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Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  3,177 ratings  ·  474 reviews
A beautiful, vibrant memoir about growing up motherless in 1970s and ’80s San Francisco with an openly gay father.

After his wife dies in a car accident, bisexual writer and activist Steve Abbott moves with his two-year-old daughter to San Francisco. There they discover a city in the midst of revolution, bustling with gay men in search of liberation—few of whom are raising
Hardcover, 326 pages
Published June 3rd 2013 by W. W. Norton Company
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Cross-posted at Shelf Inflicted and at Outlaw Reviews

Last year at this time, I was reading lots of sweet romances with holiday themes. This year I was drawn to bleak, sad stories in books, movies and TV.

Though I wouldn’t say that Fairyland is bleak, there were some extremely sad moments that triggered old memories and made me tear up.

Alysia Abbott had a very difficult childhood. She lost her mom in a car accident when she was two years old and was raised by her father, an openly gay activist and
(See my recent interview with Alysia at BookTrib.) When Alysia Abbott’s mother died in a car accident, her father Steve took his three-year-old daughter off to San Francisco, where he could be out and proud as a poet and gay activist. In her memoir, Fairyland (recently named a Stonewall Honor Book in Non-Fiction for 2014), Alysia reflects on her unorthodox upbringing, which proved to be both a curse and a lucky escape. An aunt had offered to take Alysia in; if Steve had accepted, “I would have g ...more
Jun 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jacob by: Fresh Air with Terry Gross
Those who hadn't lived through the [AIDS] epidemic would come to know almost nothing about it, as a cultural amnesia set in. The heavy warlike losses of the AIDS years were relegated to queer studies classrooms, taught as gay history and not American history.
(Fairyland, p. 315)
Ok, you got me there.

I'm not very knowledgeable about LGBT history, American or otherwise, I'm afraid. Abbott's memoirs of being raised by her gay widowed father in San Francisco in the 1970s and 80s would have completel
May 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
I won this book as part of a Goodreads Giveaway.

Alysia Abbott definitely has a way with words. The picture she paints of San Francisco in the '70s an 80s is wonderfully vivid and pulls you in with the attention to detail. The story also provides a heart-wrenching, firsthand account of the AIDS epidemic. Abbott portrays well the feeling of helplessness and grief of losing so many friends and loved ones. I went into the book knowing it would make me cry, and it definitely lived up to that expectat
Felice Picano
Dec 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Everyone wonders what children brought up by single gay parents will be like. Look no further. Alysia was brought up from a very early age by her father, poet Steve Abbott, who was never well off, always struggling to be a better poet, and always struggling to make a name for himself as a writer not to mention a living. In so doing, he helped a lot of other writers, and I was lucky enough to meet him a few times and to be involved in a few of his larger group readings. He was a cool guy--well, m ...more
Jul 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I read this book after listening to the author on NPR Fresh Air. It was an amazingly candid interview and the book was the same. The setting with a single gay parent was extremely interesting, but in fact the whole book rung true in the whole relationship of parents and kids, and early death in a parent. The fact that her dad had such an amazing set of journals and letters, where he didn't just write about things that happened, but how he felt - the good and the bad, made it an incredible glimps ...more
Dec 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
What a treat. Alysia Abbott's life with her father, the poet and editor Steven Abbott, in 1980's San Francisco is a real tearjerker. It's also a fascinating look at how a non-traditional family operates. There are plenty of moments when you're shaking your head and thinking "what a horrible father!" but there are just as many when you're thinking "she's a terrible daughter!" Ultimately, what we see is a poignant, touching story of family, warts and all. These people clearly loved each other very ...more
Jun 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Those who hadn't lived through the [AIDS] epidemic would come to know almost nothing about it, as a cultural amnesia set in. The heavy warlike losses of the AIDS years were relegated to queer studies classrooms, taught as gay history and not American history. (p. 315)*

