Memoir / Autobiography
by Anna Penenberg
Plot: Dancing in the Narrows is a poignant, memorable book about a young woman's struggle with chronic Lyme disease and her treatment options, as well as the enduring, courageous connection between a mother and daughter in times of grief and crisis.
Prose/Style: This memoir is well-written, gripping, and emotionally resonant.
Originality: While books addressing the impacts of disease are familiar, Penenberg’s memoir is set apart from others in the genre by her strong prose and well-drawn figures, as well as the focus on a condition that, while wide-spread, is rarely the topic of memoir.
Character/Execution: The mother and daughter here come across clearly and vividly, but primarily in relationship to the disease and how it has changed both of their lives. Readers will be moved by the sacrifices both women have had to make in the face of this often misunderstood and frequently devastating. disease.
An Autobiographical Letter: with a "Self-Portrait of the Author" and a Post-Autobiographical Postscriptby Norman Weeks
Idea: Author Norman Weeks's memoir is a deeply introspective narrative presented in an epistolary format. Weeks reflects on his early formative experiences in an orphanage; travels as an adolescent; his psychological development; and how literature has shaped his identity as an individual and as an author.
Prose: Weeks writes in a formal, yet warm tone that vividly recounts memories and significant moments from his past. The text somewhat assumes a reader's previous knowledge of the author and his work. Abundant literary references are laced throughout the text, while playful passages (notably, the author's imagined conversation with God), provide additional texture.
Originality: The choice to draft the work as a letter is an intriguing one. The author provides a unique perspective on 20th-century events as seen through the gaze of a writer, intellectual, and a flawed individual seeking to define himself and his legacy.
Character/Execution: While Weeks writes with honest candor and self-reflection, readers may not gain a truly intimate sense of his character. Weeks's memoir will be best enjoyed by readers familiar with his writings who seek greater insight into his creative development.
by Kathryn Lang-Slattery
Plot: K. Lang-Slattery's Wherever the Road Leads: A Memoir of Love, Travel, and a Van recreates, in the form of a memoir and travelogue, an around-the-world road trip taken by the author and her husband in the early 1970s. The book draws on the couple's letters, notebooks, drawings, photos, and memories to revisit far-flung locales, their long-gone converted VW microbus, their encounters with friends and strangers, and, touchingly, the couple's relationship as newlyweds discovering how to communicate with each other. Despite the decades that have passed, Slattery evokes the adventure and beauty of Mexico and Central America, then Europe, India, and the Middle East with the eye of a travel writer, though her account is more concerned with the couple's adventures than with the cultures they visited.
Prose/Style: Lang-Slattery's prose is strongest when she's most specific, which makes a decades-later travel memoir potentially tricky. Passages that detail misadventure or an amusing encounter are written with an engrossing clarity, touched with wisdom and good humor. Some descriptive passages are marvelous, but the book's cheery tone doesn't change much as the couple's travels continue, so it offers little in the way of suspense, mystery, or surprise, even when the couple has to stop to refuel near the "Desert of Death" near Kandahar. Lang-Slattery examines arguments the couple engaged in early in the marriage, which illuminates their relationship for readers, but at other times the dialogue feels somewhat stiff and expository.
Originality: The story of Wherever the Road Leads is unique to its author and her experiences, and supplemented with fascinating original sketches and photos. Seeing the world through this couple's eyes is certainly a unique treat, though the book itself doesn't always offer much information about what the pair learned, thought, or felt about the world.
Character Development: For all the book's varied locales and lovely descriptions, Lang-Slattery’s book would be better served to shape the material according to the impulses of a storyteller. The book offers an engaging itinerary and welcome glimpses of the world of the early '70s, but it lacks the narrative throughline of the best memoirs and, outside of the accounts of a few arguments, little sense of the couple's growth and discoveries.
by Julie W. Weston
Idea: This is a unique travelogue through the American Southwest. The integration of journal entries and photography provides an engaging window into the history of the land and its people.
Prose: The book features some strong writing, from well-structured sentences to skillful description. The dialogue can feel somewhat thin, but still conveys the personalities of the speakers well.
Originality: This work delivers a vital and vivid portrait of one of America’s more ancient places.
