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Confessions of a Helmet-Free Childhood
Confessions of a Helmet -Free Childhood is a humorous memoir of lessons learned the hard way. Organized in 13 "Confessions," Cinnia Curran Finfer recounts her mishaps and mistakes in a pre-digital era..
Reviews
Finfer’s quick, humorous debut recounting the high and low points of her formative years in the 1960s and ’70s, when bad fashion was the rule and not the exception, will bring smiles of remembrance to many. References to (and photos of) Schwinn Stingray bikes, Crissy dolls with “growing” hair, and cooking with fondue pots evoke a time when kids were expected to go outside and play unsupervised until dinnertime. Finfer tells wry, often riveting stories of facing a school bus bully, inadvertently destroying her sister’s banana-seat bike, and becoming entangled in scrapes not always of her own making. Teen readers will recognize many similarities to their own lives even as they marvel at the idea of going through adolescence without mobile phones or social media.

The brief tales in this slender book are enjoyable and occasionally provide laugh-aloud moments: for example, the list of lessons learned from an autonomous childhood include “Even if something happens by accident, it’s still on your watch” and, perhaps related, “Read the label before igniting anything.” However, readers may wish for a tighter framework to give context to the stories, and struggle to make sense of who the major players are and how they relate to one another. Finfer only briefly introduces her parents and siblings, and it’s not clear why they endured the many house moves that form the backdrop for some of the anecdotes.

Finfer’s writing is reminiscent of the late humorist Erma Bombeck’s essays about a suburbia that no longer exists. Readers may wonder how Finfer survived being allowed to play with no grown-ups hovering nearby, and she did run into difficulties that probably warranted an adult’s attention, but this is primarily a fond look back at a very different time. Finfer’s Wayback Machine of a memoir may leave readers wanting to wear terrible plaid and reacquire their long-lost childhood toys.

Takeaway: These charming tales of childhood before smartphones will evoke nostalgia in older readers and wonder in younger ones.

Great for fans of Great for fans of Tom Purcell’s Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood, Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: B
Illustrations: B+
Editing: B-
Marketing copy: B

Kirkus Reviews

A nostalgic debut memoir about marketing communications consultant Finfer’s upbringing.

Finfer delivers 13 vignettes that eloquently capture the essence of childhood, as when she writes, “Bouncing through life as best we could, being a kid could be humiliating one day, exhilarating another…with a whole lot of ordinary days thrown in between.” Her stories range from the ridiculous to the triumphant, beginning with an account of a fall she suffered while being chased by her crush during a game of tag. She comes across in these anecdotes as a mischievous kid who was willing to fib to get out of a math test and steal her neighbor’s fireworks, as long as no one got hurt. Most of these charming vignettes will be familiar to those with similar suburban upbringings: Pin the tail on the donkey was the game at every birthday party, and bringing a pet home unannounced was still a trick that every kid attempted. Each tale also highlights common childhood obstacles. In “Challenged a Bus Route Bully,” for example, Finfer recounts a timeless encounter with “bigger, older, stronger, or weirdly aggressive characters” riding the bus. She describes herself in a relatable way, as “little for my age and far from athletic, having an unusual name, wearing glasses, and sporting an exotic dental appliance,” noting that “I am a rich target for some mean-spirited stuff.” The author is consistently funny throughout this book, reminding readers that childhood bruises don’t always have to be so serious. The tales may not be profound, but they still convey some fine lessons, noting that “by getting it wrong, we find our way to the right.”

A charming, if slight, remembrance about the foibles and fun of kid life.

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