A thoughtful and entertaining how-to guide weakened by serious diversity-related missteps.

HOPE IN THE MAIL

REFLECTIONS ON WRITING AND LIFE

This thorough, well-voiced guide to becoming a writer covers everything you need to be published, starting with developing the right attitude.

From building believable characters to finding an agent to designing a book cover, Van Draanen’s (Wild Bird, 2017, etc.) guide to becoming a writer has it all. Beginning with her personal history as the child of hardworking Dutch immigrants, the author encourages future writers to be gritty, describing her own relentless pursuit of her craft even during a decade of constant rejections from major publishing houses. She then moves from the attitudes necessary for creative work to the more practical details: how to find a narratorial voice, how to structure a mystery, and how to find and work with an editor. Throughout, she uses moments of perseverance and struggle from her own life to urge aspiring writers to keep going, no matter what challenges—internal and external—they must face down. Van Draanen’s voice is charmingly no-nonsense, and the themes she explores are sure to benefit aspiring writers of many ages. Unfortunately, though, by insisting on the connection between hard work and success, Van Draanen ignores structural issues that prevent writers from marginalized backgrounds from breaking into publishing with the same ease as mainstream peers. Furthermore, small moments of ignorance unredeemed by self-reflection—such as shaming her childhood bully for her looks and repeatedly using the charged term "hoodlum" in a context that is loaded with class-based assumptions—make her unexamined privilege difficult to ignore.

A thoughtful and entertaining how-to guide weakened by serious diversity-related missteps. (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-9466-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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A beautiful meditation on the tender, fraught interior lives of Black boys.

THE BEAUTIFUL STRUGGLE (ADAPTED FOR YOUNG ADULTS)

The acclaimed author of Between the World and Me (2015) reflects on the family and community that shaped him in this adaptation of his 2008 adult memoir of the same name.

Growing up in Baltimore in the ’80s, Coates was a dreamer, all “cupcakes and comic books at the core.” He was also heavily influenced by “the New York noise” of mid-to-late-1980s hip-hop. Not surprisingly then, his prose takes on an infectious hip-hop poetic–meets–medieval folklore aesthetic, as in this description of his neighborhood’s crew: “Walbrook Junction ran everything, until they met North and Pulaski, who, craven and honorless, would punk you right in front of your girl.” But it is Coates’ father—a former Black Panther and Afrocentric publisher—who looms largest in his journey to manhood. In a community where their peers were fatherless, Coates and his six siblings viewed their father as flawed but with the “aura of a prophet.” He understood how Black boys could get caught in the “crosshairs of the world” and was determined to save his. Coates revisits his relationships with his father, his swaggering older brother, and his peers. The result will draw in young adult readers while retaining all of the heart of the original.

A beautiful meditation on the tender, fraught interior lives of Black boys. (maps, family tree) (Memoir. 14-18)

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984894-03-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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This is clearly not unbiased reporting, but it makes a strong case that justice in our legal system does not always fit the...

ONE CUT

From the Simon True series

Porinchak recounts how the legal system fails five teens who commit a serious crime.

The May 22, 1995, brawl in a white suburb of Los Angeles that resulted in the death of one teen and the injury of another is related matter-of-factly. The account of the police investigation, the judicial process, and the ultimate incarceration of the five boys is more passionately argued. Since the story focuses on the teens’ experiences following the brawl, minimal attention is given to Jimmy Farris, who died, although the testimony of Mike McLoren, who survived, is crucial. The book opens with a comprehensive dramatis personae that will help orient readers, and the text is liberally punctuated by quotes drawn from contemporary newspaper and magazine coverage as well as interviews with several of the key figures, including three of the accused. Porinchak argues that the proceedings were influenced by the high-profile 1994 trial and acquittal of the Menendez brothers, and unfounded accusations of gang involvement further clouded the matter. Despite the journalistic style, there is clear intent to elicit sympathy for the five boys involved, three of whom were sentenced to life without parole; of two, the text remarks that “they were numbers now, not humans.”

This is clearly not unbiased reporting, but it makes a strong case that justice in our legal system does not always fit the crime. (Nonfiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4814-8132-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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