Make no mistake, while the title may state that it's a memoir of the author's father, it's really a memoir of the author's own transformation, though it takes until the epilogue for her to realize that herself. She at last sees her
Jess Irish
May 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult
This is such an engrossing and vivid book. The story of the author's upbringing is beautifully written, sprinkled with gems of insight and the writer's poetic. It is a really compelling window into a world that no longer exists - the larger bohemian, politically engaged cultural scene, though mercifully without the trappings of the baby boomer's POV. Writing itself becomes such an interesting dynamic in the relationship of the author with her writer-father, through journals, letters, notes - and ...more
Lorri Steinbacher
Jun 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
A lovely portrait of a unique father/daughter relationship. Abbott polishes up parts of the memoir, no doubt, but she also leaves enough of the grit so that you see how complicated the relationship really was. I found myself feeling angry at both father and daughter alternately throughout. One the one hand, Abbott's father was selfish (leaving her alone at a young age, treating her as if she were an adult, indiscriminate drug-use), he still sacrificed in order to be her father. He could easily h ...more
Sonja Arlow
Jun 23, 2014 rated it liked it
Having just finished this book, it's hard to give it a true rating because it had such an emotional ending, but I had to remind myself that I spent almost the entire book wanting to put it down & read something else. The beginning is strong & the end is strong, but the meat of the book is long & tedious.

I continued on because I feel this is an important story.

Fairyland is the memoir of a girl from 4 to 21 being brought up by her gay, widowed father in San Francisco through the "gay plague" of HI
Larry H
Jan 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
I'd rate this 4.5 stars.

Alysia Abbott was two years old when her mother was killed in a car accident. Her parents had a rather unorthodox relationship (it was the early 1970s, after all)—her father was bisexual and dated men while he and her mother were together, while her mother also dated other men, including a suicidal patient she counseled as a psychologist.

After her mother's death, Alysia and her father, Steve, moved to San Francisco, where he fully immersed himself in the gay culture of th
Sian Lile-Pastore
Aug 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful story that made me cry like a baby.

Although I never lived in San Francisco and never had the same connection to the gay community, I had some ties and this book rang so so true of the times.

I vividly remember hanging out with friends outside their apartment on Milton Street in Cincinnati talking about the mysterious gay cancer that was spreading out of the big cities of San Francisco and New York City. The anger at Ronald Reagan and his refusal to help. The fear.

I remember Jamey and B
May 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this well written memoir by the age 40-something daughter of an openly gay father growing up in the tumultuous 70s and 80s in san francisco. I was born in the same year as the author's father and I have 2 sons about the same age as the author. I also spent my university and graduate school years in california, near san francisco. But if I were to write a memoir of my life, there would be virtually no overlap with the father's life style, parenting or emotions. So this book opene ...more
Monica Brown
Jun 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Fairyland is an engrossing read. Alysia Abbott relays an unusual story of love between a father and daughter. She was involved in a culture in which there were usually no other children and few other females. She makes unlikely friendships and is even rescued from possible danger by strangers. She paints a vivid picture of her surroundings and captures a moment in time through the thoughtful recount of seemingly mundane details. If you are of Abbott's generation, these details catapult or softly ...more
Oct 08, 2013 rated it liked it
Writing about the shortcomings of her only parent, her gay activist, writer, poet father who struggled to make a living in 70s and 80s San Francisco. Alysia also writes about her own failures as a daughter, especially when her father is dying of AIDS. Her father left plenty of journals and letters so it's clear that while he was mired in his own struggles to find a partner, fight his addictions and establish himself as a writer, he also loved his daughter even when he became frustrated that his ...more
Nov 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2013
This is a touching memoir about the relationship between Alysia Abbot and her gay, poet father, Steve Abbot. It is frank, thoughtful, and compassionate. In many ways the memoir is framed by the death of her mother, when she was toddler, and the death of her father, when she was in her 20's. She talks with sad honesty about growing up an outsider, both from the mainstream world, which is inhabited through school and in her father's San Francisco literary circles, where children were rare.

Andrea Richardson
Apr 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Fairyland is a compelling memoir about a little girl growing up in San Francisco in the 70’s with a single dad Steve Abbott, who was an active gay poet living in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. I loved this book! The author has such an easy style of writing that completely allows the reader to be in sync with the emotional ride, showing all the cracks, without being overly sentimental. She writes effortlessly about the rough times with her father all the while imparting humor and the very speci ...more
Jun 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A powerful and beautiful memoir of being raised by a gay dad (Steve Abbott) who was also a writer and editor and important cultural figure in San Francisco, who died of AIDS in 1992. A wonderful book, highly recommended for anyone interested in queer history, probably especially appealing to those of us who lived through some part of the eras described. I feel compelled to quote the last few lines of the book:
"Though I am straight and haven't had a living gay parent for almost twenty years, I st
Aug 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sample-list
Fairyland: a Memoir of My Father is Alysia Abbott’s memoir of being raised from age 3 by her widowed, poet and activist father, Steve Abbott, in Haight-Ashbury after her mother’s early death in a car accident. Mixing her memories with excerpts drawn from his own writings, Abbott lays bare a unique glimpse into the creative ambitions, personal relationships, daily struggles, and parental devotion of a single, gay poet raising a young daughter amidst the growing gay rights movement, the onset of t ...more
Hank Stuever
Jun 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Really more like 4.5 stars. (Goodreads, why oh why can't we have half stars?)

