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BOOK REVIEW Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls
by Lauren Emily Whalen
2019-03-17

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By T Kira Madden

$27; Bloomsbury Publishing; 304 pages

Anyone who came of age in the late 1990s and early 2000s knows the name Steve Madden. Trendy and chunky, the shoes were lusted after by many a young millennial and featured celebrities in their extensive ad campaigns. What was life like for a Florida girl part of this family dynasty, dealing with white-collar crime, drug-addicted parents and her burgeoning queerness to boot?

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls is the debut memoir of T Kira Madden ( her first name is only one letter, in honor of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Madden's aunt Tao ). Before rising to fame as an essayist, academic and facilitator of writing workshops for incarcerated individuals, Madden was a privileged preteen coming of age in Boca Raton, Florida. In a series of essays of various length, Madden illustrates her childhood, a time of high highs and low lows.

Madden's mother is Hawaiian and Chinese, her father Jewish and their relationship was forever fraught. Both parents struggled with substance abuse and Madden's father was later investigated by the FBI for his associations with Jordan Belfort ( aka the Wolf of Wall Street ). As Madden attended tony private schools, competed as an equestrian and endured classmates' casual racism and her parents' constant screaming fights, eventually culminating in her father's cross-country move.

She took refuge in crushes on women like her elementary school teacher and a peer on MySpace, the latter of whom she eventually reconnected with as a college student in New York, as well as a fast-talking and fashion-forward duo of friends, who sought excitement and comfort in chasing the next high, riding in cars with the top down and kissing one another—ostensibly for attention, but really for connection.

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls is largely successful in generating empathy and understanding for Madden's unique set of circumstances and the obstacles she had to overcome. A few essays read like MFA workshop pieces, especially a childhood memory involving an ill-fated lizard and Madden's descriptive early attempts at masturbation. ( Is every essay collection legally required to include animal cruelty and sticking objects in various orifices out of curiosity? )

But when Madden's writing is good, it's very, very good. Both God and the devil are in the details, as she takes a deep dive into a problematic encounter with high school boys at the age of 12 and its long-standing effects. Her prose is so vivid that readers can practically taste the flavored lip gloss and feel the thick glittery foundation of the early aughts on their faces, melting in the harsh Florida sunlight or under the flashing orbs of a middle school dance. Late in the book, Madden takes a journey into her mother's past, leading to a shocking and emotional revelation. By this point, the reader is completely engaged, frantically turning the pages while holding their breath in anticipation. As the book ends on a hopeful note, the ghosts of Madden's fatherless girls remain, conquering the Florida highways while tempting any man who'll bite and clinging to the endless potential of youth.

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls is now available, wherever books are sold. For more about the author, visit TKMadden.com .


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