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Memoir / Autobiography

  • Born Into Crisis

    by Kenneth Nixon

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot/Idea: This is a breathtaking, heartfelt, honest account of one man's struggles stemming from being born into poverty and to a mother with severe mental health and addiction issues. The author uses his experiences as a jumping-off point to discuss systemic problems that fail people like his mother, to empower readers to take stock of their own mental health, and, crucially, to provide information on how we can all work to create change.

    Prose: ​The author is an inspiring storyteller and uses clear, engaging prose. The experiences with his birth mother are especially powerful; readers can glimpse into the pain that all parties experienced. This is a long narrative, and can get repetitive. Sometimes the jump between telling his own story and talking about bigger social/systemic issues can prove awkward: some streamlining here would be useful. 

    Originality: This memoir strikes an interesting balance between the personal (the author's own experiences) and the way in which his experiences, especially with his mother, exist on a large scale. Readers will appreciate the inclusion of Part Two, which focuses on community activism, but would like to know more about the author's own work. Additionally, citing some statistics and studies in part one would be impactful, too.

    Character Development/Execution: While there are a few technical issues to work out, this nevertheless remains an extremely nuanced, empathetic portrayal of a son's relationship with his severely troubled mother, growing up poor, and the ways we can all help address the issues that impact these problems.

  • Plot: Wald offers valuable information in an entertaining way, illuminating the highs and lows of his service in the Peace Corps—and driving home the need for community and advocacy. His storytelling melds cultural differences while subtly teaching lessons for future Peace Corps volunteers. 

    Prose: Wald’s writing style brings the environment to vibrant life with rich descriptors and crisp prose.

    Originality: Offering a distinctive take on the role of a Peace Corps volunteer, Wald highlights the ideals alongside the realities of his time serving in Panama. The book’s style is ultimately an interesting mix of travelogue and education.

    Character/Execution: Wald delivers a sound exploration of Peace Corps efforts against the backdrop of Panama, but he goes a step further with recommendations for sustainability and systemic change. Readers will appreciate the practical guidance and insightful pointers.

  • Uncertain Fruit: A Memoir of Infertility, Loss, and Love

    by Rebecca & Sallyann Majoya

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot/Idea: Uncertain Fruit is a moving account of a gay couple's attempts to have a child either through in vitro fertilization or adoption. The authors honestly convey both the logistical challenges of conceiving as well as the trials of the adoption process, while also exploring the homophobia that the couple faces throughout their journey.

    Prose: The Majoyas write candidly and authentically, with occasional lyricism uplifting the prose. 

    Originality: Stories surrounding the psychological and emotional struggles inherent in the adoption process are familiar; here, the authors distill the experience of grief and heartbreak in a manner that will deeply resonate with readers who may be facing similar circumstances.

    Character/Execution: As a co-written memoir, this work effectively melds two voices. The dual timeline, which alternates between the couple's fertility trials and their negotiations with a pregnant girl's family to arrange for adoption, is gracefully presented, achieving a fine narrative balance. The prologue may benefit from being better integrated into the rest of the story.

     

  • Plunge

    by Liesbet Collaert

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot/Idea: Plunge follows the journeys of an unconventional couple who live and travel for more than seven years via sailboat and catamaran. The author vividly recounts the challenges and discomforts she encounters, as well as the joys of rejecting a more materialistic way of living in favor of new experiences. 

    Prose: The prose is even and clear. Readers will gain a sense of each locale the couple visits, though the work tends to be somewhat more focused on the dynamics of their living circumstances and relationship.​

    Originality: Books that focus on the experience of rejecting societal norms are familiar. Plunge brings a unique element to this narrative through its honest exploration of a relationship enduring the stress of close quarters and the inherent uncertainty of life at sea.

    Character/Execution: Liesbet emerges as a clear and vibrant character with a deep desire to keep moving, to explore. Mark is somewhat harder to pin down; he comes across as the more practical of the two. Ultimately, their differences and conflicts bring intrigue and substance to the storytelling. 

  • Lost in China: A Memoir of World War II

    by Jennifer Dobbs

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot: Tracing the extensive travels of the Dobbs family across China during the early years of World War II, this memoir covers a lot of ground but could do more to deliver on its adventuresome premise. With the main text limited to a straightforward, linear account of events, and much of the historical and personal context that would enrich and enliven the story relegated to footnotes, readers will be left waiting for Lost in China to become a fully-fleshed narrative.

    Prose: Competently written in clear prose, Lost in China contains many evocative descriptions of a time and place that will be entirely new and intriguing to readers.

    Originality: A thought-provoking account of a truly unique life experience, Lost in China contains some interesting historical context and surprising perspectives into the war's impact on China and the Westerners who found themselves trapped there during a fraught period.

    Character/Execution: Despite Dobbs's unique, interesting experience, her choice to write the memoir from her perspective as a young child renders the story as a long chain of impressions and movements that happened to her, without the agency, emotional depth, or introspection that might have come with a more adult perspective.

  • Plot: This is an inspiring story of a boy with a difficult childhood who turns from a life of crime to an honest existence, primarily due to the influence of his children and the help of a few caring mentors.

    Prose: The prose is straightforward and eminently readable, if not remarkable. The author's honesty and authenticity truly drive the storytelling. 

    Originality: Rumsey's narrative, while not wholly original in style and presentation, is unique in its candor and compassion. Readers will welcome Rumsey's story of his early struggles and eventual redemption.  

    Character/Execution: The characters are sketched out effectively, though the strongest character is the author himself as he reflects on his past, finding the ability to show caring and understanding to his former self while simultaneously acknowledging his mistakes. 

  • Pawprints On Our Hearts

    by Kerk Murray

    Rating: 6.25

    Plot: This book has sprouted from the seed of a good idea, but the finished product is somewhat awkwardly produced. While on its way to becoming broadly appealing to readers, it would benefit from a heavy-handed edit and more detail of the author's true knowledge of dog behavior and training.

    Prose: The prose effectively serves the story, but the narrative would be strengthened by some restructuring and tightening. The work also falls into "telling" rather than "showing," which may interfere with readers' full enjoyment.

    Originality: Books devoted to the love of dogs and the many ways they enrich the lives of human beings are practically a sub-genre in and of themselves. While the content here isn't entirely original, readers will be moved by the storytelling and will especially appreciate the fact that the author and his wife establish a nonprofit for dogs.

    Character/Execution: The author's goals and intentions are fairly clear as a young man, but readers may wish for more details about dogs, the way they view the world around them, and the author's individual interactions with them.

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