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4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  272 ratings  ·  77 reviews
“When you eat soup every night, thoughts of bread get you through.” Ghostbread makes real for us the shifting homes and unending hunger that shape the life of a girl growing up in poverty during the 1970s.One of seven children brought up by a single mother, Sonja Livingston was raised in areas of western New York that remain relatively hidden from the rest of America. From ...more
Hardcover, 248 pages
Published November 1st 2009 by University of Georgia Press (first published 2009)
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Barb Johnson
Writing about a deprived childhood is tricky. Too stoic, and the reader fails to engage. Too emotional and the reader smells self-pity. So the fact that Sonja Livingston is able to punch right through the shame and ache and hunger to the truth of such a childhood marks her as an emotionally smart and technically gifted writer. Livingston is even-handed in her depictions. She celebrates the good times, the strengths of her family members, and turns an observant child's eye on the hard times. For ...more
Memoirs are my favorite reads, and Ghostbread is easily going to be added as a favorite! Sonja Livingston pours her heart and soul into her story of growing up during the 1970's in the Rochester, NY area. Living with her single mother and siblings, life was tough. The family was poverty-stricken and times were hard. There was always church in Sonja's life...a bright spot for her to meet friends and neighbors. It took me back to a time when you knew everyone on your block, all of the neighborhood ...more
Living in and through poverty intruigues me. I often wonder how some of my students manage to care about what I teach when I know they are living through a hell I cannot imagine. This woman's story is so poignant because she grew up in Rochester, in a neighborhood I am familiar with and also attended the church where my kids were baptised. Although I do not know her, I find myself craving more information about her and her family. This is not is a memoir and I highly recommend it.
Elizabeth Osta
This book tells with eloquent prose a tale of poverty, neglect and somehow magic of childhood that brings the author to survival and ultimately success. It's evocative where it needs to be and is told with a gentle touch that makes all the more real the stunning success of survival despite crushing circumstances.
I'm not given to 5 star ratings easily. They have to be earned and this young author, Sonja Livingston, has a way of writing that simply blows me away. Her style is clear and crisp - straight to the point. Yes, Ghostbread is non-fiction, so you could say this is a memoir. But it's also short stories - a mechanism Livingston uses brilliantly to present her childhood. And let me say now this is not a whining, self-pitying attempt at catharsis. Livingston's use of language is powerful and direct. S ...more
Sonja Livingston wrote a very lyrical memoir of her childhood years in this book. The style of the book has very short snippets of things that had happened in her life. This made the book read very quickly. The stories she has to tell are very interesting and telling of them truly brings everything to life in this book. I could fully imagine the times, settings, feelings, and even aromas that would be in the air. Sonja did an excellent job with her descriptions that every sense is described and ...more
Bob Hesselberth
This memoir about growing up dirt poor in western New York is a haunting, beautifully written testament to the resilience of the human spirit when love and caring shape the landscape. Born into a single mother's family of seven children, most of whom had different fathers, Livingston paints a picture of her mother's inability to control her own life while struggling to keep her brood of half-brothers and half-sisters together.

In a series of good-humored, vignette-style chapters, Livingston tells
I heard Sonja read at AWP (she was the non-fiction winner) and it was incredible. Her story is stunning, but it's the way that she tells it, in tantalizing, terrifying bites, like some kind of sweet bookish torture, that blew me away. All that yearning and loss and beauty and horror all mixed up together....mmmm...the very best kind of writing.
My cousin, who shares the same hometown as the author, shared this special book with me. IT was heartbreaking but vivid and candid, and explored and illuminated the life of a young girl living through tough times. beautifully written short chapters that could stand alone as essays.
Jen Knox
What an interesting format for a memoir; it's almost a hybrid of poetry and literary nonfiction. So far, I'm rather loving it.


This is the sort of memoir I will keep on my shelf, and return to for inspiration. It's lovely.
This book was simple, but it was moving. Some times it is difficult to see that poverty is right where you live. Or you know it is there but don't know anything about it or ignore it. It was eye-opening. Our book club liked it.
Robert Vaughan
A brilliant cross between breath-taking memoir and poetic prose. Lyrical lines fill up short chapters that will leave your heart reeling. The author, Sonja Livingston, grew up in and around the same city as I did, Rochester, N.Y. But the slant in which her tale begins (and I did NOT want this book to end, it's that great!) is so very personally revealed. The spaces in between our lives are all connected, and although this tale might seem at times grim, there is so much love infused as well. It's ...more
Sonja Livingston's Ghostbread bears witness to the experience of childhood poverty and seeks, in its understated epilogue, to make sense of why some may escape while others do not.

This memoir is divided up into 122 very short chapters, each able to hold its own as a bit of flash nonfiction. What I enjoy most about this memoir is the poetic grace of Livingston's phrases and descriptions. You can turn to any page, pick any random sentence, and discover something to admire. For example, Livingston
Aaron Poorman
I won this book through a goodreads giveaway. This is a very short autobiographical memoir by Sonja Livingston. As one of seven children Sonja knows what is to be hungry. This look at poverty is in many ways not a typical one. Sonja lived in New York - yet it isn't quite the inner-city poverty most people probably think of when the imagine being poor. Of course that ins't saying this book doesn't have value, as it clearly does. Livingston writes simply. Her sentences and chapters are direct and ...more
In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway.

And that I am not a very excellent review-writer!

