A probing, heartfelt memoir about the true meaning of family.

Salz, a journalist, pays tribute to the governess who raised her and offered a blueprint of compassion within a withholding, sometimes cruel family. Elizabeth Cecilia Hanna, or “Miss Hanna,” began working in the Salzs’ Upper East Side townhouse in 1940, just before the author’s birth, joining the servant and cook also employed by the upper-middle-class Jewish family. An orphan with no family—and only one friend—Miss Hanna became young Salz’s only solace and companion. Though Salz’s older brother struggled with behavioral problems, her parents preferred his company; even her success in school couldn’t win the affection of her exacting, mean-spirited father. Salz’s mother, Betty, a former teen model and indisputable beauty, provided the perfect foil for middle-aged Miss Hanna’s disregard for appearances. Though Betty didn’t have much maternal instinct herself—she forced Salz to swim with Miss Hanna at a public beach instead of at the beach club because of her daughter’s large birthmark—her resentment of Salz’s devotion to her governess was apparent. “How can you love that ugly woman?” she routinely asked her daughter. This memoir is, in part it seems, an act of contrition: In her senior year of high school, Salz neglected to visit Miss Hanna while she was dying of cancer; she never got to say goodbye. It’s also an act of witness, uncovering the shadowy details of Miss Hanna’s origins and the painful family secrets in her own past. As Salz recalls her New York City childhood with Miss Hanna by her side, midcentury New York comes to life through her vivid descriptions; a chapter about her early love of Broadway musicals is particularly poignant. Though the book lacks a strong narrative arc, its greatest strengths are Salz’s self-awareness and her insight into the issues of class that often separate domestic caretakers from their charges.

This moving remembrance proves the importance of kindness in a child’s life and the redemptive power of carrying on our loved ones’ legacies.

Pub Date: May 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-0996020701

Page Count: 166

Publisher: Richard Books

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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