Family. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. This month’s column focuses on the good, the bad, and all of the interpersonal conflicts, alliances, loyalties, resentments, and deep affections that create inextricable bonds. Several of these memoirs comment on the fallout caused by volatility, alcoholism, and religious practices. Each of them addresses, in different ways, how the narrator is disappointed by the loved ones they depend upon and from whom they expect support.
Freeman, Judith. The Latter Days. Knopf. Jun. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9780307908612. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307908629. MEMOIR
Novelist (Family Attractions, The Chinchilla Farm; Red Water) and nonfiction author (The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved) Freeman details her path to becoming a writer, starting at age 22, while awaiting the finalization of her divorce and living with her parents as she cares for her young son, who has just emerged from open-heart surgery. Freeman’s own heart is quite raw at this point, having left her husband after having an affair with her son’s surgeon. She takes readers back to her Mormon childhood in Utah, describing her domineering and sometimes abusive father, many siblings, and the influence of strict patriarchy of the church of Latter-day Saints on many of her early choices. From a teen marriage and pregnancy, later engagement with intellectual life, and her husband’s job relocating the family to Macalester College in St. Paul, the author recounts the various stages of her life and how academia introduced a new realm of possibilities, which she embraced. Freeman’s experiences open her up to wanting new things for herself and to understanding who she is outside of her religion, heritage, and marriage. VERDICT This look at family and the choices we make, and how those choices present the opportunity for self-examination, emphasizes that it’s never too late to alter the course of our lives. Recommended for anyone contemplating a big life change.
Guerrero, Diane & Michelle Burford. In the Country We Love: My Family Divided. Holt. May 2016. 272p. photos. ISBN 9781627795272. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781627795289. MEMOIR
Readers might recognize Guerrero as Maritza from the TV series Orange Is the New Black, and Lina from Jane the Virgin. From watching the actress on television, viewers might think they know her, but there is more to her backstory than most could imagine. When the author was 14, her parents were both deported back to Colombia. Born in the United States, Guerrero chose to stay and continue her education. However, she was left entirely alone as a minor. She paints a scrappy picture of herself; she is resourceful and determined and graduates from high school and then college. Yet the separation from her parents creates emotional aftershocks. She suffers from depression, self-medicates with alcohol, cuts herself, and attempts suicide, an incident that propels her to seek the help that gets her back on track. Guerrero’s story illustrates why and how the U.S. immigration system is broken, and though she could have ended up a statistic, she instead works her way into a successful career. Without the support of her friends and extended family, this wouldn’t have been possible. VERDICT This account will help readers understand the need for significant revisions to the immigration system that will increase stability for families and children seeking opportunities and safety. [See Prepub Alert, 11/9/15.]
Pryor, Liz. Look at You Now: My Journey from Shame to Strength. Random. Jun. 2016. 272p. ISBN 9780812998009. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780812998016. MEMOIR
Pryor, a middle-class high schooler from the Chicago suburbs, becomes pregnant during her senior year. When her condition is discovered, maintaining the family’s pristine image is the primary concern. Her mother finds what appears to be a Catholic home for unwed mothers for her daughter to spend the last months of her term before giving the baby up for adoption. The twist? This takes place in 1979, not the 1950s, and that the Catholic girls’ home is actually a locked facility for incarcerated juveniles, homeless teens, and those in foster care who are pregnant. This experience forces the author to confront her sheltered and privileged reality, even as she is deeply disappointed in her mother and father for abandoning her there. Luckily, she is able to establish bonds with her fellow detainees that fulfill her emotional needs. VERDICT This emotional examination of what happens when loved ones fail to offer needed encouragement explores issues of abandonment, betrayal, and forgiveness. Recommended for fans of Piper Kerman’s Orange Is the New Black and Ann Patchett’s Patron Saint of Liars.
