A literary grief memoir combined with a skillfully unfolded murder mystery.

THE HEART AND OTHER MONSTERS

A MEMOIR

An essayist looks back on her life and the circumstances surrounding her sister’s alleged overdose at age 24.

“I know what I am doing,” writes Andersen in the final third of the book. “I am curating her life. I take your hand and lead you through the blood and bile this story is made of….The unbearable note of grief still sings in my head. The melody of which you will never hear.” In a note to readers on the first page, we learn that the author suspects her sister, Sarah, was murdered, although she has no proof. Then Andersen leaves that idea behind, imagining her sister’s death as an accidental overdose, which is what both the police and the author believed when Sarah’s body was found locked in the bathroom of her boyfriend’s home, her dog wailing outside the door. As Andersen describes dealing with the logistics of the death and coping with her initial experiences of loss, she revisits her childhood, her troubled parents and stepfamilies, and her experience with cancer as a teen. Her own dark interlude with drugs and alcohol in her early 20s—“My worst lies happened when I was drinking and using coke…social lies, omissions, white lies, gray lies, kind lies, terrible lies”—eventually gave way to lasting sobriety through AA. The family story unfolds in brief, elegiac chapters illustrated with black-and-white snapshots. Gradually, Andersen begins to change the narrative, slipping in news stories about a seemingly unrelated murder, which, by the end, she has causally connected to her sister’s death. The revised facts are presented in a report made to the police, included near the end of the book. Combining the agonizing emotional intensity typical of narratives about losing a sibling with the memoiristic style of a murder investigation successfully complicates the reading experience.

A literary grief memoir combined with a skillfully unfolded murder mystery.

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63557-514-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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