A promising but uneven portrait of growing up in the expatriate world.

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As I Was Young And Easy

A Texas oilman’s daughter comes of age in the 1950s and ’60s while traveling the globe as part of an expatriate community.

Jensen’s debut memoir (Anatomy of an Infidelity, 2012, etc.) portrays a young woman’s literary and sexual awakening while including fascinating details about the rise of international oil refineries. Jensen draws on recollection and research to evoke the cloistral glamour of the expat world while depicting her family, including her ambitious, volatile father; her gentle, alcoholic mother; and her two older siblings, whose social grace underscores the narrator’s lack of ease. The book opens with her father’s decision to return his family to the United States from Venezuela in the 1950s; they move from Venezuela to Aruba to Spain to Pakistan to Thailand before finally returning to Texas. The author’s portraits are too cursory to rise to the level of great characters, but she includes riveting details of time and place, particularly when she juxtaposes the intimate and the cultural: Fourteen-year-old girls in Aruba steal cigarettes and Piper-Heidsieck champagne and swap stories of sexual initiation before news comes of President Kennedy’s assassination; college kids light up a joint in an Austin, Texas, bar and debate pot’s legalization as protesters are gunned down at Kent State University. Unfortunately, the memoir’s lack of focus undercuts its strengths. The book covers 17 years, from childhood to college, and all incidents receive equal attention, diluting the power of crucial events, such as Jensen’s aesthetic education; her friendship with Anne, whose expat home is a doily-and-china shrine to Queen Elizabeth II; Jensen’s sexual awakening at 15 with a 30-year-old engineer; and the untimely death of her friend John. At times, the memoir recalls Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club (1995) with its stories of hard-drinking eccentrics and thwarted ambitions. Ultimately, however, this memoir’s emphasis on summary makes it more a catalog of anecdotes than a rich, revealing story.

A promising but uneven portrait of growing up in the expatriate world.

Pub Date: March 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-1456510398

Page Count: 440

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2013

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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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