Blue Suburbia: Almost a Memoir


Blue Suburbia is a searing memoir so fresh, original, and honest that it will break your heart and renew your faith in the human spirit.

With each spare stroke of her pen, Laurie Lico Albanese paints a vivid portrait of the blue-collar landscape of her childhood — rusted swing sets, auto body shops, greasy hands, home improvements — taking readers along for the wild, treacherous ride that leads to her escape. Her mother may stand silently at the sink year after year, or lie in ...

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Blue Suburbia is a searing memoir so fresh, original, and honest that it will break your heart and renew your faith in the human spirit.

With each spare stroke of her pen, Laurie Lico Albanese paints a vivid portrait of the blue-collar landscape of her childhood — rusted swing sets, auto body shops, greasy hands, home improvements — taking readers along for the wild, treacherous ride that leads to her escape. Her mother may stand silently at the sink year after year, or lie in the basement weeping, but Albanese is determined to flee the deadening certainty of her parents' lives. Her story does not disappoint us.

By turns haunting, hilarious, tragic, and romantic, Blue Suburbia is the chronicle of a determined young woman who overcomes family limitations, socio-economic obstacles, and personal fears to build a happy — and blessedly ordinary — life. Written entirely in free verse, Blue Suburbia's cadence is a steady, rhythmic heartbeat, pulsing with pain, rebellion, love, and triumph. This is the story many of us might tell, if we had the courage.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Albanese's moving if predictable hybrid volume tells the story of her life in verse. As she seems to recognize, this author's key experiences resemble those of many other women. Albanese survives a working-class Northeastern family with an abusive father and a clinically depressed mother, struggles through college into an unsatisfying job in publishing, then marries and moves to Chicago, where she becomes a troubled stay-at-home mom, raising a boy and a girl. Later, Albanese grieves at her mother's death, moves to New Jersey ("unhappy/ to be back in the suburbs"), enters therapy, and discovers self-confidence in part through writing this very book. Readers may cavil at Albanese's verse technique; here, for example, she views a Picasso: "nothing prepared me/ for the day I stood face-to-face with genius/ hearing the man's message/ screaming in my soul/ but afraid to say a word." Though Albanese's novel, Lynelle by the Sea, won praise for its fine descriptions, her memoir can seem unpolished and unexceptional compared to many recent prose competitors, from Beverly D'Onofrio to Lauren Slater (whom Albanese calls "a personal/ hero of mine"). Yet Albanese's experience, and the straightforward ways in which she describes it, may well resonate with many who have felt, in her words, afraid "of the very life/ being sucked/ out of me," trapped in endless familial obligations, and just "barely/ hanging/ on." (Mar.) Forecast: HarperCollins apparently plans to promote the book as a memoir, with little mention of its status as verse; the strategy seems right for this extremely accessible work. Though the young adult verse novel (by writers with no other poetry cred) is now a well-recognized form, it's hard to think of comparable new work pitched at adults; if this volume succeeds, it will break some ground. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060565633
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/16/2004
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.49 (d)

Meet the Author

Laurie Albanese is the author of the novel Lynelle by the Sea and the memoir Blue Suburbia, which was named a Book Sense Best Book of the Year and was an Entertainment Weekly Editor's Choice selection.

