A powerful memoir of overcoming adversity that also effectively interrogates the concept of meritocracy.

ACCEPTANCE

A MEMOIR

An account of growing up in institutions and foster care by a Harvard graduate and former Google employee.

After her parents divorced, Nietfeld’s father transitioned from male to female; her mother, who won custody, “was a hoarder with mental issues.” The family home became uninhabitable. At 13, Nietfeld checked into a psych ward, “luxuriat[ing] in the endless hot water, the meals that came on trays,” and later attempted suicide. After talking to a social worker, she entered a residential eating disorder program. Over the course of the narrative, the author shows how her various diagnoses (bulimia, psychosis) were reactions to her mother’s inability to care for her. In fact, her mother’s willingness to let the state take custody of her only daughter appears almost blithe; she appears chiefly in cameos. The turning point in the narrative comes when, while institutionalized, Nietfeld became obsessed with getting into an Ivy League college, a dream no one took seriously. She learned that her success would be determined not merely by her GPA or SAT scores, but also by how much she was willing to mine her family history for admissions-essay fodder. She had to learn how to play the game: to be a “good survivor” and “exemplify post-traumatic growth, not post-traumatic stress disorder.” Though Nietfeld graduated from Harvard with a lucrative job offer from Google, this is not just a bootstrapping tale. The author offers a complex meditation on desperation, leveraging personal pain, and how the drive to achieve can be a gift and a pathology simultaneously. “All I’d wanted growing up was to read books and study, but instead I learned how few acceptable ways there were to need help,” she writes. “You had to be perfect, deserving, hurt in just the right way….Everyone who dealt with disadvantaged kids, from ther­apists to college admissions officers, treated us as if we could overcome any abuse or neglect with sheer force of will.”

A powerful memoir of overcoming adversity that also effectively interrogates the concept of meritocracy.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-48947-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2022

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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A dynamic critique on the sprawling effects of racism and its effects on today’s youth.

THE TRAYVON GENERATION

An artful book-length essay on generational trauma in Black youth.

Weaving together prose, poetry, and artwork, prizewinning educator, poet, and cultural advocate Alexander, who recited a poem at Barack Obama’s first inauguration ceremony, depicts in sharp relief the realities of living as a Black youth in today’s America. In this short yet poignant book, the author notes the ways in which Black people have always been marginalized, but she looks specifically at the difficult experiences of those who have come of age in the past 25 years. Citing such problems as depression in youth, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, and how police brutality has become more apparent in the age of social media, Alexander paints a vivid portrait of a societal landscape that is fundamentally different depending on race, class, and other demographic markers. While recounting her personal story—including her 15 years as a professor at Yale, which, like many older colleges, has a problematic history with the slave trade—the author roots the text in history, looking at the legacies of enslavement and Confederacy movements and touching on key figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., and Zora Neale Hurston. The text is punctuated with gripping pieces of art that complement the text. Each piece is compelling in its own right as they entwine with the representation of human experience that Alexander demonstrates for readers. In one of the most significant sections, the author references a letter to Du Bois in which a scholar asked him “whether the negro sheds tears,” and “if so, under what general conditions—anger, fear, shame, pain, sorrow, etc.” At its core, this is a powerful treatise on the humanity of Black Americans and how it has been denied, how generations of people have persisted despite that fact, and how it continues to be one of the most pressing issues we face as a nation.

A dynamic critique on the sprawling effects of racism and its effects on today’s youth.

Pub Date: April 5, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5387-3789-7

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2022

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