Flawed but haunting, a potent reminder that adoption is founded on loss.



An exploration of adoption through personal essays, art, and photos.

The title refers to the home for unwed mothers, one of thousands across the country, where, in 1966, Galbraith’s birth mother, Ursula, was sequestered for tedious months waiting to give birth and then surrender her child for adoption. Though girls were expected to put the experience behind them, few ever could. In emotional, sometimes blistering essays, Galbraith portrays her loving adoptive parents, sexuality, and role as wife and mother. The author references her thorny relationship with Ursula throughout, from their first reunion in 1996 to subsequent fraught encounters. Galbraith, who wanted more than Ursula was ready or able to give, shares deeply personal details about both, retelling Ursula’s life story as autobiography. This section, she notes, “is stitched together from letters and journals given to me by my birth mother. It involves both our voices which blend and embellish each other.” Visual elements include photos of molded-plastic dolls Galbraith placed in dollhouse dioramas to mimic her own childhood photos. The affectless dolls and lively baby Megan—in similar dress and pose—are unsettlingly juxtaposed against Galbraith’s words. Some intimate disclosures edge into narcissism, and the author’s judgments of friends and family can be harsh. However, the essays that situate her experience as an adoptee and mother within a historical framework are resonant and consistently compelling. She critiques Cornell University’s Domestic Economics program, inaugurated in 1919, which “borrowed” infants from orphanages to serve as practice babies for female students. (Paired with program baby photos, Galbraith’s doll scenes are eerily apt.) While Gabrielle Glaser’s American Baby (2021) offers broader insights into and historical context for the closed-adoption era, Galbraith’s passionate narrative effectively shows the struggle of an adopted child to comprehend an often long-hidden history. Ursula wouldn’t allow her photos to appear in the book, one part of a pattern of denial that the author highlights at various points in the book.

Flawed but haunting, a potent reminder that adoption is founded on loss.

Pub Date: May 22, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8142-5791-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Mad Creek/Ohio State Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.


A former New York City dancer reflects on her zesty heyday in the 1970s.

Discovered on a Manhattan street in 2020 and introduced on Stanton’s Humans of New York Instagram page, Johnson, then 76, shares her dynamic history as a “fiercely independent” Black burlesque dancer who used the stage name Tanqueray and became a celebrated fixture in midtown adult theaters. “I was the only black girl making white girl money,” she boasts, telling a vibrant story about sex and struggle in a bygone era. Frank and unapologetic, Johnson vividly captures aspects of her former life as a stage seductress shimmying to blues tracks during 18-minute sets or sewing lingerie for plus-sized dancers. Though her work was far from the Broadway shows she dreamed about, it eventually became all about the nightly hustle to simply survive. Her anecdotes are humorous, heartfelt, and supremely captivating, recounted with the passion of a true survivor and the acerbic wit of a weathered, street-wise New Yorker. She shares stories of growing up in an abusive household in Albany in the 1940s, a teenage pregnancy, and prison time for robbery as nonchalantly as she recalls selling rhinestone G-strings to prostitutes to make them sparkle in the headlights of passing cars. Complemented by an array of revealing personal photographs, the narrative alternates between heartfelt nostalgia about the seedier side of Manhattan’s go-go scene and funny quips about her unconventional stage performances. Encounters with a variety of hardworking dancers, drag queens, and pimps, plus an account of the complexities of a first love with a drug-addled hustler, fill out the memoir with personality and candor. With a narrative assist from Stanton, the result is a consistently titillating and often moving story of human struggle as well as an insider glimpse into the days when Times Square was considered the Big Apple’s gloriously unpolished underbelly. The book also includes Yee’s lush watercolor illustrations.

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27827-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2022

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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