Memoir / Autobiography
Rain On The Red Flagby Frank Nguyen
Plot/Idea: Nguyen's book is a thoroughly engaging story that draws readers in with tragedy, perseverance, and, ultimately, a type of reunification. The framing--starting the story with a heartbreaking plot point--sets the stage for an emotional and harrowing story that keeps readers riveted throughout.
Prose: Nguyen's prose is affecting and expertly crafted, especially the segues at the end of each chapter, which inspire the reader to keep reading. While visceral emotions and the situations that cause them propel the narrative, the description of the settings are also vivid, if spare.
Originality: This memoir is a searing story of family, war, love, loss, and reconnection. Nguyen honors his family with his powerful words.
Blurb: Nguyen's memoir shares the story of his childhood in Saigon and the tragedies that befell him and his family after Communist forces came to power. This searing memoir shares the experiences of Nguyen and his family in emotional, vivid detail. This book is a powerful addition to the memoir genre.
"Are You a N****r or s Doctor?"by OTTO E STALLWORTH JR MD MBA
Plot/Idea: Otto E. Stallworth, Jr. writes evocatively about living in the American South before the Civil Rights Movement. He offers a first-hand perspective on segregation and racial violence, as well as on prejudicial attitudes encountered throughout his life and career. He writes jovially and vividly about American history as well as his own far-ranging experiences, with a comfortable manner of storytelling that warmly welcomes readers into his world.
Prose: The prose flows easily and authentically. Stallworth's writing shines, whether he's discussing the depths of addiction or conveying a sweet love story; managing a music group, or succeeding in the medical profession.
Originality: Stallworth's life is uniquely his, and the manner in which he weaves together very different and captivating stories, is a pleasure to read. Readers with an interest in the Civil Rights Movement and the tumultuous history of the American South will find much to appreciate in Stallworth's seasoned and layered storytelling.
Character/Execution: Each character Stallworth encounters, no matter how briefly featured, immediately comes to life. The book itself is organized in a manner that is loosely chronological and enjoyable to read. Readers won't soon forget Stallworth's impactful narrative.
Boundless: An Abortion Doctor Becomes a Motherby Christine Henneberg
Plot/Idea: The storyline here is timely, rich, and cohesive. The reader will be quickly invested in the author's story, from her struggle to become a mother to her work helping women who choose abortions. It is a brave and personal story.
Prose: The author is a powerful writer and storyteller. Her narrative is finely structured, polished, and memorable.
Originality: The author movingly describes the experience of straddling the personal vs. professional divide. As a physician who performs abortions--and becomes pregnant herself--Henneberg brings a truly unique, nuanced perspective to a complex and timely topic.
Character/Execution: The author emerges as a multilayered, accomplished individual who candidly explores her own experience with pregnancy while fully humanizing those who seek abortions.
Food and Freedomby Gabriella Lang
Plot: In Lang's memoir, the connection to food is appropriate and appealing as it reveals the beauty and unique nature of Hungarian culture bit by bit, and bite by bite. The compelling narration invites readers to travel with Lang on different steps of her journey.
Prose: The opening of this book easily hooks readers, as the narrator asks her mother, “How could you bear to leave all this beauty?”, to which the woman's answer is, "For food, and freedom." The imagery throughout the memoir is strong and effective, keeping readers engaged.
Originality: In this narrative, we meet a young girl who does not run from her past; her parents made a life-changing decision in the name of freedom and she is gradually making sense of their decision, their identities, and her roots steeped in Hungarian culture. While concerns about cooking, baking, serving, and recipes may seem insignificant on the surface, the character’s food-related emotions are quite meaningful, as they continually reveal important elements about her cultural origin.
Character/Execution: Recipes and pictures add to the originality of this piece and help readers better envision Lang's words. There are many lines referring to the basic values in Hungarian culture, which will provide readers with greater context.
The Queen of Gay Streetby Esther Mollica
Plot/Idea: Mollica proves herself to be a capable and experienced writer. Her story is deeply engaging, unusual, and full of humor. Her pick-myself-back-up attitude will inspire readers not to give up on finding love even if the past is not pretty.
Prose: Mollica's prose is delightful: polished, upbeat, and self-reflective, she tells her story with honesty, integrity, and wit.
Originality: The author's experiences and perspective on life, work, and relationships are entirely unique. Her take on New York City also proves to be fresh and insightful.
Character/Execution: The Queen of Gay Street is finely executed and consistently appealing. The author's individuality shines through the pages, while Mollica's ability to find humor amidst dysfunction and heartbreak is among the book's greatest assets.
Myrtlewood Memoirsby Terry J. Woodall
Plot/Idea: Woodall, an author and artist, crafts a gorgeously written love letter to Oregon myrtlewood that expertly blends memoir with nature writing and Pacific Northwest history.
