Rarely does the debut of a new writer garner such attention & acclaim. The excitement began the moment "The Fourth State of Matter," one of the fourteen extraordinary personal narratives in this book, appeared in the pages of the New Yorker. It increased when the author received a prestigious Whiting Foundation Award in November 1997, & it continued as the hardcover edition of The Boys of My Youth sold out its first printing even before publication. The author writes with perfect pitch as she takes us through one woman's life - from childhood to marriage & beyond - & memorably captures the collision of youthful longing & the hard intransigences of time & fate.
Moments of profundity abut glimpses of life at its most mundane in this vividly realized collage of episodes from the author's life. The 12 personal narratives collected here, five of which are reprinted from magazines, unfold more thematically than chronologically. "Cousins," for example, explores kinship and female bonding, while the title piece confronts the difficulties and pleasures of women's relationships with men. This scheme allows freelance writer Beard to juxtapose childhood episodes with scenes from her adult life in a manner that illustrates how our past experiences continually inform our interpretations of similar situations later in life. An ongoing concern of this collection is the way people establish connections and how these connections are broken through divorce, death and other forms of separation; themes like the endurance of friendship and kinship are also explored. Beard's self-scrutiny is painstaking and free of self-absorption, and her keen eye for details grounds each episode in its historical moment.
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A truly lovely collection of stories, it has inspired and stayed with me for years. The Fourth State of Matter is a standout, but they are all worthy of reading and re-reading. I recommend it without reservation.
Well-written and engaging, soothing and relatable.
Stars shine in Boys of my Youth
In this collection of autobiographical essays, Jo Ann Beard juxtapositions her adult life with her childhood years, skipping from childhood memories to adult memories and back again in an obvious lack of order which could leave the reader at times anxious. By the middle of the book, however, the reader is able to uncover threads which piece this quilt together to form a complete picture. By the end of the book, her lack of chronology is no longer an issue. Beard's powerful use of setting and symbolism help the reader to understand that life's events are not remembered chronologically; far more effective than a timeline, Beard's stories work together to form a brilliant collage that is intense, powerful, and poignant.