Gr 9 Up-A comprehensive look at Baldwin's life and times. Kenan begins with a chapter-long description of a significant incident in his subject's life-a 1963 trip to Selma to aid in the black voter registration drive. Unfortunately, the author's conscientious provision of background information on the civil rights movement ultimately obscures Baldwin's part in that drama; thus, what should have been an interest-stimulating picture of a defining moment becomes an 11-page introduction. In chapter two, readers finally begin to get a picture of the world-renowned writer, political activist, and black gay man. The text is based on a wealth of published sources and includes frequent quotes drawn from Baldwin's works and his other biographers. This wealth (plus the absence of footnotes, which dictates that all source citations be made within the text itself) results in a dense narrative that may daunt some readers. The book's attractive format, however, reflects good choices for a YA audience, with numerous black-and-white photos, a list of Baldwin's works and a list for further reading, and a fairly detailed index. While the series title might suggest an exclusive focus on his sexual identity, this biography simply adds that perspective to the existing mosaic of his life with a candor that reflects Baldwin's own self-presentation. Previous studies written for young people make no mention of his sexual orientation. Kenan's book acts as a corrective, and libraries that already stock Lisa Rosset's James Baldwin (Chelsea, 1989) may want to acquire this one as well. It introduces young people to this eloquent witness to an individual and collective American minority experience.-Christine Jenkins, University of Illinois, Champaign
The first entry in the Lives of Notable Gay Men and Lesbians series, Kenan's biography of Baldwin is both a literary history and a life story. Readers experience the pain and the poverty of Baldwin's early days in Paris as well as his growing artistic sophistication, getting a sense of Baldwin's family, early religious fervor, and life as a black homosexual in a white world. Baldwin's sexuality is included as a part of his life and plays a minor role in the text (mainly in illustrating discrimination against gay men and lesbians). Unfortunately, while the writing is sophisticated in style, it suffers from poor editing (e.g., poor sentence structure, faulty grammar, and some observations that lack attribution). However, with a wealth of photos and a chronology, the book will be welcome in collections serving students, both for Black History Month assignments and for literature classes. The series title is prominently displayed on the jacket, and librarians will need to consider whether this will limit teens' willingness to check the book out and carry it around (an unfortunate but necessary consideration).