Character/Execution: The book is well crafted, presented in short, readable, chronological chunks, and interspersed with appealing photography.
by Phil McDonald
Idea: McDonald’s “journey memoir” unfolds chronologically and engagingly, as the reader follows his career moves and adventures with his family in exotic settings across the globe, never knowing what dangers or challenges might lurk beyond the next corner.
Prose/Style: McDonald’s prose is direct and candid as he informs readers about the foreign places he encounters and his own professional development. His voice is encouraging and his style readable as he combines personal stories with telling dialogue. The narrative integrates work project outcomes and 60 “takeaway lessons,” which are delivered succinctly and in a manner that doesn’t impact the narrative’s flow.
Originality: Unreal rises above dry conventions to combine lively adventure with insight into international places and peoples, tips for living abroad with family, and career and personal reflections. McDonald’s accomplishments are inspiring and his “lessons” are most often noteworthy without being cheesy or preachy.
Character Development/Execution: McDonald and his wife Rebecca are the two main characters who come across admirably in their lives helping others in developing countries, and the foreigners they befriend along the way are diverse and interesting. McDonald and his wife’s decision-making, concerns, responses, and mistakes make them multi-dimensional.
by Michael Schauch
Idea: Though this work is uneven, as it progresses, it becomes increasingly fascinating and immersive. The author’s journey is often moving and inspiring, while the setting is vividly conveyed.
Prose: If at moments prone to being longwinded, Schauch keeps the reader engaged in the story. The author demonstrates a clear gift for creating vibrant imagery.
Originality: While stories of self-discovery and transcendence through travel are familiar, Schauch offers an original focus via the book’s striking setting and the author’s refusal to idealize the lives and circumstances of those he encounters.
Character/Execution: Schauch is appropriately cautious in his storytelling, displaying awareness of his position as a cultural outsider and maintaining respect for the nuances of the culture he closely observes. The result is a candid portrait of a place and one individual’s powerful experience of it.
by Ahjo K. SIPOWICZ
Idea: An avante-garde multimedia book from a unique artist’s perspective. The book broaches some deep and personal topics and will stimulate readers’ senses.
Prose: The book contains writing of many different types, but is largely presented through poetic forms. The prose sections are well written and effectively stylized. There are also activity descriptions which encourage readers to participate in the book’s artistic experience.
Originality: A very personal and unique book, full of poetry, visual art, and snippets of memoir.
Character/Execution: While the art and poetry won’t be to every reader’s taste, those willing to give themselves to the spirit of the book, and to participate in the suggested activities, will find a rewarding experience.
by Kawan Glover
Idea: The memoir’s premise is quite unique: the situation of having a stroke at 20 years old, as well as experiencing multiple brain surgeries, is unusual and generates interest.
Prose/Style: There are some graceful metaphors throughout the text, but also some clichés. This book would benefit from a professional copy edit, as the narrative tends to break into expository reminiscence to events far in the past when it should be moving forward; such digression detracts from the momentum. The description of the writer's out-of-body experience during his first brain surgery is the kind of excellent writing the book needs more of in order to fulfill its potential.
Originality: The narrator is something of an Everyman – an otherwise “normal” millennial, a college student and an athlete, placed in a very not-normal situation by a life-threatening medical condition.
Character Development/Execution: Many of the characters here would benefit from more development, rather than only being names on the page. The romance with Sydney is sweet and has moments of great charm and nostalgia.
by Grace LaJoy Henderson
Idea: Henderson's story is inherently fascinating, as it journeys through the various stages of wanting to find her mother, finding her mother, and the emotional trip that discovery caused. Unfortunately, the four-book format of the story makes it feel disjointed and disconnected from the strong emotions discussed at the end of the journal section. This lack of cohesion distracts the reader from fully investing in this emotional, dramatic and powerful story.
Prose/Style: The prose has grammatical issues and an overall choppy cadence that makes the reading of it difficult. While the subject matter is infinitely interesting and the conflicted emotions of the author are palpable, those two elements of the story are dulled by prose that could use a professional copyeditor’s review.
Originality: Henderson's extraordinary tale is, at turns, heartbreaking, illuminating, powerful, and relatable. However, both the disjointed plot structure and prose cadence keep the reader from truly immersing themself in the emotions of the overall story.
