A precise and honest depiction of a family wound that has still not entirely healed.

In her early 30s, journalist Bishop accidentally discovered she had a half brother she had never known about, so she tracked him down to the barbershop where he worked in a small town in Virginia.

Over the years until his death from complications of a hormonal disorder, the author got to know Ronnie. Ten years older than her, he had been born before her mother, Adria, married her father. The teenage Adria spent a year with Ronnie at a home for unwed mothers. When she couldn't care for him as she worked as domestic help, he was placed in foster care. By the time Bishop was born, her parents were working on a large estate, and the troubled Ronnie was with them. Adria told everyone, including her daughter, that the boy was Adria's cousin and warned him, “Don't you ever call me Mama.” The narrative moves fluidly, and the author backtracks as she provides the details of her research into her family history and recounts her increasingly frustrating meetings with Ronnie, who dwelled on the harm that had been done to him and refused to deal with his illness despite many offers of help. For Bishop, the discovery of her brother's existence was—and apparently still remains—a source of guilt. While compassionate, she manages to distance herself occasionally from his suffering, making good use of her well-honed reporter's eye for detail and ability to research and interview. While readers see Adria and Ronnie through Bishop’s eyes, they also get the perspectives of others who know or knew them, most of whom are not as emotionally involved with their lives. Both of the author’s key subjects come across as baffling, complicated individuals, deserving of love and respect despite their flaws, shaped by a society that viewed a mother who had a child out of wedlock as shameful.

A precise and honest depiction of a family wound that has still not entirely healed.

Pub Date: July 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-240073-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018


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

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



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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