Stroh, Frances. Beer Money: A Memoir of Privilege and Loss. Harper. May 2016. 336p. ISBN 9780062393159. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062393180. MEMOIR
As anyone who grew up in Michigan will tell you, Stroh’s ice cream conjures up fond memories of summer afternoons while Stroh’s beer evokes nostalgia for beer-soaked dance floors and keg parties. The author, one of the would-be heirs of the Stroh’s fortune, tells the story of the family’s gradual decline from one of the most recognizable names in the brewing industry to total financial ruin. Along with the fortune, relationships also disintegrate—divorce, alcoholism, drug abuse, and eventually the deaths of family members all take their toll. Stroh’s account of the dissolution provokes empathy, in part because the contributing factors are familiar to all. Family members are stubborn and often selfish, substances are used and abused, and monetary pressures mount while individuals remain in denial. VERDICT Readers interested in Michigan’s brewing history and those curious about what happened to the Strohs will find this a relatable memoir and engaging investigation of one of Detroit’s first families.
Dugas, Laure. Champagne Baby: How One Parisian Learned To Love Wine—and Life—the American Way. Ballantine. May 2016. 336p. ISBN 9781101884638. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781101884645. MEMOIR
Frenchwoman Dugas tells a very interesting and unexpected tale about coming to America. Both sides of her family were involved in the wine trade, but the author herself had no particular interest in going in that direction until her vintner uncle mentions the possibility of working in the States, selling his wines. Dugas says, “why not?” even though she doesn’t speak English, has never been to the area, and knows nothing about the variety of wines. That understated, open-minded writing style and approach to life characterizes her account of arriving in New York and traveling the country to distribute French wine. VERDICT Dugas’s story of being a recent university student and eager to jump at life’s chances will resonate with readers both young and old, wine aficionados and newcomers to the beverage; her lessons about the English language, working, friendships, and relationships, will are also well taught. A bonus to this well-written work is the chance for readers to learn a bit about wine, specifically the taste, smell, and origins of French styles.—Amy Lewontin, Northeastern Univ. Lib., Boston
Madison, Lucy & Tram Nguyen. Pen & Palate: Mastering the Art of Adulthood, with Recipes. Grand Central. May 2016. 320p. illus. ISBN 9781455535057. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781455591688. MEMOIR
From the duo behind the blog Pen & Palate comes a gorgeous memoir of friendship and food. Nguyen and Madison relate their years of friendship and discuss how the love of food, and each other, has kept them together since childhood. Told with charming good humor, this millennial-girls-taking-on-the-world story will have readers immediately casting themselves and their girlfriends as either a Lucy or a Tram (either one is a splendid option, as both girls are delightful). Perspective shifts between the authors, as they each share stories of their pasts and that which unites them: food. Each chapter includes two delicious recipes, carefully selected and curated. This is precisely the kind of book that will make readers want to stay up all night, drinking a bottle of wine, trying recipes, and laughing over their own coming-of-age anecdotes. VERDICT An absolute must-have for young women and a perfect addition to food and memoir collections.—Kristen Droesch, formerly with Library Journal
Tynan, Tracy. Wear and Tear: The Threads of My Life. Scribner. Jul. 2016. 320p. illus. ISBN 9781501123689. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781501123702. MEMOIR
From apple-green shoes to a gold flapper dress, clothing plays an integral role in this memoir by writer and film costume designer Tynan (Great Balls of Fire; The Big Easy). As the child of renowned theater critic Kenneth Tynan and novelist Elaine Dundy, the author’s young world was far from ordinary, populated with scores of notable family friends (Laurence Olivier, Mary Martin, Katharine Hepburn) in London, New York, and beyond. Both her parents were celebrated for their talents, distinctive dress, and, regrettably, innumerable personal problems. Tynan honestly relates experiences from these earliest years, beginning in the 1950s through adulthood, underlining her growing affinity for clothing as both focal interest and creative outlet, a passion that eventually led to a career. There are tales of childhood mishaps, early dates, boarding school, family drama, first jobs, loss, marriage, children, and behind-the-scenes of film sets. Each of the three-dozen gemlike chapters cover an episode built around a specific piece of clothing, from a designer crepe de chine gown to a maroon plaid dress to a tiny pink knitted cap, a gift of love for Tynan’s premature baby. The sum total is an absorbing memoir well-told from a singular perspective. VERDICT Master storyteller Tynan presents universal insight and wit in this striking volume that will have a wide appeal. [See Prepub Alert, 2/1/16.]—Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