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Table of Contents

Blue Suburbia, Aerial View 3
Tales from Childhood
The Story of My Life 7
219 Maple Street 9
Five Best Ways to Maim a Man 12
Sisters 14
Second Thing 16
Independence Day 18
Just Shake, and Bake 20
Sixth-Grade Infinity 21
Catcher in the Rye 23
I Wish 24
Ignition 27
Motorcycle Matt 29
Whiskey 30
Suddenly Lisa 32
Accident, Part I 34
Accident, Part II 35
Suicide 37
Acceptance 39
Five Words 41
S.U.N.Y. College 46
Life Lessons 48
Manhattan Awakening
Job Interview 53
The Test 55
Prelude: In My Studio 56
Real Men Don't Eat Quiche 58
In the Museum of Modern Art 60
Looking for Love
Nine Ways to Midnight 65
Married Man 67
Pregnant 68
Hands 70
Nick 72
I Hid 74
Leaving 76
Embers 77
A New Life
Solitaire Diamond 83
Housekeeping 85
The Next Generation 86
Planting Bulbs 88
Due Date 90
We 91
Dancing Baby 92
Grandma 93
Summer 94
Minding My Own Business 95
Man Enough 96
Good-bye 101
Housewife 103
Multiplying 105
Lives Collide 106
"Good Night, Mom" 108
How You Mourn a Mother 110
When She Comes to Me 111
Mirror 112
Green Sleeves 115
Losing My Way
My Road Not Taken 119
Back East 121
Fifteen-Year Cicadas 122
Fight or Flee 124
Six Months Later-- 126
Panic 128
Endurance 130
On the Couch 132
The Doctor Helps Me See 134
Out of the Blue
What Saved Me? 139
Working Again 142
The Fine Edge 144
Sunday Afternoon 146
Full Circle
Once 151
The Woman Sets the Tone 153
If I Didn't Have Children 156
Cinderella 158
Growing Pains
Growing Pains 163
Oh Boy 165
Jack Tries So Hard 167
Please, Let Me In 168
Lies We Tell Our Children 171
Regrets 173
Still, Joy
At the Dining Room Table 177
Eye of the Self 179
Dear Nick 182
Thinking 184
At Home 185
Stolen Beauty 187
Teaching Schoolchildren to Write About Snow 189 192
Ordinary 193
The Sirens 199
Hurry 201
Moon over New York 205
Author's Note 207
Acknowledgments 209
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First Chapter

Blue Suburbia
Almost a Memoir

The Story of My Life

First thing is the belt
worn soft from my father's pant loops
curling like a black eternity glyph
across my legs,
pliant back of my thighs,
hard shin of my calves

in bed, almost always in bed
almost always in the dark
the strap in his fist

or standing in the middle of my bedroom
drawing leather in a whisper
from the waist of his pants

at least three times a week
for five years or more
that's seven hundred times --
I know, he taught me math
the same way

because I was stubborn
he says, the belt was a mercy,
if I'd used my hands
I would have broken
your bones.

I love my father.

How can I tell the story of my life
without starting here?

Blue Suburbia
Almost a Memoir
. Copyright © by Laurie Albanese. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide


The critically acclaimed author of Lynelle by the Sea now shines a light on the darkness of her past and her quest for happiness in Blue Suburbia. Told in the snapshot form of poems, Laurie Lico Albanese's unique autobiography quickly pulls readers into the compelling slideshow of her life.

In "Blue Suburbia, Aerial View" we are introduced to her childhood and family. What at first seems ordinary in this blue-collar Long Island setting -- her mother cooking, father assembling a bike, sister sleeping -- soon becomes bleak. Her mother's quiet curse, "you are too damn smart for your own good," echoes throughout the book and sets the stage for the author's life-long journey to finding self worth. "The Story of My Life" continues the introduction by unveiling the physical abuse she suffered from her father: "because I was stubborn he says, the belt was a mercy, if I'd used my hands I would have broken your bones."

Although written entirely in verse, Blue Suburbia is a page-turner that traces the history of this talented, haunted, and painfully honest author. She reflects on the physical and mental abuse of her childhood, her rebellious spirit in adolescence, her desperation to find true love, and her need for expression. We follow her from college ("Life Lessons") to her first job in publishing ("The Test"), from an unwanted pregnancy ("Pregnant") to raising a family ("Lies We Tell Our Children"), from the edge of madness ("Endurance") to the final acceptance of the flawed individuals that created her ("Moon Over New York").

Intimate and fast moving, Albanese has cupped her hand around the reader's ear and whispered the secrets of herworld into this breathtaking memoir.

Discussion Questions

  1. Did you enjoy reading this memoir? Were you attracted to, or put off by, the format? Do you think it is important to read this book cover to cover, or could you pick it up at intervals and skip around? Would it lose it meaning or overall impact?

