As in all memoirs of any depth, the answers here are bound to be both yes and no, but for some reason this ambivalence seems...

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PAGAN TIME

AN AMERICAN CHILDHOOD

A somewhat precious account of a run-of-the-mill bohemian childhood, by novelist Perks (We Are Gathered Here, 1996).

“The time of my childhood was the nineteen sixties,” begins the author, who immediately seeks to stifle all nascent yawns by admitting, “I know what you’re thinking—marijuana, free love, Woodstock and Watts and Vietnam.” Her 1960s were different (in the first place, she was too young at the time for sex or drugs), but they still conform in a general way to the pattern of the era. Her family lived in a remote town in the Adirondacks, where her parents were involved in the experimental Valley Commune School, which was part commune, part halfway home for disturbed adolescents. Her mother was from Brooklyn, her father from England. Jovial and well-read, they were not hippies exactly, but they had both dropped out of society to some degree—and they certainly didn’t run a very tidy ship, either. Lessons were erratic, sometimes quite advanced, and often overlooked altogether. The author was sent for some time to the much more conventional local public school, where she found herself predictably out of sorts among classmates used to the daily routine and boredom of ordinary school life. For a while the entire family was taken back to England with Dad, who settled them for a while in Devon. Back in the States a few years later, the father becomes very involved in Buddhism. Eventually, the author grows up. As an adult, Perks doesn’t know what to make of her childhood or her parents. Does she resent them or love them? Was she neglected or lucky?

As in all memoirs of any depth, the answers here are bound to be both yes and no, but for some reason this ambivalence seems to go farther than usual in Perks’s case—to the point that her story begins to seem as pointless to the reader as it does to the author herself.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2001

ISBN: 1-58243-147-7

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2001

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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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UNTAMED

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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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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