Insightful, relevant reading for these times.

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NOT QUITE NOT WHITE

LOSING AND FINDING RACE IN AMERICA

A former Harvard professor ruminates on race in America from her perspective as a Southeast Asian woman.

Before Sen, the executive editor at large at Harvard University Press, immigrated to the United States in 1982, she had never used race-based labels to identify herself. In her native Calcutta, people identified each other by the languages they spoke or the gods they worshipped. Through a series of four intertwined personal essays, the author traces her evolution from Indian immigrant to resisting “Not White” American. Sen begins in 1970s India, which she recalls as a place where a child’s future success depended on getting into schools that taught English. By knowing a few words of this colonial language, Sen was able to matriculate at a Catholic school where the main divide was between Hindu and Christian Indians. After relocating with her parents to Boston, Sen realized that she and her family—who were neither “chic expats [nor] political dissidents with lofty ideologies”—were in America for the most mundane of reasons: to improve their economic status. Desperate to fit in, the author immediately set about “acquir[ing] a new American accent” by watching shows like General Hospital and Happy Days. During high school, college, and graduate school, Sen became increasingly aware of the American minefield of race. As she “silently accepted the badge of honorary whiteness,” she also learned to expose small parts of her culture in ways that made her seem less like an exotic “other” willing to play into pre-existing Indian stereotypes and more like “a brown woman mimicking a white man pretending to be a brown man.” She eventually channeled her rage at being forced into whiteface performance by calling herself “Not White.” In naming whiteness, she realized that she could challenge both the dominant culture’s “powerful invisibility” and its monopoly on the title “American.” Timely and eloquent, Sen’s book is a welcome addition to the growing body of literature that engages with the topic of race from outside the white/black binary.

Insightful, relevant reading for these times.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-14-313138-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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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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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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