A finely crafted, affecting memoir of two brothers.



Set in midcentury New York City, Starger’s (Wally’s World, 2005, etc.) family memoir describes life with his autistic brother.

The author’s older brother, Melvyn Douglas Starger, was born in 1933 in the Bronx to Jewish, Eastern European parents. Despite initially appearing to be a happy, normal child, Melvyn showed unusual behaviors as he grew, symptoms of what subsequent generations would term autism. Steve Starger, born eight years later, grew up in the shadow of his brother’s otherness and his parents’ inability to handle it, particularly once Melvyn began showing signs of other mental health issues. “Some families,” recalls Starger, “when faced with crippling mental disabilities in a family member, bond together and face their futures in some kind of harmony. Other families fall apart, unable to face the fact of a terrible intruder in their midst. My family went the latter route.” The author wasn’t without issues of his own, a perennial misfit who was similar to his brother in many ways and yet who could only sometimes connect with him in what he terms Melvyn’s “Bizarro World,” borrowing a term from Melvyn’s beloved Superman comics. With this memoir, Starger explores their relationship to each other and to their parents, both as children and young adults, including Starger’s escape from his family into the music and drugs of the 1960s and Melvyn’s eventual full-time institutionalization. Starger, an experienced journalist, vividly details the times and places he inhabited over the course of his life. His depictions of his brother are both sympathetic and cleareyed, resulting in many heartbreaking passages: “Melvyn couldn’t respond to any of it except with an occasional shy smile when someone paid attention to him in a positive, loving way. He stuttered so terribly that it seemed his jaws would crack at the effort to speak.” This peculiar combination of family dysfunction, comic books, 1960s counterculture, and mental health makes for a unique, thoroughly engaging memoir that gets at the tragedy and dignity of our collective isolation from one another.

A finely crafted, affecting memoir of two brothers.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5255-3518-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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