An engrossing and unsparing look at a grueling journey of commitment and acceptance.

SLAVES TO THE RHYTHM

A writer offers a recollection of growing up gay in the Philadelphia suburbs and a love story set amid the HIV/AIDS crisis of the early 1990s.

Connell ambitiously weaves together three narrative devices—a journal, a traditional memoir, and a timeline of the HIV/AIDS pandemic—but keeps them easily distinguishable through the use of different typefaces. Beginning in January 1993 and covering the final year of his partner Stephan’s life, the journal allows for a raw, immediate account of their relationship as it was tested by the exigencies of survival, with countless moments of tender intimacy and gut-punching reality. It’s an exhausting read—the audience can virtually feel the physical suffering—but the author does not shy away from chronicling the emotional turmoil either, as he wondered how much longer he could care for Stephan at home. Connell also presents vignettes in a refreshing, localized way; for example, he mentions a particular purveyor and flavor of Philadelphia’s famous “Italian water ice” that allowed Stephan to counteract the metallic sensation in his mouth. The sections featuring a more traditional memoir style begin with the author recalling a largely idyllic childhood in an Irish Catholic family. But with the onset of adolescence, his religious doubts and gay sexuality intertwined to complicate matters, becoming a recurring theme, especially regarding fraught relationships with his parents and several siblings. As Connell succinctly comments in the foreword, “It is one of my biggest confusions in life, to watch over and over how a beautiful and heartfelt faith can be so cruel in its expression.” Eventually, these memoir chapters pass the journal entries, ending a year after Stephan’s death, when the author began a new life in Boston. Overall, the only drawback is that the project could use another round of editing. For instance, beyond the distracting spelling and grammatical errors and missing words, the Horsham Clinic somehow becomes the Ambler Clinic, and a reference to Bill Clinton’s election to the presidency (November 1992) appears in the journal, which ostensibly covers 1993. But the illuminating timeline, with content gleaned from cited sources, presents key dates, factoids, and quotations from the early ’80s through 1996, when more effective HIV/AIDS treatment options emerged—a vivid reminder of how medical workers and various communities responded to a health crisis in the face of governmental inaction.

An engrossing and unsparing look at a grueling journey of commitment and acceptance.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

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 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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