A depressing and often cloying memoir that may hold some appeal for readers in similar circumstances with a penchant for...



A debut memoir focused on divorce and death.

Beginning with her own youth, essayist McColl, the founding editor-in-chief of Yahoo Food, notes that her mother was her “spiritual home,” and she venerates her mother on almost every page of the book. Looking back, the author recalls her mother as a colorful mixture of wisdom and sensuality whose role as a mother was perhaps the ultimate aspect of her personality. Her parents’ divorce shattered McColl’s world for a time, leaving her even more invested in her mother as her basis for stability. The author eventually married, beginning a long road to divorce. McColl’s descriptions of her ex-husband do not immediately elicit sympathy; the couple simply drifted apart, the husband toward his career, the wife toward her dying mother. “I loved my husband,” she writes, “and then I didn’t. Is that a story?” Throughout the book, the author sets her narration against the backdrop of her mother’s illness, an era that clearly affected nearly everything else in her life. Her mother’s eventual death left McColl with “a roiling grief” so great and traumatic that she even decided against her therapist’s suggestion of a grief counseling group: “Someone else might know loss, but no one could understand mine.” Though poignant in spots, the book is nearly devoid of hope or significant life lessons; it is ultimately a study in sadness and seemingly relentless unhappiness brought on by chronic grief and relational ennui. As a writer, McColl is introspective and attempts to be inventive, but much of the prose demonstrates an author trying too hard: “The sound of fireworks in the distance. Here, fireflies. I wanted to tie myself up in his arms and he wanted to be the rope.”

A depressing and often cloying memoir that may hold some appeal for readers in similar circumstances with a penchant for dwelling on heartache.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63149-470-3

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.



In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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