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4.06  ·  Rating details ·  424 Ratings  ·  101 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 a
Paperback, 248 pages
Published September 1st 2010 by University of Georgia Press (first published 2009)
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Barb Johnson
Dec 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 25, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Feb 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gfr
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
Jun 08, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
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
Dec 30, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a painful read at times. Sonja Livingston's honest portrayal of living in poverty in the Rochester area was eye opening. After reading about her life, and the many challenges children growing up in a poverty stricken environment face, I wonder how anyone can develop the self motivation to make it out. I can't really rate this book in the usual way - did I love reading it? No, honestly, it made me uncomfortable. But sometimes being uncomfortable, and learning about life outside your own ...more
Apr 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
May 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I grew up blocks away from Sonja in Rochester so I could feel the streets as she described them. We didn't have a lot of money but certainly not the poverty she experienced even though as a kid I probably saw it and didn't understand it. I liked her writing style, almost short essays and very matter of fact about her struggles just to get through a day.
Feb 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well written
Oct 23, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It good but it is hard to follow what is going on in the book
Oct 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was a little bummed the way the story ended. I would have liked to know the end relationship with So njas mom
Sylvia Woods
Jul 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book and I have recommended it to several friends. The short chapters work well and create a strong narrative thread.
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
Mar 07, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Memoirs of a Catholic girl growing up in extreme poverty in the Rochester area in the 1970's. This is a heartbreaking story that's beautifully written. Sonja was one of seven children; the oldest three from the same father, the other four are from all different fathers. Sonja writes that it was no big deal not having a father, but she talks about fathers a lot and it's a deep source of shame - "Despite so many daddies; we'd somehow ended up with none."

Sonja's mother moved her family back and fo
Lisa Gricius
Feb 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Bob Hesselberth
Feb 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 07, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs
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
Dec 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Charming! If there was a second volume, I'd scoop it up! I enjoyed the storytelling, and was totally enamored with the author as a girl through age 10. What a gift for storytelling, and a blessing to have the memories. But, as her teen years came on, I was surprised at the lack of rage and contempt towards her mother. I was stuck that she no longer mentioned poverty or longing for belongings as a teen. Sadly, maybe her longing faded away. I also really enjoyed the tiny chapters! I was delighted ...more
Jen Hirt
Jun 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
A really smart book -- 123 brief essays, many like vignettes, in a coming-of-age narrative that documents poverty and an unstable childhood without resorting to the usual cliches in this type of narrative. Livingston can turn a phrase and capture these crystallized moments. One of my favorite is her longing for a necklace that featured a tiny real Pepsi bottle filled with Pepsi, worn by one of the many older girls she ran with. The theme of the ghostbread (and any bread) is woven through like, w ...more
Jan 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Jan 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really terrific memoir about growing up poor in upstate New York. I love the short chapters...I always think "Oh, just one more" and then 10 later I'm still going. Something about short chapters motivates me! You really get inside her head as she is navigating adolescence and the tribulations of her family. Her lack of father and erratic mother. Her many siblings. Being one of the only white kids in a largely minority area. Trying to escape the cycle of poverty that seems to be the only path ava ...more
Dec 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Win 1 of 3 copies of Ghostbread by Sonja Livingston 1 10 Jun 25, 2010 01:27PM  
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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.” 3 likes
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