ALL MY SINS ARE RELATIVES

A frighteningly perceptive look at the essential dilemmas of mixbloods, academics, and writers from an insider on all counts. Novelist Penn (English/Michigan State Univ.; The Absence of Angels, 1994) is always cynical, occasionally bitter, and unfailingly accurate in his arrows' markseven if his targets seem difficult to miss. These include family, mostly his wealthy maternal WASP relatives, who can hardly bring themselves to acknowledge his existence; colleagues, such as the one who said that ``being black was serious but being Indian was `more like a hobby' ''; institutions that deny tenure for ``lack of publications,'' no matter how much he publishes; and assistant literary agents who write cruel letters on behalf of bosses who can't make his writing ``salable.'' Nor is he afraid to turn that razor-sharp perception on himself. After a lengthy disquisition on authenticity and fakery in Native American writing, for example, he explodes all his carefully drawn theories with a simple, unanswerable question he hears in his grandfather's voice: ``What makes you so all-fired sure?'' That is his Nez Perce grandfather, from whom he learned everything about being Indian while his father was grinning stupidly for his white employers and colleagues; his facial muscles simply gave out three years before he was to receive his retirement benefits. And it is in descriptions like thatof his familythat Penn is truly ingenious. He masterfully melds the history and traditions of the Nez Perce with that of his family, not only when they coincide in obvious waysas in the story of Penn's ancestor Chief Josephbut also in explaining his father's inability to stay at his job until retirement, his sister's dreamy obliviousness to pain, his own digressive writing style, and the perennial cynicism that has allowed him to survive in a hostile world. Insightful and elegantly written. (11 photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 1995

ISBN: 0-8032-3709-X

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1995

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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