Bridget Jones–style endearing self-deprecation.



The premise: Every reader has a fat-girl story.

Narrator and newcomer McClure (and children’s-book editor), with her corny fat-girl anecdotes, recognizes she’s just about as heavy as she can get when she steps on a scale at a “lesbian garage sale” and tests its accuracy. The scale hits 230 pounds and Wendy decides to buy it: “I liked that it was a lesbian scale and that it wouldn’t make patriarchal judgments about my weight.” She’s just gotten back from a junket to Las Vegas as a part-time writer for the Web site Television Without Pity, and her colleagues send her pictures of herself at karaoke night at Tong’s Palace: “I’m showing quarters I didn’t even really know I had.” It’s time to check in to Weight Watchers (“Dieting fat girls are always kind of like superheroes”). Indeed, she starts her own Web site,, chronicling her herculean bout with losing and regaining weight, and she does become a hero for many obese women who write her in despair and relief. Most touching are glimpses of her mother, a sympathetic presence at over 300 pounds, who had her stomach stapled during Wendy’s childhood years, leading to frequent vomiting when she overate. Between Wendy’s day job (reading princess-story manuscripts), visiting the gym and tallying her dwindling weight, Wendy also begins to meet men, such as the nutty guy at the bar who tells her he would really go for her if she lost 30 pounds (why 30 pounds? “He says it so often I begin to wonder if he has a secret knowledge”), and the formerly overweight Nathan who delights in wearing her size 20 Lane Bryant jeans. Wendy and her chums are all in the same boat, rooting each other on with slogans: strength, power, confidence, joy. Landing a book agent seems an incongruous denouement to Wendy’s saga, since in the end she craves acceptance, not change.

Bridget Jones–style endearing self-deprecation.

Pub Date: April 26, 2005

ISBN: 1-59448-074-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2005

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...


A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.


A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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