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SECRET PANDEMIC

THE SEARCH FOR CONNECTION IN A LONELY WORLD

A solid blend of autobiography and self-help manual that addresses a global concern.

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A writer ties the trauma of her upbringing to worldwide trends in loneliness and connection.

In this debut book, Heng combines a memoir with a self-help guide. She explains how she came to understand the lack of genuine human connection in her life and how it kept her from being fulfilled. At the same time, she investigated the broader global experience of loneliness and social isolation and how these have been worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic. The author, who grew up in Australia in a Chinese Singaporean family and later spent time in Switzerland, Dubai, and Singapore, discovered in adulthood that the dysfunctional norms she grew up with were a unique combination of cultural factors and her parents’ physical and mental illnesses. All of this left her without a strong sense of self or connection to others. Through therapy and research, she came to understand how the behaviors learned in her youth set her up for unhealthy relationships and inauthentic links to others. Each chapter mixes a personal story with big picture data from medical and psychological research and ends with Heng’s recommendations for how readers can strengthen their own relationships, build community, and combat loneliness for themselves and others. The book does a good job of making itself relevant by demonstrating the depth of the global problem of loneliness, and the author’s international perspective brings some variety to an often America-centric genre. Heng has a talent for vivid imagery (she remembers that her father “would come home from golf with arms like Cadbury top deck chocolate, white beneath his capped sleeves and dark brown on his forearms”), which makes the volume an easy and engaging read. The work’s nonlinear path through the personal elements of the author’s story (she moves back and forth between caring for her aging mother and recounting the childhood experiences that negatively shaped their relationship) can feel a bit meandering at times. But the serpentine narrative eventually reaches an emotionally satisfying conclusion that allows Heng to make a convincing case for how she has gone from a victim of loneliness to an adviser to others in the same position.

A solid blend of autobiography and self-help manual that addresses a global concern.

Pub Date: March 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5445-2759-8

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Lioncrest Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2022

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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