Former band geeks may recognize themselves in some of Barber’s high school memories, but more universal moments are rare.



Dry humor and rotten luck abound in this collection of short personal essays.

In his first essay, Barber recounts life as a droll cafe manager, interviewing for a middle-management job, and being peed on outside of a cafe. From there, he pivots awkwardly to his adventures as a landlord with a difficult tenant, complete with manic email exchanges with lots of capitalization and exclamation points. The majority of the essays feature Barber as a teenager, narrating his years playing various instruments in school bands. His humor when recounting high school is natural (tall red plumes on the marching-band hats lend the band the nickname the “Lockstep Tampons”), and he has a nemesis in the cocky and punishing band director, Mr. Millson. In another essay, Barber challenges his school’s dress code by defiantly wearing a skirt and winds up in a fight with a robot. Later essays reveal more personal accounts about, for example, divorce and the loss of his brother. Barber has a knack for mining a story for its quirkiest and most humorous details. At first, the disjointed subject matter makes it difficult for the reader to grasp just who this narrator is—a barista, an out-of-luck landlord, a band geek, a hero? While the Pacific Northwest is the obvious backdrop for these essays, it’s harder to discern when they’re taking place, two years ago or 20 years ago. The best essays are the vignettes tied by a common theme—high school–band antics, his brother Patrick—where the reader inhabits one world for longer than just a few pages. There are a few opaque essays (in “Morbid Curiosity,” something indecipherable has happened involving a lawsuit). It’s refreshing to read the concluding essay, “The Prank,” where Barber lucidly and tenderly recalls his siblings.

Former band geeks may recognize themselves in some of Barber’s high school memories, but more universal moments are rare.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2017


Page Count: 153

Publisher: Take the Stairs

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2017

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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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This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-448-42421-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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