Memoir / Autobiography
THE INVENTION OF FIREFLIES: a memoir of the magical & the monstrousby Dwight Okita
Plot/Idea: Okita's stirring, humor-filled memoir details moments of joy and beauty ("magic") as well as of darkness and fear ("monstrous") from the author's life.
Prose: Okita's prose is expressive, detailed, and engaging. Frequently lovely descriptions sit comfortably alongside exposition that provide context and situate events in time and place.
Originality: The author anchors his story in particular formative events and milestones: a serial killing that occurs too close for comfort; early romantic encounters; the AIDS epidemic; grappling with mental illness; successes as an author, and more. Though events are not always remarkable, Okita's writing style maintains interest throughout the narrative.
Character/Execution: Rather than create a fully chronological overview of his life from childhood into adulthood, Okita wisely constructs the memoir around significant moments, thus providing a refreshing shape and framework.
Cloud Clippers: The High-Flying Life of Marie Rae Miller Hubertby Karen Madigan
Plot/Idea: Madigan tells the story of a trailblazing woman pilot who lived life on her own terms. Madigan vividly details the events of Hubert's life and accomplishments, while providing a clear sense of the era and the challenges facing women at the time.
Prose: Madigan's writing is solidly constructed and clear, but the narrative can sometimes come across as a long list of Hubert's accomplishments and actions rather than a story with dramatic elements. The photos are terrific, and the subject is remarkable, but the work would benefit from additional commentary by her peers or family members to make it more engaging.
Originality: Cloud Clippers tells the unique story of the author's mother and her unorthodox journey.
Character/Execution: The focus here is exclusively on the titular subject and her many accomplishments. While she does emerge as a fascinating figure, readers may struggle to gain a true sense of her interior life.
Growing into the Gray: Reflections on Transforming Trauma for Women and the Worldby Laurie Lee Davidson
Plot: Davidson shares her unique pathway to healing from trauma with a confident voice that propels her narrative forward. The theme is geared towards an older audience, but Davidson's elegant storytelling will resonate with anyone searching for their voice.
Prose: The writing here is solid, with a steady pace that comes across as realistic and honest. Davidson is candid in her approach—and continually emphasizes her desire to live with purpose.
Originality: This is a tale of inner transformation and realization—conveyed through deep symbolism and unreserved musing—that will resonate with audiences.
Character/Execution: Davidson draws from a myriad of sources to deliver a graceful contemplation on resilience, healing, and the curative essence of nature-based reflections and activities.
Choosing Life: One man’s journey through alcoholism and depression to wellness and self-discoveryby Blue Andrews
Plot/Idea: Walking the reader through stages of life, Andrews sets up his story in a clear and compact manner. He logically guides the reader through time, reasoning, and growth as he journeys from the depth of despair to embracing life.
Prose: Readers will deeply empathize with the author as he recounts his pain and suffering--often self-inflicted. Andrews does not shy from the nitty-gritty of alcoholism and depression; he is open about the impacts of addiction and his delivery is powerful.
Originality: Andrews’s story is a personal one, but will resonate with readers who have suffered similarly, whether struggling with addiction or mental health.
Character/Execution: The author movingly conveys how, despite an outward appearance of success and fulfillment, many are battling with addiction, loss, and depression. The author's comeback is the heart of this story. From the beginning, readers will cheer for Andrews as he slowly releases himself from the insidious cycle of pain and self-medication.
Living in Two Worldsby Vivian M. Pisano
Plot/Idea: Pisano's reflection of a life-disrupting situation will stick with readers. While she blamed her mother for taking her away from the life she loved in Chile, she realizes as an adult that her mother also struggled with the decision. Pisano proves that writing and time are therapeutic.
Prose: Pisano’s clear prose will allow readers to understand the extreme differences between the two worlds in which she lived. Her words and descriptions perfectly depict the distress she experienced—and in some ways, continues to struggle with—at feeling as if she did not fully belong in either world.
Originality: Moving from one country to another is never easy, and the author's reflections on the journey and willingness to write honestly about it are courageous—and will hopefully help others understand what it is like for anyone who has been transplanted into a new culture.
Character/Execution: Pisano's sketches of the dramatic Chilean landscape mirror the turbulence she feels inside upon arriving in California. Allowing readers to experience her unrest is well-executed.
Why Didn't You Call? A Peace Corps Panama Exposéby Michael Wald
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.
To Venus and Back, One Man's Quest to Rediscover Loveby Turner Grant
Plot/Idea: Grant's memoir engages with his willingness to be open and honest about his dating experiences in the digital age.
Prose: Grant's prose is conversational, honest, and expressive. The sections featuring internal voices/personalities are somewhat out of place and lessen the impact of the author's emotional journey.
