Kurt Vonnegut: The Making of a Writer

Seven Stories/Triangle Square. Dec. 2022. 304p. Tr $23.95. ISBN 9781644211908.
Gr 8 Up–Wakefield, a lifelong friend of Vonnegut, here pens an unusual biography for young adults. The time line of this biography is typical: it follows Vonnegut’s life through childhood, high school, college, military service, young family and working life, to finally getting published and becoming a literary sensation. In high school, he identified as a bit of a nerd, but was voted one of the most popular boys in school along with the star athletes, much to his surprise! His parents were of means, particularly his mother. They lost most of their money in the stock market crash of 1929. Ultimately, his mother couldn’t adjust to a simpler lifestyle and died by suicide when Vonnegut was 21. He raised seven children while struggling to make a living getting published. After he and his wife had three children, they adopted his sister’s four orphaned sons after their parents died suddenly. Much of his early life makes for compelling reading. However, the narrative style of the biography is rather unconventional, using the second-person mixed with personal letters. Reading Vonnegut’s life from his own point of view feels very intimate and will keep readers engaged. While Wakefield discusses Vonnegut’s values and influences and how well received his novels were once he got published, the biography falls short in educating readers about the remarkable stories that made him an icon, perhaps missing an opportunity to inspire readers to seek them out.
VERDICT A curious and appealing biography that is recommended where literary classics are popular.

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