This book is a rare gift to everyone involved, including the reader. In telling the story of her bohemian poet father and bringing to life a long lost San Francisco, Alysia Abbott has demonstrated the difference between memoirs that are only self-indulgent and memoirs that rely also on the memory and work of others, becoming so much more generous and universal.

There's a lot of meticulous reporting and beautifully spare
Apr 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Fairyland is a great time capsule that took me back to the ever changing San Francisco literary, social, and queer (Don't say that word!) communities in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. From losing her mother at an early age to being raised by a free-spirited, openly gay father, from learning to get herself invited to other families' dinners to rebelling against her only parent, from beginning to very sad end, Abbott makes "the Abbott" shine in her memoir. Needless to say, the many journals that her fathe ...more
Jun 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I read Alysia Abbott's painfully honest memoir after hearing her being interviewed on Fresh Air. Her well written story pieces together her own memories with her father's journals to reconstruct their life together -- a gay single father raising a daughter in San Francisco in the 1970's and 80's up until his death from AIDS in 1992(coincidentally within a block of where I lived in the early 1970's). Alysia's parents met as SDS radicals at Emory University in Atlanta GA during the late 1960's whe ...more
Apr 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Alysia grew up in the 1970s and 1980s in San Francisco with her gay activist father, mostly in an apartment at the center of Haight Street. After her mother's death in a car crash when she was very young, her father raised her on his own, moving to the city where he was deeply involved in the local poetry scene and also drew comics. In the 1980s, like so many others, he falls ill from AIDS, and eventually Alysia, by then a college student studying in New York and Paris, comes home to him.

I kept
Terry Carroll
Jul 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I deeply loved Alysia Abbott’s “Fairyland,” a memoir recounting her life as an child and teenager, growing up precocious in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury in the post-Summer of Love 1970s and ‘80s. She was a girl raised by a single father, Steve Abbott - a gay hippie poet, nearly disfunctional on matters domestic, who blossomed culturally while struggling socially, and died of AIDS when she was just four-days short of twenty-two. Recounting their lives two decades after his death (and four decad ...more
Jun 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"Fairyland" is a remarkable story in which Alysia Abbott takes us into her childhood as a young girl growing up with a gay father. The father-daught relationship is as loving as it is unique. The story includes a different perspective of the 1970's gay rights movement and the AIDS epidemic. Abbott is a true storyteller, grabbing readers with intimate details about the life of an artist and the struggle to be accepted. In the writing, we see Alysia's love for her father. The book also contains St ...more
This is the horribly sad and sometimes really beautiful story of a girl raised by her single gay father in San Francisco in the 80s during the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic. Abbott writes well, and I was pretty much immediately sucked in. She describes her father and her relationship with him, his boyfriends, his work, and the places around the city they frequented and called home, as well as her struggles with her father's sexuality and with the way they lived with such clarity and honesty... I ...more
Jun 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: awesome, biography
Heartbreaking, moving, heartwarming, just an incredible memoir. The type of book that anyone who's lucky enough to know their father in life should appreciate. Alysia's story growing up is truly moving, and when her father gets sick from AIDS and begins the journey (in the 80's, no less, when research was still in the beginning stages)to his eventual end of life, well, it's heartbreaking. And you truly can feel the love and respect she had for her father. I bawled like a baby!
Jason Bradley
Jun 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ebook, gay, memoir, nonfiction, hiv
I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir. Alysia's young life was filled with amazing history. The last portion when she came back to San Francisco to care or her father hit a bit too close to home, since it has been just over a month since my mother died. So I ended up putting the book down about 20 pages before the end.
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Alysia Abbott's debut book, Fairyland, A Memoir of My Father (W.W. Norton) was a New York Times Editor's Choice, and an O, The Oprah Magazine pick for summer 2013. Her work has appeared in Vogue, Real Simple, Slate, Salon,, and Psychology Today, among other publications.

Alysia grew up in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, the only child of gay poet and writer, Steve Abbott. After he d

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