How did I manage to get a whole month into this blog without posting the review of a memoir??
It seems to be common knowledge that memoir is a genre with tremendous teen appeal.
Yes and no.
Just because a memoir begins with the child and young adulthood of the writer does not mean that it will appeal to a young reader. On the other hand, many teenagers do crave stories about other people’s lives. Tone, voice and readability are crucial, and a sense of humor never hurts.
So yes, given the right elements, there is nothing more entertaining, more genuinely moving than a great memoir. (And nothing worse than a bad one.)
There are several different types of memoir:
the growing up in a crazy family type (Jeannette Walls, David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs deserve special mention. A personal favorite: Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres.)
the famous person type (Just Kids by Patti Smith ; Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family by Condoleezza Rice)
the type inspired by a particular, usually tragic, event (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers ; A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah)
or special achievement (Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer by Lynne Cox)
the “I learned about myself through a special relationship” type (Riding the Bus with my Sister by Rachel Simon)
the illness or condition type (Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant by Daniel Tammet)
the immigration/coming-to-America type — this category includes many, many excellent titles. Think of writers like Edwidge Danticat, Esmeralda Santiago, and Carlos Eire (whose new memoir, Learning to Die in Miami, will be reviewed here soon)
Eric Poole’s story falls into the “growing up with a crazy family in a religious community” type. Enjoy.
POOLE, Eric. Where’s My Wand?: One Boy’s Magical Triumph over Alienation and Shag Carpeting. 263p. Putnam/Amy Einhorn Bks. 2010. Tr $24.95. ISBN 978-0-399-15655-7. LC 2009051233.
Adult/High School–Eight-year-old Eric carefully rakes any trace of his footprints out of the shag carpeting, listening to his perpetually angry mother scream furiously at his perpetually beaten father. When the man stomps out of the house into the night, Eric desperately comes up with a solution to his family’s misery: Magic. He’s seen Eudora on TV’s Bewitched pull it off in admirable style, so he drapes himself in a white chenille bedspread and envisions a happier life. It works! (Sort of.) Thus begins Eric’s reliance on magical intervention in moments of crisis. Each chapter is a hilarious, heart-wrenching vignette from the child’s life in suburban St. Louis during the 1970s. In addition to living in the household from hell, Eric is mercilessly bullied throughout his school years and attends a Southern Baptist Church that threatens eternal damnation for…well, almost everyone. It’s tempting to compare Eric Poole with other gay men who have survived hellish childhoods to write humorous memoirs, such as David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs. Yet Poole writes with bemused self-mockery rather than satire. His younger self grapples internally with the unreliability of his magic, which eventually evolves into a questioning of God’s power. Teen readers, while missing countless wonderful references to 1970s kitsch, will be able to identify with the timeless dilemmas of slightly insane family members, unrealistic religious dogmas, and the brutality of popularity politics. In particular, gay teens will be gladdened to read of Poole’s journey of self-discovery and acceptance.–Diane Colson, New Port Richey Library, FL