Defies easy definition . . .Partly a memoir about growing up in an end-times religious community, partly the story of the author’s childhood in a dilapidated mining town, Kin is also a book about the complex and often fraught relationships between parents and children. Most important, Kin explores the richness and dignity of Appalachian life in the 1980s . . . [Rodenberg] writes about her difficult childhood with a sense of grace and generosity . . . [her] stories of lives that are generally overlooked make for essential reading.” - The Washington Post
“From the opening pages of this singularly American memoir, author Shawna Kay Rodenberg enchants . . . this super-smart, gorgeously gritty debut smashes stereotypes and has a similar can't-take-your-eyes-off-it appeal as Tara Westover's EDUCATED.” - OprahDaily, "Best New Books of June"
“Brilliantly detailed . . . Scorning the stereotypes, [Rodenberg] gives us a story about forgiveness and love.” - Newsday
“Whatever you believe about Appalachia, prepare to have those beliefs upended, or at least beautifully complicated. Unless, of course, you are from there, and then prepare to glimpse what is possible. Kin in about remembering ‘who and what’ we are—to not only making peace with that, but to shape it into something remarkable” - Nick Flynn, author of THIS IS THE NIGHT OUR HOUSE WILL CATCH FIRE
“Shawna Kay Rodenberg tells her story with a near-heroic self-awareness and insight into her family, her Appalachian ancestors, her spiritual suffering and religious sustenance, the damage done by generations of abuse, and the damage repaired by love and her own self-witness. She is a masterful storyteller, and I have tremendous admiration for her lucid courage and for the way her personal resiliency seems to have generated a specific kind of prose, both powerful and kind.” - Rosanne Cash
“This startling memoir of a wild soul will electrify you. The unbreakable Shawna Kay rises again and again to forgive, despite every institution that failed her.” - Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of MOTHERS, TELL YOUR DAUGHTERS
“An intimate portrait of hardscrabble life in a much-derided, little-understood place. With the grit of the damaged yet hopeful, Rodenberg crafts the raw notes of faith, addiction, and generational trauma into a hymn to survival. By focusing on the deeply personal lived experience of a family, Kin contains worlds.” - Michael Patrick F. Smith, author of THE GOOD HAND
“A remarkable story that will stay with you long after you have finished reading.” - Rose Andersen, author of THE HEART AND OTHER MONSTERS
“Written from a reservoir of astonishing empathy, Rodenberg never shies away from the complexities and contradictions of the forces that shaped her. Kin bears testament to how family and place can nurture and maim—and to the redeeming act of storytelling.” - Jason Kyle Howard, author of A FEW HONEST WORDS
“A gutsy testament to pure grit and the resilience of the human spirit. All through this astonishing testimony of a family in the grip of piety threads a remarkable place—Kentucky—benevolent and beloved.” - Janisse Ray, author of ECOLOGY OF A CRACKER CHILDHOOD
“Shawna Kay Rodenberg may have been born 'bruised-ass-backward into a world of chaos' in Appalachia, but her memoir Kin is so full of ballsy intelligence and unremitting love that it feels like secular scripture. Like Richard Wright's Black Boy and Mary Karr's The Liars' Club, Kin is a American original.” - Benjamin Anastas, author of TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE
“I hope this book will fall into the hands of everyone who has ever swallowed their words, hid their scars, been mocked, laughed at, or ignored. Rodenberg’s lyricism, mastery of form, and command of image and metaphor are matched only by the power of her honesty and the precision of her recall. Kin will endure and bring light and warmth to all who encounter this beautiful book.” - Robert Gipe, author of POP: AN ILLUSTRATED NOVEL
“A powerful and surprising story of an Appalachian childhood . . . bountiful, sometimes haunting . . . Rodenberg's depth of feeling, intelligence, and love opens eyes and demolishes stereotypes.” - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A vivid coming-of-age account...This engrossing series of dispatches offers a humanizing take on an Appalachia not often seen.” - Publishers Weekly
“Rodenberg writes with an evocative and unflinching style…This is a richly nuanced portrait of people and place, along with the bounds of forgiveness. Good for biography readers eager to explore the complexities of family relationships, or readers interested in women’s lives in Appalachia.” - Library Journal