Originality: Works of nonfiction books about dating and romance are plentiful, yet Grant infuses his with a refreshing candor about dating later in life. At times the tone shifts too quickly due to a humorous literary device, but overall the pace and tone are well executed.
Character/Execution: Readers who similarly find themselves in the dating pool in middle age will find much to value in Grant's account. Characterizations are somewhat uneven in nature; while some individuals fully emerge, others come across as caricatures.
Lost in Beirut: A True Story of Love, Loss and Warby Ashe and Magdalena Stevens
Plot/Idea: This memoir—recounting the author's trip to Beirut in 2006—contrasts the themes of war and romance, creating a captivating tension. The story invites readers to overcome their own life challenges and embrace the light of hope and new horizons, opening a window to a culture unique from Western customs.
Prose: The narration is inviting and convincing, with evocative metaphors and dramatic descriptions that will draw readers in immediately.
Originality: The story is based on the narrator’s personal experiences and memories, and the cultural vibes—as well as the author's reflections on his feelings—are authentic and skillfully portrayed.
Character/Execution: Readers will travel alongside the main character as he goes through many challenges and grows in intriguing ways. The authors build strong interiority, bringing the scenes and interactions to life in a way that many similar titles miss.
Trust Yourself to Be All In: Safe to Love and Let Goby Amanda McKoy Flanagan
Plot/Idea: Suffering a loss, Flanagan determines that she must find comfort in the emotions she is experiencing and learn to love herself—and heal in the process. She finds meaning in her own suffering and helps others as well, through sharing her spiritual practices and her work with the twelve-step program.
Prose: A startling beginning kickstarts this straightforward memoir, and Flanagan immediately dives into her process of healing, serving as a guide while she gives readers a chance to experience her story and learn to heal their own wounds at the same time.
Originality: Mixing Flanagan's story with her sincere advice is a refreshing approach. It's evident she speaks from experience, and her style offers readers the chance to personalize her wisdom for their own lives.
Character/Execution: Flanagan is honest and transparent, and her story is a good example of what it takes for someone to work through loss and addiction. There is no doubt her end goal is to help others, and her dedication to healing is admirable.
Uncertain Fruit: A Memoir of Infertility, Loss, and Loveby Rebecca & Sallyann Majoya
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.
It's About timeby Mickey Bridges
Plot/Idea: Bridges’s memoir evokes the backstreet grit of a life of drugs, addiction, and crime. His writing will transport readers to the streets with him, giving them a front seat to his pain—and eventual triumph.
Prose: Bridges is unflinching when it comes to portraying the ups and downs of his life, particularly the brutal circumstances of his childhood and the agonizing consequences of his choices. His prose takes on a lighter feel when describing the profound impact of his spirituality.
Originality: It’s About Time offers an insider’s perspective, from a tragically young age, of a life filled with bad breaks, poor choices, and crime. The author’s voice is powerfully candid in its descriptions and reflections.
Character/Execution: Bridges pens a haunting narrative that will jar readers with its very realness. The transformation that takes place offers hope for even the darkest moments.
Plungeby Liesbet Collaert
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.
The Backpack Yearsby Stefanie Wilson & James Wilson
Plot/Idea: In The Backpack Years, the Wilsons revisit their time spent traveling and working in 13 different countries. Told in alternating perspectives, the authors tell a vivid story of the joys and challenges of travel.
Prose: The dual-narrative approach is largely successful for the Wilsons. Readers will have no trouble differentiating between their voices. The prose is intimate but also offers a clear overview of the authors' life-changing adventures abroad.
Originality: Memoirs of travel are frequent. The Wilsons bring a level of originality to the text through the blending of two voices and the broad range of countries and locations explored.
Character/Execution: The Backpack Years is refreshing in its candor. James in particular unflinchingly recounts embarrassing and unsavory moments from his travels, which provides a level of welcome humanity to the storytelling.
Lost in China: A Memoir of World War IIby Jennifer Dobbs
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.
Slim Chances: A True Story of Struggle, Hope, and Forgivenessby Jimmy Rumsey
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.
GodPrints: Finding Evidence of God in the Shattered Pieces of Lifeby Jenny Leavitt
Plot/Idea: Leavitt's Christian faith is evident in this touching memoir, as the tragedies in her family are soothed by her devotion to God and Jesus. She spends time sharing her spiritual vision with readers and encouraging them to embark on a similar path.
Prose: The prose is concise, and Leavitt's inspirational writing is an undercurrent throughout the memoir, with consistent references to scripture and the role of God in her family—and personal—life.
Originality: The extreme dependence on Christian faith, alongside the strength of their community, sees Leavitt's family through several disasters, giving the text an uplifting and encouraging feel.
Character/Execution: Leavitt is surely an extremely strong, devout person, with few spiritual or religious doubts. She weathers significant adversities through an unyielding reliance on faith—which may make the narrative more difficult to understand for non-religious readers.