A painful purging of demons that is more cathartic for the author than readers.




A sometimes plodding, sometimes inspired chronicle of a daughter’s transient childhood.

Helwig begins and ends her meandering memoir at her mother Carola’s gravesite, a place where redemption and closure temper jagged memories of years spent shouldering the burden of caretaking her five younger sisters while her truant mother succumbed to mental illness. A “raven-haired, hazel-eyed beauty,” Carola became a child bride in 1948 at 14 in sleepy Glenwood, Iowa, giving birth to the author a year into her marriage while making ends meet writing jingles for grooming products. At 16, Carola suffered a nervous breakdown trying to juggle two daughters, farm life and marriage, so she divorced her husband and moved the family to Colorado to stay at her mother’s house. It wasn’t long before Davy, an oil driller, fell in love with and swiftly married her, bringing about third daughter Patricia. Helwig nimbly conveys her confusion when, at age 6, Carola inexplicably dumped her and sister Vicki off at their biological father’s country home back in Iowa for the summer. Those “idyllic” months on the farm would turn into years before Carola returned, ushering them through an endless succession of cities, schools, the birth of two more girls and the adoption of cousin Nancy. As Helwig chronicles her unorthodox upbringing, her narrative suffers from a surfeit of detail and exposition that alternately decorates yet dilutes her cheerless childhood. Still, in growing up devoid of traditional parental affection and support, the author’s depiction of her life and her mother’s downward spiral toward parental fatigue is frank, and this sincerity refreshes the frequently rambling prose. Bearing the increasingly physical punishments and continually caretaking for her younger sisters while Carola drank at local bars, Helwig sadly reminisces on becoming “swallowed up by the grown-up world.” However, “for a few precious moments,” she reflects, “we actually felt like a normal family.”

A painful purging of demons that is more cathartic for the author than readers. 

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4516-2847-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Howard Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2011

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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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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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