An urgent and provocative work that deserves the broadest possible audience.

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STAKES IS HIGH

LIFE AFTER THE AMERICAN DREAM

A young Black man surveys the landscape and finds America a poisonous, broken place—but perhaps not irretrievably so.

Toward the end of his second book, Smith asks an arresting question: “Is the potential for the American Dream worth enduring the brutality of American life?” Anyone who has followed the headlines recently knows that life for African Americans is fraught with peril, the American dream ever more distant. This dangerous moment in history, writes the author, is “not an aberration…it is the course this country has always been on.” Exponents of “Afro-pessimism,” such as Frank Wilderson III, have expressed considerable—and well-placed—doubt as to whether things can ever get better, though Smith sees a flicker of hope and closes with guarded optimism: “Imagining where we want to go teaches us how to get there. No one ever said it would be simple, only that it is possible.” Meanwhile, there are the present realities to consider, some of them embodied in the person of Donald Trump, whom Smith considers absolutely the wrong person to be in office, if one who represents a logical point on a continuum of racism and reaction. The right New Yorker for the job, he writes, was Shirley Chisholm, who is coming in for fresh appreciation half a century after her run for office. Even so, “Chisholm was never going to be elected president. Donald Trump was inevitable.” Yet she was a serious candidate, just as Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez is serious—though, Smith counsels, what is more important is that the many people out there who are of like mind be encouraged to bring democratic socialism into office. The author is sharply self-aware (“Sometimes, reader, I write ‘you’ when I’m too afraid to admit my own failures”), and he would seem to expect his reader to approach his fine-honed argument with the same seriousness. Doing so is well worth the effort.

An urgent and provocative work that deserves the broadest possible audience.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Bold Type Books

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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Consistently illuminating, unabashedly ferocious writing.

GIRLHOOD

An acclaimed nonfiction writer gathers essays embracing the pleasure, pain, and power of growing up as a girl and woman.

In her latest powerful personal and cultural examination, Febos interrogates the complexities of feminism and the "darkness" that has defined much of her life and career. In "Kettle Holes," she describes how experiences of humiliation at the hands of a boy she loved helped shape some of the pleasure she later found working as a dominatrix (an experience she vividly recounted in her 2010 book, Whip Smart). As she fearlessly plumbed the depths of her precocious sexuality in private, she watched in dismay as patriarchal society transformed her into a "passive thing.” In "Wild America," the author delves into body-shaming issues, recounting how, during adolescence, self-hatred manifested as a desire to physically erase herself and her "gigantic" hands. Only later, in the love she found with a lesbian partner, did she finally appreciate the pleasure her hands could give her and others. Febos goes on to explore the complicated nature of mother-daughter relationships in "Thesmophoria,” writing about the suffering she brought to her mother through lies and omissions about clandestine—and sometimes dangerous—sexual experiments and youthful flirtations with crystal meth and heroin. Their relationship was based on the "ritual violence" that informed the Persephone/Demeter dyad, in which the daughter alternately brought both pain and joy to her mother. "Intrusions" considers how patriarchy transforms violence against women into narratives of courtship that pervert the meaning of love. In "Thank You for Taking Care of Yourself," Febos memorably demonstrates how the simple act of platonic touching can be transformed into a psychosexual minefield for women. Profound and gloriously provocative, this book—a perfect follow-up to her equally visceral previous memoir, Abandon Me (2017)—transforms the wounds and scars of lived female experience into an occasion for self-understanding that is both honest and lyrical.

Consistently illuminating, unabashedly ferocious writing.

Pub Date: March 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63557-252-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS WITH A BLACK MAN

A former NFL player casts his gimlet eye on American race relations.

In his first book, Acho, an analyst for Fox Sports who grew up in Dallas as the son of Nigerian immigrants, addresses White readers who have sent him questions about Black history and culture. “My childhood,” he writes, “was one big study abroad in white culture—followed by studying abroad in black culture during college and then during my years in the NFL, which I spent on teams with 80-90 percent black players, each of whom had his own experience of being a person of color in America. Now, I’m fluent in both cultures: black and white.” While the author avoids condescending to readers who already acknowledge their White privilege or understand why it’s unacceptable to use the N-word, he’s also attuned to the sensitive nature of the topic. As such, he has created “a place where questions you may have been afraid to ask get answered.” Acho has a deft touch and a historian’s knack for marshaling facts. He packs a lot into his concise narrative, from an incisive historical breakdown of American racial unrest and violence to the ways of cultural appropriation: Your friend respecting and appreciating Black arts and culture? OK. Kim Kardashian showing off her braids and attributing her sense of style to Bo Derek? Not so much. Within larger chapters, the text, which originated with the author’s online video series with the same title, is neatly organized under helpful headings: “Let’s rewind,” “Let’s get uncomfortable,” “Talk it, walk it.” Acho can be funny, but that’s not his goal—nor is he pedaling gotcha zingers or pleas for headlines. The author delivers exactly what he promises in the title, tackling difficult topics with the depth of an engaged cultural thinker and the style of an experienced wordsmith. Throughout, Acho is a friendly guide, seeking to sow understanding even if it means risking just a little discord.

This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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