This well-paced narrative absorbingly depicts a handful of lives in Indiana in a pivotal year.


A New Yorker faces challenges at a Midwestern college as the turmoil of the 1960s erupts in this debut memoir.  

Vahl arrived at Indiana University in the autumn of 1963 without a family escort or any sense of what the future held. An adventurous young white student from a Jewish background, she settled on Indiana because she’d met a few Midwesterners and thought she liked them. In Bloomington, though, the author was stunned to discover not only pointed anti-Semitism, but sexism, creationism, and virulent racism as well. Nearly as soon as she arrived, her black roommate, Katherine Gates, explained that prior to this semester, the black students had been segregated from the others, forced to live in Quonset huts. As Vahl learned quickly thereafter, segments of the school’s student body were no less viciously racist than the administration: A black basketball player who dated her new white friend Shennandoah Waters was castrated and killed—and left in a ditch—the previous year. In the coming months, the author experienced not merely the usual stuff of college life (boys, bands, bad cafeteria food), but also Bibles “raised aloft like banners” at a lecture on evolution and, to compound the shock of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the reaction of her classmates. They threw a victory party, exclaiming: “It’s not just incredible—it’s the best day of our lives!” Vahl was horrified by many events in southern Indiana, but she enjoyed the sweet moments when she found them: dates with a sexy folk musician; the awakening of her love for making art; and delightful card games with her many black friends. The author has a good ear for dialogue and a nice sense of pacing. After a surprisingly slow start, this thoughtful chronicle of a single school year picks up momentum and rolls smoothly through the seasons. Though metaphors occasionally mix with abandon in these pages (“Here I was, cast up like so much human flotsam on the distant shores of this dim Gothic vault of a room, where unfamiliar accents echoed like sirens’ songs in my ears”), Vahl writes clearly and engagingly. Readers interested in Midwestern history, American race relations, and stories of culture shock will find the book both stimulating and convincing.

This well-paced narrative absorbingly depicts a handful of lives in Indiana in a pivotal year.

Pub Date: July 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63152-365-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

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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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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 Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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