“A fascinating memoir. What makes this one special is the way the debut author widens her view to tell the stories of her parents, grandparents, and other relatives, including times before she was born, with as much compassion and realistic detail as she gives her own story . . . a nuanced portrait of a complicated place and people.” - Booklist (starred review)
“Kin is highly readable, even in the darkest of its many dark moments. Rodenberg is a gifted writer and brings her setting to life. It is a beautifully written look at resilience and the power of family and place.” - Bookreporter
“[Rodenberg] intersperses third-person accounts of her mother's life in Kentucky and her father's before he went to Vietnam . . . the alternating chapters provide context and feed Rodenberg's overarching theme about how stories repeat in families, that lineage ‘wasn't about the past, like people often thought, so much as the future’ . . . [Rodenberg’s] life doesn't end with the memoir's last page. There's always more to be said. Here's hoping she will.” - The Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Rodenberg’s memoir captures so many of the feelings Appalachian young people experience as they must choose between staying in the place they love or leaving for better opportunities.” - Book Riot, “15 More Books About Appalachia to Read Instead of Hillbilly Elegy”
Essayist Rodenberg (English, Big Sandy Community and Technical Coll.) shares her story of growing up in Appalachia, spanning from before her birth until her early twenties. Rodenberg spent her early childhood years as part of a religious community called the Body, where she experienced sexual abuse from a church elder. When her family moved to eastern Kentucky, she constantly felt alienated from her peers due to her religious upbringing and economic status. Her relationship with her father was contentious and often resulted in Rodenberg experiencing verbal and physical abuse; but with the women in her family Rodenberg found acceptance. She enrolled in college but faced numerous obstacles, causing her to drop out, and an unplanned pregnancy led her into a loveless marriage. Throughout the memoir, Rodenberg juxtaposes her stories with those of earlier generations of her family as a way of exploring how actions of the past manifest in the present. VERDICT Rodenberg writes with an evocative and unflinching style, despite sometimes jarring shifts in narrative. This is a richly nuanced portrait of people and place, along with the bounds of forgiveness. Good for biography readers eager to explore the complexities of family relationships, or readers interested in women's lives in Appalachia.—Anitra Gates, Erie Cty. P.L., PA
A powerful and surprising story of an Appalachian childhood.
Rodenberg opens with a scene in 2017, when she was "acting as an ambassador" for a TV crew eagerly hunting for "Mountain-Dew-mouth and dirt floor stereotypes" for a segment about her Eastern Kentucky hometown, "often as inscrutable and inaccessible to outsiders as a war-torn third-world country." In between takes, she surreptitiously darted to her aging parents' trailer for a quick errand. In the remainder of the book, she takes us on a journey that expands our understanding of these scenes. After her father returned from Vietnam in the early 1970s, he moved his young family to Minnesota, where they spent a few years in a rural Christian commune before moving back to the area where he was raised. Throughout, the author's densely detailed writing style makes for engrossing reading. On her grandmother's grooming routine: “She rubbed her hands with grease when she did housework, to keep them soft and young-looking. She steamed her face each night with a fresh hot rag, wiped it with Pond's, then Oil of Olay.” A childhood game: "We played veterinarian with stray cats and dogs, pulling wolf worms from their necks with matches and tweezers and engorged ticks from the clusters on their backs, stomping and smearing the ticks in to red swirls across the blacktop; when we ran out of ticks we stomped clusters of poke berries to finish our pictures." The story continues through her teenage years: "I won't say that being punished for things I hadn't yet done made me want to do them, but it definitely finalized my plans." This is a bountiful, sometimes haunting story, but Rodenberg's structural choices may deter some readers. Her first-person story is told in a sometimes-confusing order, interrupted by novelistic third-person sections recounting the early lives of her parents and other relatives. This approach doesn’t always work, but it’s a minor quibble for an important memoir.
Rodenberg's depth of feeling, intelligence, and love open eyes and demolish stereotypes.