A disjointed structure occasionally hobbles this swiftly written life story of music, forgiveness, and resilience.

SING FOR YOUR LIFE

A STORY OF RACE, MUSIC, AND FAMILY

The biography of an emerging African-American opera singer who overcame a tough Southern childhood.

New York Times Magazine contributor Bergner (What Do Women Want?: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, 2013, etc.) details the life of Ryan Speedo Green, who rose to performance prominence after a harrowing childhood in southeastern Virginia. Described as a physically imposing figure at 6 feet 5 inches and over 300 pounds, Green grew up with little adolescent ambition, raised by a largely absent part-Seminole bodybuilder father and an Air Force veteran mother who grew as abusive and violent to her children as her own romantic partners were to her. Life in their low-income housing project became troublesome for the young, increasingly uncontrollable Green, who, at age 12, pulled a knife on his brother and his mother and was sent to a juvenile detention facility. During his high school years, the family lived in similar squalor, but as Green was steered toward chorus classes to obtain easy high school credits, he ended up uncovering his truest voice. Bergner captures the essence of his subject’s desperate childhood even though Green terminated many interviews due to the still-palpable pain and misery of his past. Running alongside Green’s childhood is the story of his more recent ascent up the ranks of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions competition; the author spotlights both the struggles and the triumphs associated with Green’s exhaustive vocal training. The interweaving of both eras of Green’s life doesn’t always cohere, causing a meandering narrative. Bergner works hard to establish momentum during Green’s tumultuous childhood—and finds some success—but when coupled with the details of his opera aspirations, the effect is jarring. Still, as Green’s past and present finally meet in conclusion, his prideful performance at the Met (with his father in joyful attendance) seemingly trumps a good portion of childhood trauma.

A disjointed structure occasionally hobbles this swiftly written life story of music, forgiveness, and resilience.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-316-30067-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Lee Boudreaux/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

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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