Review by Booklist Review
Poet McCrae (Cain Named the Animal, 2022) examines his childhood kidnapping and the impact it had on his memory going forward. As a Black child stolen at age three and then raised by his white grandparents, McCrae was raised as white himself. He grew up uncertain of what parts of his life were real; many scenes of this memoir entail him trying to recall the most basic facts about when and how an event took place, whether it was landing his first trick on a skateboard or starting a new school. McCrae communicates this sense of uncertainty through constant repetition. Mundane actions that could be communicated in a single sentence get stretched into whole paragraphs. His maximalist style makes this a difficult memoir to digest. Although McCrae's life is haunted by his early kidnapping as well as his grandfather's abuse, he relates explicitly violent details sparely. More than a traditional true-crime narrative, this is an interesting read for those curious about hybrid forms of poetry and nonfiction
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Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Poet and National Book Award finalist McCrae (In the Language of My Captor) recounts the jaw-dropping circumstances of his childhood in this exceptional memoir. In 1978, when McCrae was three years old, his white supremacist grandparents kidnapped him from Oregon and transported him to Texas, where they raised him as their own child, hoping to "save" him from the influence of his Black father (his mother, having been abused by her parents, didn't intervene). McCrae was frequently beaten and belittled by his grandfather, who taunted him for being half Black ("You don't want to look like them, do you?"). Never given the full story of his lineage, he began to mix the lies his grandparents told him with his own fuzzy memories of the past--in one lyrical passage, he remembers running down the aisle of a fabric store "from illusion to illusion" and into the arms of his grandmother, which he knows can't be true, because she "wasn't often physically affectionate." At age 15, McCrae discovered poetry and threw himself into it wholesale; the confidence he drew from writing moved him to find his father, which he hazily recounts here, copping to the fact that his memories of the reunion are choppy and inconsistent. McCrae's account of the abuses he endured are unflinching, but readers will walk away with a stronger sense of awe than pity, both for his resilience and his command of language. This gorgeous meditation on family, race, and identity isn't easy to shake. Agent: Alice Whitwham, Elyse Cheney Literary. (Aug.)
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Review by Library Journal Review
Poet and National Book Award finalist McCrae's (In the Language of My Captor) debut memoir tells the story of his abduction. In 1978, when he was just three years old, his mother's white parents kidnapped him, taking him from his Black father and raising him in Texas. His grandparents warn his mother that she will never see her son again if she tries to tell the father where he is. McCrae's grandparents raise him according to their white-supremacist beliefs, telling him that he is white and encouraging him to hate his father. Narrating his own work, McCrae captures his bewildering feelings as he attempts (and often fails) to piece together his recollections of his childhood and teen years. Via powerfully poetic language, he allows his thoughts to wander, backtracking and moving forward repeatedly as he tries to separate fact from fiction. VERDICT McCrae has created a nonlinear and intricate patchwork, stitching together the forgetting and remembering wrought by childhood trauma. This poetic meditation on family and history should appeal to readers of Harrison Mooney's Invisible Boy and Natasha Trethewey's Memorial Drive.--Angel Caranna
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Review by Kirkus Book Review
A poet describes a traumatic upbringing after being kidnapped. McCrae, a Guggenheim fellow, Whiting and Lannan Literary Award winner, and professor of writing at Columbia, was 3 years old when he was kidnapped from his father by his maternal grandparents, who were White supremacists. It took him years to understand what had happened--to even associate the word kidnap with himself--and his new book traces his attempt to reconstruct meaning from a life that was rooted, early on, in lies and abuse. The author's father was Black, his mother was White, and his grandparents carried a deeply ingrained racism. McCrae is an acclaimed poet, and the tools of that trade are evident here, as he emphasizes metaphors, symbols, and images over character. He writes of his grandfather: "I know my life continued after him, like a plant growing alone in a hole the size of a house. Here I am in my life, in the middle of it, but I have buried so many memories of my life with my grandfather that my life is like a plant grown in a house-sized hole, a void." McCrae's attention to word choice is studied and precise, and at times, he repeats certain words or phrases: "We left the Piggly Wiggly carrying something red. My grandfather left the Piggly Wiggly carrying something red. Or the packaging was mostly another color, but the product inside the packaging was red, and was represented by an attractively staged photograph, mostly red." The first half of the text sings with a gorgeously wrought tension. In the second half, however, the tension starts to sag. In these chapters, McCrae is a young teenager learning to skateboard, but his prose doesn't carry the nearly excruciating tautness of the early pages. Still, as a whole, the book is original and satisfying. Intricately wrought and unrelenting in its honesty. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.