That said, I loved it. Not because I won it, but because it was...well, I still haven't been able to think of a word! It was definitely different from what I expected and not my normal reading fare, at least by style, but it was still awesome. In a way, it reminded me of The Glass Castle, but again, completely different in writing style. Hardly any chapters
Lisa Gricius
I don't often read memoirs, preferring an escape from past and present instead. I read reviews of ghostbread by Sonja Livingston, a local author who inscribed this poignant work of non fiction to all the girls of Rochester, Buffalo, and places in between. Growing up in Rochester, Spencerport, Brockport and currently LeRoy, I was intrigued. The author barely graduated from East High, also my Mother's alma mater. I was not only transported to places and time periods I could relate to, but also to ...more
Kristina Jo
As is ever the case with memoirs, mostly I thought two things while reading this book:

1) What is the point of this person telling me all of this?
and 2) Could I write memoirs/personal essays? These are short; I write short well. I have funny stories… 'Course everyone has funny stories…

I suspect the answer to my second question is, "You could try, but good luck selling it." And to the first, "Weren't you paying any attention!?" I'm not good at reading non-fiction, especially when it's this subset
A moving, poetic, entirely unsentimental evocation of growing up in Western New York. Livingston's depiction of poverty and Roman Catholicism told through the eyes of an intelligent and independent young girl makes your heart ache. This memoir, divided into chapters (and as another goodreads reviewer stated, each can be read on its own) depicts growing up in the slums of Rochester, New York and on the Tonawanda Indian reservation. Amid the lack of food and security, Livingston also describes wit ...more
I breathe easier too when I finally get to know more about the author's father (her single mother withheld the information about each child's father until they turn 14 years old--yes, each child has a different father). I'm cheering too and letting the light pour in when the author does indeed graduate from high school. I so appreciate all Ms Livingston's well-chosen words about how she almost chose differently. For example: "...though I'd shaken my head from side to side and tsked those girls a ...more
My favorite aspect of this memoir about growing up poor in a fatherless family in upstate New York was its fantastic spareness. Livingston tells us all about her household at her growing-up years in about 100 very, very short chapters, basically vignettes, that taken together paint a picture of her childhood that proves to be indelible.
A wonderful memoir about poverty, class, and childhood in America. I teach a chapter from this in my undergraduate CNF class, and invariably at least two students ask to borrow my copy of the book (so I just give them new copies, because I'm not giving up mine, it's too good). I recommend this readers and teachers of writing alike.
I wanted to love this AWP award-winning book and was at first entranced with the promise of an examination of a childhood of poverty in short, concise chapters that ended on a strong image, like a prose poem. But then the book failed at self-contemplation, just plodded on through the houses and people trailing in and out of the author's life, people never drawn in more than just a sketch. The book then ends with her graduation from high school and transferring to her next, more educated life. If ...more
Sarah Wells
Sonja writes with clarity, detail, and depth in this memoir that follows her childhood and teenage years of poverty, hope, and longing. She does not simplify, accuse, or apologize for the truths of her childhood but delivers life in all its messy complexity of need, love, pain, and hunger.
Morgan Allison
Living in Western New York it is hard to not notice the poverty that plagues our region. Livingston's account left me thankful that my family was not a victim of such circumstances but also inspired by her ability to persevere despite her many obstacles. She writes beautifully and really brings to life the individuals and places she grew up in and around. I would highly recommend this book.
Kathy Maher
I loved this book. It was a true story about a young girl growing up in New York. A very easy read and I really enjoyed the story. Of course growing up in Albion, NY and having the town mentioned was exciting..
Ghostbread is a wonderful memoir about a girl growing up in poverty; the essays are short, but perhaps better for it. I really did have trouble putting it down!
Viejo Caballero
I think this book was interesting I really liked it it was a little you know like you wanted to cry..!
This is one of the most devastatingly beautiful pieces of writing I've ever encountered. Livingston has mined her childhood to create a piece of creative non-fiction second to none. I run the risk of hyperbolic and effusive praise, but Sonja's narrative and structure are pitch perfect, uncannily astute, and aesthetically brilliant. Memory vignettes, poetic in nature, propel the reader along a trajectory of transcendent beauty. In an assured and quiet way the theme of growing up under the grip of ...more
Realistic, beautifully written, and ultimately hopeful memoir about growing up poor in Western New York. The author manages to show the beauty in even very difficult life circumstances. Our school was fortunate enough to have Sonja Livingston visit in December. She really connected with our students, many of whom could relate to her childhood experiences.
Homeless in Rochester! Could really connect to plight working with Habitat For Humanity Families
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Win 1 of 3 copies of Ghostbread by Sonja Livingston 1 9 Jun 25, 2010 01:27PM  
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Sonja Livingston's second book of memoir, "Queen of the Fall," is forthcoming. Her award-winning memoir, "Ghostbread," was widely adopted for classroom and book club use. Her writing has earned an AWP Book Award in Nonfiction, a NYFA Fellowship, an Iowa Review Award, and a Susan Atefat Essay Prize and appears in several textbooks on writing, as well as many literary journals. She splits her time b ...more
More about Sonja Livingston...
Queen of the Fall: A Memoir of Girls and Goddesses You. An Anthology of Essays Devoted to the Second Person River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative

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“I was hers in ways that those with loyalties of convenience cannot fathom. I loved her beyond words and clothes, and yes beyond even pain. The strangest of things is the way the hungry always return to the very same hand. The hand they know. The one that cannot give.” 2 likes
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