LITTLE MISS MERIT BADGE

A MEMOIR

Earning Girl Scout badges, by any means necessary, becomes a girl’s way of coping with her seriously dysfunctional family in this comedic memoir.

Beaman (Communications and Leadership/California Polytechnic University; You’re Only Young Twice, 2006) grew up desperate to win approval from her narcissistic father. Good grades, athletics, talent competitions—she strove for success in everything, and often succeeded. But Beaman’s real métier was earning Girl Scout merit badges and, by the time she was done, she needed two sashes to hold them all. This memoir structures striking moments in the author’s childhood and coming to terms with her dysfunctional family through badges won and lessons learned, reflecting throughout on the real nature of merit. The author writes with vivid energy and humor, and she knows how to turn a phrase; she describes her hospitalized father as “slowly deflating, like a basketball left too long in the garage.” She is fair to her parents, probably even diminishing their selfishness. A less resilient girl would have a different story to write. Beaman, though, is amazingly resilient, hard-working and determined, putting the kind of effort into launching a front-yard charity carnival that would do an IBM project manager proud. Big, bright humor is both shield and weapon in this memoir, a way to avoid self-pity while skewering her parents, other adults and herself. Sometimes it works, but sometimes the humor feels artificial, more interested in getting off a zinger than exploring real feelings. When her father unkindly criticizes her efforts to win a singing audition, Beaman comments “As usual, he really knows how to put a song in my heart!” Each chapter ends with a heavy-handed prepackaged lesson, as with “Making Music”: “The instrumental lesson I really learn, however, is that my life is my own composition”; Beaman often seems the same eager-beaver overachiever she was as a child, desperate to prove what she’s learned.  And, though she suggests at the end that she’s moved beyond earning badges, Beaman says little about her adult self besides her achievements. An amusing memoir that would be stronger if it were more grounded in an adult perspective.

 

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-1936214471

Page Count: 242

Publisher: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2012

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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