A haunting childhood remembrance set in China’s recent past.

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BEIJING KID

Su recalls the peculiarities of growing up as part of China’s one-child generation in this debut memoir.

Despite its affable title, this is a stark, striking memoir in stories recounting episodes from Su’s early years that are worlds away from the standard American notion of what a childhood should entail. For instance, the author recalls sitting at home one night in June 1989 watching a detective series on television—the government broadcast four episodes that night instead of the usual one—only to find out later that, not far from her home, the People’s Liberation Army was slaughtering protesters in Tiananmen Square. Born in 1978, just before China instituted its one-child policy, Su was the daughter of a mother who had wanted sons—she miscarried three before Su’s birth, aborted one after—which caused her to keep Su at a distance: “I once asked my mother why she never held my hand, hugged me and kissed me,” writes Su. “I remember my mother said to me she did not think it was necessary.” Su received more affection from her grandmother, though despite (or perhaps because of) this, she would often deliberately hurt the old woman’s feelings. Many of the pieces in the book concern initial experiences: the first time that Su rode a bike, or saw a sunset, or watched television. Rather than marking an addition, however, each experience seemed to whittle something away from the maturing girl. This is a book of disappearances—of a chronic, evolving sense of lack. Su writes in a detached prose that evokes the naiveté of childhood while hinting at the deeper trauma that some of these events inflicted. The result often borders on the surreal; for example, in the opening chapter, “Tiger,” the author describes a beloved pet dog that “was big, as big as a donkey, I used to sit on his back. I was about nine years old. He liked grass very much. I used to pick a lot of grass for him.” Because owning an unregistered dog was illegal, and because registration was expensive, Su’s mother decided that Tiger should be killed, so she strangled the dog in the yard while Su looked on. The next day, the family ate Tiger for dinner. “Now I love dog’s meat,” Su ends this disturbing tale. “It is the most delicious meat that I have ever had.” The fablelike perfection of some of the pieces—“Song Yali,” “Sange,” “Garden”—suggests quite a bit of authorial shaping, and as a result, some readers may be tempted to view the book as a collection of short fiction. In the end, though, the literal truth barely matters; Su so sharply captures the universal experiences of lonely youth and sets them so starkly against the austerity of 1980s China that the book delivers an artistic truth that’s powerful enough on its own. It’s a work that will sneak into one’s soul and linger there for a long time.

A haunting childhood remembrance set in China’s recent past.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2006

ISBN: 978-1-4303-0338-1

Page Count: 218

Publisher: Lulu

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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