  2. Laurie's father abused her as a child. By the end of the book, has she forgiven him? Have you?

  3. What do you think happened to Laurie in "219 Maple Street? Are there other poems reflect on that incident?

  4. The author tells us about the "jailhouse right across from my school." What significance does this have for her family? Do you think this had a traumatic effect on them?

  5. In "Second Thing," what do you think Laurie is referring to with "forty pounds of flesh"?

  6. As a child, Laurie seemed unable to win her mother's love. Before her mother dies, is this issue resolved for Laurie? If so, when? Do you have sympathy for her mother?

  7. Who is Laurie's literary hero? Do you think it was important to her to identify with someone in that way?

  8. In "I Wish," the author lies to the reader. Explain.

  9. Who do you think "I Hid" is about?

  10. Since this memoir is written in poems, did you feel there were any gaps in her history? Do you think her past experiences are amplified or diminished?

  11. What are Laurie's fears? What does she always seem to be running from? Will she be able to confront her problems? Are people able to surmount their pasts or will they always be haunted by them?

  12. Who do you see as the bully in Laurie's family? Her father? Her mother? Herself?

  13. Discuss the author's sickness that she writes about in the section "Losing My Way"?

  14. How did the poem "Once" make you feel toward the author? Can you relate to her feelings?

  15. "Oh Boy" is about the author's son. What do you think he suffers from?

  16. The author struggles with her own happiness throughout the book. Review "Ordinary" and "The Sirens" and discuss whether you think the author is satisfied with her life. Do her expectations prevent her from being happy?

About the author

Laurie Lico Albanese has written a novel, Lynelle By the Sea, and her poetry has appeared in Mothering magazine, the literary magazine Emergency IV, and in the anthology Our Bundle of Joy. She has written for other publications, such as the New York Times and Chicago Tribune. She teaches creative writing to children in the Montclair, New Jersey, school system and was awarded a 1997-98 New Jersey State Council on the Arts Fellowship in fiction.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2007


    I picked up this book to help me take a nap. I never napped but I did finish the book. I feel altered after reading this book. What an artistic and honest approach to telling a life story! I cried and smiled and cheered for L___. What an talented writer!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2004

    Awe of Author Albanese...This is a must read for everyone...

    This reader does not hesitate to recommend this fine-tuned tome to others. Editor Alison Callahan is right on target: '¿one reading it for the first time. Go ahead and turn the pages, I dare you to leave it unfinished¿' I took the challenge and bow to the Editor's prediction¿ I read BLUE SUBURBIA three times in one sitting! The reader's attention is on command from the first few lines, grabbing at the heart¿ the verse-style writing stirs a silt of memories and is applicably, therapeutically soothing. In poignant verse style, Ms. Albanese tells succinctly the 'whole' story -- a heart-wrenching story of a life, leaving no doubts about the subject matter - living with abuse, fear, illness, failure, hope and faith, searching for acceptance and finding love. Ms. Albanase is an artist in the true sense of the word. I challenge readers, especially those who speak - 'that they would never read verse'¿ PLEASE ---READ THIS ONE! The reader's perspective of verse writing will change as well as encourage a call for more, thanks to the author's artful blending of pain, despair, a sense of inadequacy, and discovery. BLUE SUBURBIA is a prescription written to be taken by mind vs. mouth. BLUE SUBURBIA is intense and one that this reader desires to read reapetedly -- a humbling, endearing read, beautifully expressed with a minimal amount of words. The reader is transported to a life's privacy in pain, courage, sadness, survival & triumph. Ms. Albanese, You have entered my heart, mind & soul; you have a place there forever! Thank you¿ And, yes, I miss the 'Moon over New York'.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2004

    I would call it More Than a Memoir!

    I read this book in one sitting, it was impossible to put down. Ms. Albanese's lyrical, pitch perfect and honest prose was a treasure to read. As the mother of four daughters I found her life's experiences particularly insightful. It is quite exceptional to write a memoir in all verse and make it appeal to a large variety of readers but that is just what this author did. I would recommend this book to my friends, my bookclub and booksellers. One of my favorite verses was 'The Next Generation', it tugs at the heartstrings.

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