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Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls: A Memoir

Review

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls: A Memoir

As I was reading T Kira Madden’s debut memoir, LONG LIVE THE TRIBE OF FATHERLESS GIRLS, I happened to step onto the subway right next to a man carrying a tote bag emblazoned with the familiar Steve Madden logo. This experience really drove home the ubiquity of the Madden name, and what it must have been like for the young author to fight some particularly personal battles while her uncle’s name (and, by extension, her own) was one of the most famous brands in the world.

In an author’s note at the end of the book, Madden dedicates her writing “to every other drop-dead-lonely, queer-as-hell, bucktoothed loserly outcast reading a book under the covers with a little light, for anyone with a story to tell and a will to rise.” For although Madden’s family’s wealth and fame is certainly one of the major narrative threads of her memoir (and the source of much of her life’s irony), it’s undeniable that her coming-of-age tale is far more universal than just that of a rich girl whose perfect image hides a tragically imperfect story.

"LONG LIVE THE TRIBE OF FATHERLESS GIRLS reads in large part like a series of well-crafted autobiographical essays... But Madden does skillfully weave together her chapters, returning to themes and details at different points in the narrative to provide a strong sense of cohesion to her book."

When we first meet Madden, she is a little girl, living with her mother in a sketchy apartment in Florida, visited periodically by her father, who only later leaves his first wife so that he can marry Madden’s mom, his mistress. Her observations of her parents’ seemingly inscrutable passion for one another (and, as she later comes to realize, for drugs and alcohol), make her desperate to learn about what it means to grow up, and to become an adult herself. She also becomes fixated on missing girls and runaways, and fantasizes about becoming one herself (this is the era of JonBenét Ramsey), if only so that she can perversely gain her parents’ undivided attention.

However, as Madden gets older, she realizes that growing up (especially too fast) comes with dangers, threats as mild as being humiliated at a school dance or as traumatic as being sexually assaulted by two schoolmates outside the Boca Raton mall. She also comes to realize that her parents are as much in thrall to their individual addictions as they are in love with one another, leaving her to navigate the increasingly choppy waters of adolescence largely on her own, or in the company of other equally rudderless girls (the “Fatherless Girls” of the title).

Nevertheless, as chapters titled “Collected Dates with My Father” and “Kuleana” relate especially poignantly, Madden maintains genuine love and appreciation for her parents, even in the wake of their addiction, neglect and (in the case of her father) untimely death. There are also moments of joy, such as when her hard-won recognition of her own sexuality leads her to the woman with whom she will decide to spend her life.

LONG LIVE THE TRIBE OF FATHERLESS GIRLS reads in large part like a series of well-crafted autobiographical essays; some chapters, in fact, were previously published as stand-alone pieces elsewhere. But Madden does skillfully weave together her chapters, returning to themes and details at different points in the narrative to provide a strong sense of cohesion to her book. It is not always easy to read; Madden’s utter frankness about her own and her family’s struggles must have required epic strength not only to confront and process but also to write about and publish. But many readers --- especially those to whom Madden offers her dedication --- may find courage to confront, and perhaps recount, their own difficult stories thanks to Madden’s brave undertaking to tell her own.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on March 15, 2019

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls: A Memoir
by T Kira Madden

  • Publication Date: March 5, 2019
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1635571855
  • ISBN-13: 9781635571851