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Memoir / Autobiography

  • Idea: In American Dreaming, Dianne Liuzzi Hagan juxtaposes the history of racial violence in America that led to the BLM movement with her personal history as an American woman of white European ancestry married to a Black man. A passionate cry for justice, the book joins the ranks the many voices being raised in this cause at this moment in history.

    Prose/Style: Liuzzi Hagan writes with conviction and intensity. Her accounts of the racist aggressions and microaggressions to which she and her family have been subjected are harrowing.

    Originality: It would be good to be able to say Luizzi Hagan's story is unique, but sadly for America, that is not the case. However, her method of weaving together general history, personal history, and recollected dreams makes for an interesting narrative.

    Character Development/Execution:  Liuzzi Hagan is angry, and for good reason. American Dreaming leaves no room for doubt as to who are the villains and who are the heroes of her memoir.

  • Idea: This memoir offers coming-of-age reminiscence told from the perspective of a COVID- quarantined. The author shares her life story beginning with childhood in World War II era England. What follows is a heartwarming glimpse into a fading generation.

    Prose: The writing is clean and organized, containing strong expository and descriptive writing.

    Originality: Essentially a genealogical narrative, the story it tells is unique to the author’s life experience. An enjoyable and interesting family story is told, but it offers little from a structural or thematic standpoint to set it apart from other narratives depicting the author’s generation.

    Character/Execution: While the content of the book doesn’t do anything exceptional to stand out from its contemporaries, what is presented is well-crafted and told in a strong and warm narrative voice. Also included are a good number of photos, which add tremendously to the book.

  • Listen Mama

    by M.S.P. Williams

    Rating: 7.00

    Idea: Listen Mama is a memoir written as a series of journal entries addressed by the author to his mentally ill mother. As the eldest child, Williams, who suffered horrific scarring to his head and face from a burn accident in his infancy, navigates the chaotic waters of his mother’s mental illness, her frequent pregnancies and tumultuous relationships with a series of abusive men, and her financial irresponsibility which often leaves her children hungry or facing eviction, while also facing the challenges of bullying and mockery of the disfigurement left by his burns, compounded by the heartache and indignities visited upon children growing up poor and Black in America.

    Prose/Style: The prose is polished, sometime to the point of being unconvincing in the early sections, where Williams does not always sound like a teenager addressing his mentally ill mother; the early journal entries too often serve as a vehicle for exposition. Williams finds his voice around the midway point of the book, emerging as a genuinely decent, warmly likable man doing his utmost to struggle through more tragedy and bad luck than any human being should be handed in a single lifetime, but always doing so with courage, humor and gallantry.

    Originality: Some readers may be reminded of Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face, when reading of the pain, disfigurement, and reconstructive surgeries the author endures after suffering severe burn injuries in his infancy. But these are secondary problems in his life, compared to the quotidian misery and anxiety engendered by life with an unstable single parent who has shot one ex-boyfriend and keeps a stash of guns around just in case she wants to shoot another.

    Character Development/Execution: Williams’s emotional enmeshment with his severely mentally ill mother Selita is sadly typical of children who are forced by horrific circumstances to take on the parental role during their childhoods. Like many adult children who’ve gone through such an upbringing, the author is self-aware and self-critical, sometimes to excess, yet frequently self-sabotages due to a misplaced sense that he is the only one who can rescue his family, and from having involuntarily internalized the belief that he never comes first. Nonetheless, Williams grows in strength and stature as the book progresses, thanks to his intelligence, his humor, and his personal integrity.

    Blurb: Williams emerges as a genuinely decent, warmly likable man doing his utmost to struggle past more slings and arrows of outrageous fortune than any human being should have to take on in one lifetime, and always doing so with courage, humor and gallantry.

  • 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.

  • The Hippie Hitchhiker from Nebraska

    by Randy Rhody

    Rating: 6.75

    Idea: Rhody’s narrative recalls his late teenage years as a wanderer seeking truth while hoping to escape the Vietnam draft. The memoir unfolds chronologically, luring readers desiring to see what Rhody comes to learn about himself and the world during the process. At times, the narrative flows along with shining clarity; at other moments, the book presents a dizzying array of escapades and people that can bombard and overwhelm the reader.

    Prose/Style: Rhody’s prose is descriptive and often poetic in its impressions. He effectively sets scenes for readers that vividly conjure places, people, and situations through active storytelling.

    Originality: Rhody’s memoir is, at times, an immersive and poetic look at his restless youth during the counterculture days. Though a more structured story arc may have benefited the narrative, the author serves as an impassioned witness to a complex era.

    Character Development/Execution: Readers gradually come to know Rhody through his travel experiences and his thoughts about his parents, his poetry, the draft, and the counterculture of the day. The memoir includes a broad cast of colorfully described individuals, while public figures such as poet Allen Ginsberg are given interesting notice.

  • Finding Mother: A Journey of Loss and Love

    by Grace LaJoy Henderson

    Rating: 6.75

    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.

  • Passports and Pacifiers

    by Kaitlyn Jain

    Rating: 6.75

    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.

  • Adventures of a Serial Entrepreneur

    by Fred Duffy

    Rating: 6.50

    Idea: Duffy’s life story is riveting and unique. The book’s wide scope—and the author’s vast, broad-ranging experiences—can cause the narrative to feel somewhat unfocused.

    Prose: Duffy's prose is clean, readable, and often clever. An excess of summary as opposed to in- scene development, can sometimes result in moments of bland storytelling and repetition.

    Originality: The author’s lived experiences are wholly unique, as is his perspective on pivotal global events and business management and operations.

    Character/Execution: Duffy’s grit and determination shine through this work. His admirable professional experiences will serve to inspire budding entrepreneurs.

  • Dr.insomniac

    by samatha polisetti

    Rating: 6.50

    Idea: Polisetti’s narrative, which includes 21 vignettes about the unusual or worrisome patient cases she has come across while in training to be a doctor or once she has become one, moves along at a decent pace as the reader is enticed to turn the pages not knowing what will come next and wanting to know each vignette’s and patient’s outcome.

    Prose/Style: Polisetti’s prose is readable and concise and to the point. Her vignette-style of telling her story can at times be a bit confusing as it jumps around in its chronology. The narrative’s tone is candid about mistakes the author has made and self-examining in its scope. It’s a bit as if she’s confiding to the reader, and she often ends each chapter or vignette with a concluding thought or lesson that helps the reader understand her takeaway from it.

    Originality: Polisetti’s vignettes about her patient cases are often engaging and eye-opening, as many result in terrible consequences and deaths that move the reader. A bit more development of the narrative and author would have benefitted the book and made it rise above convention. The work also  ends somewhat abruptly; a concluding chapter or vignette may offer greater closure.

    Character Development/Execution: Polisetti is the main character of her narrative and revelations  come about gradually and subtly. Her focus is more on the cases and patients she sees whose backgrounds and situations she describes quite aptly. Learning about Polisetti through these case situations piques the reader’s interest.

  • The Bond - Second Edition

    by A.M. Grotticelli

    Rating: 6.50

    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.


  • Crimson Arrows: A Bowhunting Odyssey

    by Eyad Yehyawi

    Rating: 6.25

    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.

  • Answers Inside Out

    by Blanche Haddow

    Rating: 6.00

    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.

  • 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.