Too bad the author failed to include an epilogue about his present-day successes (he’s a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient and...

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BUTTERFLY BOY

MEMORIES OF A CHICANO MARIPOSA

Poignant, heartfelt memoir of a gay Latino immigrant’s coming-of-age, played out against a relentless backdrop of abuse and neglect.

Poet, novelist and children’s author González (So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water Until It Breaks, 1999, etc.) digs deep to reveal a tortured childhood as the son of poverty-stricken, functionally illiterate Mexican farmworkers. The memoir opens in 1990, when the author was barely 20 and in flight from an abusive relationship with an unnamed older lover. González trekked to Indio, Calif., to reunite with his distant father for a restless, uncomfortable, three-day bus ride into Mexico, where he was raised. The narrative then turns to González’s youth. His father was a selfish alcoholic, his mother sickly, his grandfather increasingly menacing. Scores of relatives also inhabited their half-finished house. The family was uprooted when González’s 31-year-old mother succumbed to heart disease; home became the crime-ridden “government-subsidized cinderblock apartment of the Fred Young Farm Labor Camp.” Her barely teenaged son had furtive sex with older men he met in the grape fields where he worked during his summer vacations. First-love and weight issues soon complicated his life even further. The author delineates his youthful self as strong and resilient, focusing on his aspirations to become a school teacher in spite of a father who was “too busy” to come to his high-school graduation and who tried to dissuade González from taking advantage of a scholarship to attend college in Riverside, Calif. After describing his uneasy arrival at Riverside, the narrative returns to 1990: Oblivious father and resentful son separated soon after their arrival in Michoacán; suffocated by all the painful memories, González reluctantly returned to his abusive lover for a final round of broken bones and bruises.

Too bad the author failed to include an epilogue about his present-day successes (he’s a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient and an associate professor of English at the Univ. of Illinois)—it could have transformed this cheerless tale into something inspirational.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-299-21900-3

Page Count: 210

Publisher: Univ. of Wisconsin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2006

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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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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