and vignettes smothers the core narrative. Now in her 60s, Brooks never achieved complete victory over her demons. But with professional help and perseverance, she discovered that life need not be an unending cycle of self-flagellation. She found a measure of contentment in the realization that she is, in fact, “good enough.”

The private hell of anorexia laid bare in a heart-rending story of self-torment and survival.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1493135592

Page Count: 396

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2014

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...


A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.


A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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