A courageous and often inspiring remembrance, despite a few flaws in its execution.

SIGHT LINES

A Sri Lankan immigrant to Canada describes growing up with impaired vision in this memoir.

Nanayakkara, the author of Cardboard Dreams (2015), was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon), in the mid 1960s. Soon after, the family relocated to Canada and were among the first Sri Lankan immigrants to settle in Newfoundland. The author was acutely aware of her poor vision from an early age, but was expected to keep up with the fully sighted students at school. She suffered from fatigue and eyestrain due to her disability, but despite her hard work, insensitive teachers often referred to as “lazy” on report cards. She begged her parents to send her to a school for the blind, but they refused, as her mother, a teacher, believed that it would bring shame on her. Nanayakkara describes having to use a large-print reader in class and how it made her feel separate from her classmates. She relates an account of a lonely childhood in which she was bullied, not only because of her difficulty seeing, but also because she was Asian. Her family’s search to find a doctor who could help improve her sight met with disappointment. As a result, her family limited her freedom, but as she grew older, she pushed for independence. She eventually attended Memorial University of Newfoundland as a history major and had dreams of becoming a writer. This frank, illuminating memoir becomes a story of personal determination as she tells of how her professional life and love life took shape in her early 20s, after years of struggling for acceptance.

Nanayakkara’s writing is richly descriptive as she paints a vivid portrait of herself as a child, and of how she felt about herself: “my short black curly hair, thick coke bottle glasses that I refused to wear when I wasn’t reading…and my lack of academic smarts.” The author is unafraid to return to painful moments in her youth in order to highlight the absurdity of racism. The work is bold but lacks a sense of bitterness, even as it demonstrates how her parents’, teachers’, and peers’ lack of understanding of her disability led to her overwhelming sense of isolation. On occasion, the author resorts to clipped sentences that seem out of harmony with her descriptive style: “The optimism I had experienced at the end of 1981 did not carry into the new year. The broadcasting class I had enjoyed so much in the fall was to be shelved.” The memoir also ends abruptly with little pause for overall reflection, although it does leave a suggestion that further volumes may follow. However, these are minor criticisms and detract little from a book that captures the emotions of a young, disabled immigrant fighting to gain a sense of belonging in society. This book will be of particular interest to other Sri Lankan immigrants to Canada, but will also strike a chord with a wide range of readers who’ve felt excluded for their differences.

A courageous and often inspiring remembrance, despite a few flaws in its execution.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: Aug. 5, 2021

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The heartbreaking story of an emotionally battered child delivered with captivating candor and grace.

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I'M GLAD MY MOM DIED

The former iCarly star reflects on her difficult childhood.

In her debut memoir, titled after her 2020 one-woman show, singer and actor McCurdy (b. 1992) reveals the raw details of what she describes as years of emotional abuse at the hands of her demanding, emotionally unstable stage mom, Debra. Born in Los Angeles, the author, along with three older brothers, grew up in a home controlled by her mother. When McCurdy was 3, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Though she initially survived, the disease’s recurrence would ultimately take her life when the author was 21. McCurdy candidly reconstructs those in-between years, showing how “my mom emotionally, mentally, and physically abused me in ways that will forever impact me.” Insistent on molding her only daughter into “Mommy’s little actress,” Debra shuffled her to auditions beginning at age 6. As she matured and starting booking acting gigs, McCurdy remained “desperate to impress Mom,” while Debra became increasingly obsessive about her daughter’s physical appearance. She tinted her daughter’s eyelashes, whitened her teeth, enforced a tightly monitored regimen of “calorie restriction,” and performed regular genital exams on her as a teenager. Eventually, the author grew understandably resentful and tried to distance herself from her mother. As a young celebrity, however, McCurdy became vulnerable to eating disorders, alcohol addiction, self-loathing, and unstable relationships. Throughout the book, she honestly portrays Debra’s cruel perfectionist personality and abusive behavior patterns, showing a woman who could get enraged by everything from crooked eyeliner to spilled milk. At the same time, McCurdy exhibits compassion for her deeply flawed mother. Late in the book, she shares a crushing secret her father revealed to her as an adult. While McCurdy didn’t emerge from her childhood unscathed, she’s managed to spin her harrowing experience into a sold-out stage act and achieve a form of catharsis that puts her mind, body, and acting career at peace.

The heartbreaking story of an emotionally battered child delivered with captivating candor and grace.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-982185-82-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2022

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A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

TANQUERAY

A former New York City dancer reflects on her zesty heyday in the 1970s.

Discovered on a Manhattan street in 2020 and introduced on Stanton’s Humans of New York Instagram page, Johnson, then 76, shares her dynamic history as a “fiercely independent” Black burlesque dancer who used the stage name Tanqueray and became a celebrated fixture in midtown adult theaters. “I was the only black girl making white girl money,” she boasts, telling a vibrant story about sex and struggle in a bygone era. Frank and unapologetic, Johnson vividly captures aspects of her former life as a stage seductress shimmying to blues tracks during 18-minute sets or sewing lingerie for plus-sized dancers. Though her work was far from the Broadway shows she dreamed about, it eventually became all about the nightly hustle to simply survive. Her anecdotes are humorous, heartfelt, and supremely captivating, recounted with the passion of a true survivor and the acerbic wit of a weathered, street-wise New Yorker. She shares stories of growing up in an abusive household in Albany in the 1940s, a teenage pregnancy, and prison time for robbery as nonchalantly as she recalls selling rhinestone G-strings to prostitutes to make them sparkle in the headlights of passing cars. Complemented by an array of revealing personal photographs, the narrative alternates between heartfelt nostalgia about the seedier side of Manhattan’s go-go scene and funny quips about her unconventional stage performances. Encounters with a variety of hardworking dancers, drag queens, and pimps, plus an account of the complexities of a first love with a drug-addled hustler, fill out the memoir with personality and candor. With a narrative assist from Stanton, the result is a consistently titillating and often moving story of human struggle as well as an insider glimpse into the days when Times Square was considered the Big Apple’s gloriously unpolished underbelly. The book also includes Yee’s lush watercolor illustrations.

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27827-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2022

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