A highly witty and topical read—an impressive debut.

SIGH, GONE

A MISFIT'S MEMOIR OF GREAT BOOKS, PUNK ROCK, AND THE FIGHT TO FIT IN

A high school Latin teacher and tattoo artist’s memoir about immigrating to small-town America from Vietnam and learning to fit in through reading, skateboarding, and punk rock.

Tran and his parents fled Saigon as war refugees in 1975, and they eventually settled in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. There, they became the lone Asians in a town that “offered all the rainbows of Caucasia.” Local children taunted Tran throughout childhood while neighbors and co-workers saw his parents as amusing curiosities or “symbols of a painful and confusing war…of the people who had shot at them and killed their friends, brothers, and sons.” As he neared adolescence, Tran decided that he could solve his problems by trying to “be less Asian.” First, he developed “social Teflon” by earning top grades in all his classes, deciding that he “would take nerd props over no props at all.” He further learned to deemphasize his otherness by joining the skateboarding subculture as a young teen and adopting a punk persona. Even though he was a good student, however, the author sometimes came up short of parental expectations for perfection, with excruciatingly painful results. During his junior year of high school, he stumbled across a guide to classic literary texts touted as “the foundation for being ‘all-American.’ ” Eager to assimilate, Tran immersed himself in works like The Metamorphosis and The Importance of Being Earnest. He became more self-reflective and developed an unexpected passion for books, which he highlights by naming each chapter after a favorite work of literature (Madame BovaryPygmalion, etc.). At the suggestion of a history teacher, Tran read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which heightened his awareness of white racism toward Asians and of the racism he saw in his own father toward blacks. Funny, poignant, and unsparing, Tran’s sharp, sensitive, punk-inflected memoir presents one immigrant’s quest for self-acceptance through the lens of American and European literary classics.

A highly witty and topical read—an impressive debut.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-19471-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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