A searing, authentic journey into and out of a broken family situation.

GOODBYE, SARAJANE

A FOSTER CHILD WRITES LETTERS TO HER MOTHER

A girl chronicles her harrowing journey through the American foster and adoption system.

Novelist Griffin expresses an enduring love for her birth mother, Katherine, who was forced to give up her children in 2000, when the author was just 10. In a series of letters with commentary, Griffin attempts to catch her mother up on her formative years, when she was shuffled from one unhappy foster-family experience to another. An illuminating chapter familiarizes readers with Katherine herself—a woman who was brought up in a religious family and who ultimately succumbed to drug addiction when Griffin was a child. This biographical section is pivotal and informative, forming a foundation for the later story. The author’s tone is notably gracious and heartfelt and never accusatory, embittered, or resentful. Instead, Griffin writes earnestly in delicately detailed, chronological episodes. While living with her first foster family, she was mistreated, she says, and found herself in a constant state of “uncertainty, anger, and depression.” Child Protective Services removed Griffin and her siblings from that home and placed them in different, crowded houses, filled with other, unsupervised kids who abused them. When Griffin and her family members were all finally adopted by a family from upstate New York, their heartbreaking cross-country journey from Nevada presaged great homesickness and jarring changes for which they weren’t mentally or physically prepared. The new family’s son punched Griffin in the face immediately upon meeting her, and the adoptive mother despised the author’s temperamental attitude.

Years of violent aggression between the adoptive family and Griffin’s siblings followed, the author says. The strict, churchgoing adoptive mother decided to change all of the siblings’ names; Griffin’s became “SaraJane.” She also forced all of the children to be baptized. The author writes of various fear tactics and mind games that Griffin and her brothers and sisters had to deal with while living in their new home. By the time the author became a teenager, her animosity for her adoptive mother had risen to violent levels, and investigations of the household by social workers became frequent. The author struggled to overcome the fear and shame that her adoption experience had instilled in her. Griffin has a distinct talent for expressive prose and exacting detail. However, this can make for difficult reading, particularly during the foster-care years, when her experiences were so challenging and melancholy. She concludes her memoir with a series of dramatic foster-care–related statistics and one final missive to her birth mother about her advocacy for foster children and their parents through a new venture called Katherine’s Place. Although there isn’t much uplifting material in this remembrance of childhood trauma, there is a sense of forgiveness and inner peace, particularly in a late account of the author’s reconnection with her biological father, Stanford. This feeling of empathy and resolution ends the book on a particularly poignant note.

A searing, authentic journey into and out of a broken family situation.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9992325-0-7

Page Count: 452

Publisher: Key Purpose Books LLC

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2020

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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