Prose: Woodall's prose is lyrical, polished, and full of rich detail. Readers will relish the author's lovely, visceral descriptions and deep knowledge of the natural world surrounding him. Woodall also has a knack for writing dialogue and capturing characters with just a few quick brush strokes.
Originality: Myrtlewood Memoirs offers a unique approach to memoir. The author writes with arresting beauty about the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest and about his awakening as an artist through the use of myrtlewood.
Character/Execution: The most prominent character in Myrtlewood Memoirs is myrtlewood itself. Woodall writes about how myrtlewood grows, where it grows, and how its wood and leaves have been utilized throughout time--from early Native Americans to woodworkers of the present day. In the tradition of Annie Dillard, Woodall immerses readers in his observations of art, geological time, and nature.
Mise en Place--Memoir of a Girl Chefby Marisa Mangani
Plot/Idea: Marisa Mangani takes readers along with her on the journey of finding her purpose and standing up for her dreams in an eye-opening and refreshingly honest memoir.
Prose: Mangani's candid, fluid, and direct prose captivates readers from the very first line.
Originality: Mise en Place offers a unique, insider's perspective on working in a male-dominated restaurant business as a female chef. Mangani's career takes her to a variety of vividly conveyed cities and restaurants while offering an emotional chronicle of her personal growth.
Character/Execution: Mangani has a clear handle on storytelling and fills her memoir with detailed and authentic descriptions of the many individuals who influence her personal and professional life.
Blurb: An excellent read for aspiring entrepreneurs trying to pave their own path.
Overcoming Deepest Grief: A Woman's Journeyby Mary Aviyah Farkas
Plot/Idea: The concept behind Overcoming Deepest Grief is simple: one woman's story of how she dealt with losing her partner of 18 years, Margaret. As readers will quickly find, however, it is about so much more, including the compounding loss of her beloved sister, the trauma of finding Margaret dead in their home, and the unceremonious pillaging of Margaret's possessions by her somewhat-estranged family. In this profound narrative, a journal-like collection of essays, letters, and poems written in the months and years after Margaret's death, Farkas records her long, painful, but ultimately joyful, journey to acceptance and happiness.
Prose: Overcoming Deepest Grief is written in beautiful, emotive prose and verse that can either be savored bit by bit or indulged in a single sitting.
Originality: While there are certainly many memoirs that address reclaiming one's life after profound loss, Farkas's text stands apart from the pack, in large part because it isn't consciously trying to be any one thing. A curated collection of writings created throughout her period of bereavement, there is such raw emotion and authenticity in the pages of Overcoming Deepest Grief. Many of the essays deal with grief, sadness, and the seeming impossibility of living through her pain, but the collection is also peppered with writings on different subjects—everything from bees, letting go of racist friends, and odes to the moon—that will delight readers.
Character Development/Execution: A stunning collection of emotive writing sure to touch the hearts of readers, Mary Aviyah Farkas's Overcoming Deepest Grief: A Woman's Journey takes readers through the author's raw, painful journey through the grief she experienced after losing her beloved sister to cancer and then, just a few months later, coming home from work to discover her partner of 18 years deceased in bed. The essays and poems, which were written in the months and years following the dual deaths, allows readers to follow how Farkas was able to slowly start letting joy back into her life one small moment at a time
My Heart Behind Barsby Lorri Britt
Plot/Idea: Britt delivers a heartrending story of the events that led to her children being incarcerated. The memoir is frank and eye-opening, and Britt's willingness to disclose the gritty details will help others who are struggling with similar issues.
Prose: Britt is down-to-earth and relates her story in simple, straightforward prose that invites readers into her family—and the painful aftermath of her sons' incarceration.
Originality: This is a traumatic story of a mother losing her sons in an incredibly painful way, and Britt's decision to share her journey of loss, healing, and even some closure is authentic and believable.
Character/Execution: Britt's purpose—to share her anger, depression, and hopelessness in a genuine way—is admirable, and the narrative portrays her progress as slow but reasonable given the immensity of her situation.
The Golden Ticket: A Life in College Admissions Essaysby Irena Smith
Plot/Idea: The Golden Ticket is a capable and well-constructed personal memoir that leverages the author’s life experience to create a structure and narrative that sets it apart from other less focused contemporary memoirs.
Prose: At a sentence level, the writing throughout The Golden Ticket is remarkably strong and makes for a highly enjoyable read. The narration is erudite and entertaining; the author's skill and devotion to craft are apparent from the first page to the last.
Originality: This memoir is rooted in a unique conceit. The author draws from the experience of reviewing (and later coaching students and families in writing) college application essays.
Character/Execution: Smith's narrative offers an appealing blend of personal experiences and reflections on youth, college, literature, and more. Each chapter begins with a college essay prompt, effectively using the book’s thematics to establish a structure that works nicely with the personal narrative at hand. The footnotes add flavor, humor, and personality that work to the book’s benefit.