Character Development/Execution: The author's personality--her conflicted emotions about her mother and her frustrating experience trying to find her--are heart-rending, relatable, and ultimately inspiring. She paints an as-complex-as-possible portrait of the elusive (both personality-wise and mental health-wise) mother in question. The supporting characters could benefit from a stronger showcase, particularly the father's part of the narrative.
by Kaitlyn Jain
Idea: Jain's memoir shares episodes from her numerous experiences traveling both on her own and with her husband and small children. While frequently relatable, the book often reads like a family travelogue holding greater meaning for those along for the journey than for outside readers.
Prose/Style: Jain’s prose has a conversational, lively, humorous tone that is a natural fit for her stories relating to traveling with kids.
Originality: This memoir stands apart from other works through its focus on the joys and trials of traveling internationally with very young children. The author's “Lesson Learned” segments offer valuable tips to other new moms traveling abroad. These pertinent insights might be better integrated into the work as a whole, and the book itself presented in a manner that highlights this focus.
Character Development/Execution: From Jain’s depiction, the reader receives a clear understanding of the author’s love of travel, while the unique personalities and interests of her family members shine through the pages. The anecdotes that the author shares are enjoyable and memorable, though the book might be enhanced through a somewhat more pronounced conceptual framework.
by A.M. Grotticelli
Plot: This memoir is based on a strong foundational narrative. Its sharp focus on the experience of fostering children and the nuances of building family, is deeply compelling.
Prose/Style: The prose in this memoir is straightforward, with few errors. While it is not poetic or philosophical, it illuminates all of the major happenings in the mixed family.
Originality: This is quite original material, and the family at its center is decidedly unique. Few authors write about the experiences of foster children. While this personal tale is interesting and effectively developed, the book may appeal most strongly to a niche audience.
Character/Execution: The reader gets to know the author quite well, and the character of the father is also drawn quite clearly. The mother and the other foster children are detailed and explored in some detail, but as there are numerous characters, emotions, attachments, and losses are not made entirely vivid.
by Eyad Yehyawi
Idea: Marketed as a “bowhunting odyssey”, the memoir certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front; however, the repetitive structure of each chapter recounting a separate but similar adventure may grow wearying for those less passionate about bowhunting than the author. Readers might find themselves wishing Yehyawi spent more time discussing the parts of his life less directly related to the sport, because these occasional moments serve as points of interest for a broader audience.
Prose/Style: Lush, vivid descriptions of scenery help to balance out the sometimes excessive technical language.
Originality: The most unique feature of this memoir is the author’s sheer volume and variety of adventures, as he travels to distant locations and hunts exotic animals. As previously mentioned, the ways in which these kills are recounted varies little from chapter to chapter so that the book more resembles a collection of related essays than a coherent memoir.
Character/Execution: With such a continued focus on the animals Yehyawi hunts and the methods by which he kills them, his actual character and motivations are obscured for much of the narrative. Only in later chapters, with references to his wife and son, does the reader start to see more developed character traits of the narrator.
by Blanche Haddow
Idea: In this quietly poignant memoir, the author shares her experience of being diagnosed with Asperger's at age 51 and how said diagnosis has altered her understanding of herself and the nuances of human perception.
Prose/Style: While intimate and genuine, the author's casual prose style could elevate the narrative more. Readers with Asperger's – particularly those who are female and received an adult diagnosis – will surely relate to Haddow's thoughts and experiences. However, the work would greatly benefit from a more formal narrative framework and more polished prose in order to expand its readership.
Originality: As females with Asperger's are historically underdiagnosed and under-represented, Haddow's work fills a valuable niche. Adults who may similarly receive an Asperger's diagnosis later in life will welcome the author's many insights.
Character Development/Execution: The author has a warm, candid voice that will prove welcoming to readers. While the author references a number of outside resources relating to the diagnosis of Asperger's, this work is primarily a personal account of the author's diagnosis and unique perspective on the world around her, rather than an informative guide on the subject.
by Joe Field
Plot: This inspiring memoir is something of a Horatio Alger tale, which includes the author's conversion to Christianity and his quest to find the father who abandoned him and his mother before he was born.
Prose/Style: The book showcases a peppy and self-confident tone, and is reader-friendly in terms of its pacing and structure.
Originality: While not the first rags-to-riches memoir, the author's optimistic and engaging storytelling has an effective appeal.
Character Development/Execution: The author takes a clear-eyed approach to writing about his life challenges and successes as they come his way. The book might benefit from deeper self-reflection on the part of the narrator.