An affecting tribute that distills larger social themes through a child’s perspective.




A debut coming-of-age memoir set during the civil rights era, as seen through the eyes of a young white girl.

The story elaborates on Barrow’s childhood memories of her family’s caretaker, Amelia, focusing on the family’s move from Chattanooga to New Jersey in 1959, just as racial tensions escalated and civil rights protests gained momentum. Amelia, a thick-set woman with support hose and Coke-bottle glasses whom the family calls “Mimi,” looked after Barrow and her five siblings as their parents lived entitled lives in suburbia. The memoir is largely told in a series of vignettes, and as racial violence plays out on the national stage, its implications are addressed in Barrow’s household. Each story is prefaced by a short description giving cultural context, ranging from the history of the slave-built walls on New England’s Block Island to the sit-ins at department stores across the South to the 1960 presidential election. However, the work’s most satisfying embellishments are the stretches of dialogue between Mimi and the two youngest children, Barrow and her brother Chuck. While Mimi irons, cooks and sews for the family, the youngest are always at her feet, and their conversations undulate with Southern rhythms as Mimi dispenses wise advice and homespun aphorisms. The loose episodic structure resembles the way that children form their worldviews, and Barrow shows how she began to piece together the depth of the racial divide, even in her own home, through overheard conversations and wallflower observations. These moments of reflection on social justice and adult morality thread through scenes of suburban childhood mischief. As Barrow grows, her understanding of Mimi’s strained relationship with her family takes on nuance and emotional depth. The author also shows a knack for the sensory details of afternoons whiled away at the beach or evenings exploring in the woods (“When my feet slid on the dry soil of the steep cliff ridges, I clutched the branches of small bayberry bushes”). Overall, Barrow effectively chronicles the slow fade of youthful earnestness and the searing disappointment of childhood realization.

An affecting tribute that distills larger social themes through a child’s perspective.

Pub Date: Jan. 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-1940014067

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Wise Ink Creative Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2014

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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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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

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.


The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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