Somewhere in the Music, I'll Find Me: A Memoirby Laurie Markvart
Plot/Idea: This is an engaging story that combines music and moxie while exploring the impact of loss. Markvart undertakes a significant and difficult journey; her story holds the reader's interest as she confronts challenges head-on, emerging as a more empowered and self-fulfilled individual in the process.
Prose: Markvart's conveys her love for music in a moving and elegant manner, while her emotional pain, anxiety, and the often comfortable moments she endures are palpable on the page.
Originality: Somewhere in the Music, I'll Find Me is a unique and personal story about music, grief, and the pressures of pursuing a dream that will undoubtedly inspire readers.
Character/Execution: Markvart has done a marvelous job of sorting through her own tumultuous past and is very much the center of her own story. Additional characters are organically portrayed and true to life.
Blurb: Somewhere in the Music, I'll Find Me is the moving and candid story of an aspiring musician whose journey takes her from rock bands to Broadway.
Memoirs of a Bible Smugglerby Jeana Sue Kendrick
Plot/Idea: This work chronicles the author's courageous and sometimes harrowing adventures as a Bible smuggler during the Cold War. There is much here to engage the reader as the story unfolds.
Prose: This is a beautifully-written work; the author demonstrates a strong command of language, pacing, and storytelling.
Originality: This is a highly original work that vividly captures the author's unique circumstances.
Character/Execution: The author does a fine job of elucidating the reasons she and her husband are called to smuggle Bibles to individuals living behind the Iron Curtain, while also offering insight into the historical era.
When the Light Goes Outby Lisa Myers
Plot: Myers takes a gut-wrenching journey in uncovering the circumstances surrounding her father's death and mines from that experience an illuminating insight into the world of mental health and trauma.
Prose: Myers does an incredible job crafting the complexities of pain and shame that bind people to traumatic events without making her book sounding like a clinical textbook.
Originality: This is truly an original story, not just of Myer's father, but of the patients the author has encountered over the span of her career. While pain is a familiar experience to all humans, the book explores the concept of how it occurs being unique to each person's life.
Character/Execution: Myers paints a vivid picture of her father, as well as the people she encounters in her search for closure. If it wasn't a memoir, this would read as a riveting mystery novel.
SURVIVING THE ODDby Candi Milo
Plot: When Milo’s dad builds a home for mentally ill and emotionally-disturbed people called the Milo Arms Board and Care Home, the impact on the family is tremendous. This story sheds light on Milo's childhood in the middle of her father's business and on the aftereffects of political decisions that have serious consequences for everyday people. The shame of the Milo family business feels believable and relatable.
Prose: This book is very well written, with a wry sense of humor. Although the content is often hard-hitting and sad, Milo's humor keeps it from overwhelming the text.
Originality: Milo's childhood story is original and interesting, with many authentic references to the time period. Her unique perspective on the shockwaves resulting from her father's business is riveting.
Character/Execution: Milo—an eight-year-old girl exploring her non-traditional childhood and ever in search of her father’s love and approval—is well-developed and will resonate. The author's concerns and reflections will move readers.
When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Chair: A Memoirby Ryan Rae Harbuck
Plot/Idea: Harbuck's remarkable life story is told in raw, compelling fashion. When I Grow Up I Want to be a Chair: A Memoir is an honest, emotional, and humorous reflection on how losing the use of her legs changed the author's life.
Prose: The author discusses some very dark moments in her life, most of which stem from the car accident that left her paralyzed and her boyfriend dead when they were just teenagers, but this darkness is punctuated with hope, acceptance, humor, and a smattering of small miracles that makes it a delight to read.
Originality: The author tells the story of her life up to adulthood, but the narrative is structured in such a way that the chapters are more like interlocking essays, each related to the others but also interesting on their own. This polished memoir strikes a great balance between jumping around in time, creating some narrative interest and tension, without confusing the reader.
Character Development/Execution: Overall this is an engaging, emotional read that keeps the reader's attention throughout. Readers also may wish for more discussion of the idea behind the title and how it ties into the text.
Hashmanby Alexander Grand and Joshua S. Berman
Plot: The authors recount the colorful and complex life story of a man who straddled and frequently crossed the line between good guy and villain. Despite the necessary brevity of the graphic novel format, the author is still able to hold the reader's interest.
Prose: Grand and Berman capably move the story forward, keeping the reader engaged throughout. While the artwork is vibrant and the story worthy of recounting, a traditional format might have offered the opportunity for a greater richness of detail. Though the story is somewhat abbreviated in this format, the narrative remains impactful.
Originality: Between the original storyline, an atypical approach to biography, and unique and effective artwork, this work is creative and distinctive.
Character/Execution: The authors' characterizations are strong. Joey's upbringing is particularly vivid on the page, particularly when it comes to depictions of his mother's cruelty.