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An organic farmer, a union organizer, a teenage lesbian stabbed to death in a hate crime and the president of a cosmetics company that makes hair relaxer all get their stories told in this anthology of Zook's articles for Essence magazine. As a reporter, Zook has a passion for social justice, and her best chapters focus on public health issues that disproportionately affect impoverished black women and children. She writes about a woman in Birmingham, Ala., for example, who fights companies that want to dump toxic chemicals in working-class or black areas and who started a group dedicated to raising awareness of lead poisoning in children, the major symptoms of which—hyperactivity and aggression—are precisely those of attention deficit disorder. In another chapter, Zook explores the possible causes behind the high rates of HIV/AIDS among black women in small Southern towns, among them low self-esteem, mistrust of doctors and an unwillingness to challenge men about their sexual histories. Zook (Color by Fox: The Fox Network and the Revolution in Black Television) has a weakness for clichés and a tendency to gush about how her subjects "empowered" her, both of which detract from the raw power of the stories she tells. (Mar.)
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Ten years ago, journalist Zook chronicled the lives of black women working on catfish and poultry farms in rural Mississippi; she became engrossed in the struggle of these women and broadened her search to find compelling stories. She traveled across the U.S and collected stories of struggle with obesity and health, toxic pollution in disadvantaged communities, AIDS, cultural isolation, unions and organized labor, addiction, and violence. Among the interview subjects: a young woman from the projects who had a baby at 19 and never finished college but went on to create a center for young women's development and to win a MacArthur "genius grant"; owners of a bookstore in Washington, D.C., that specializes in books about black women; a filmmaker struggling with limited Hollywood images of black people; a prisoner, former prostitute, and drug addict sentenced for nonviolent, drug-related offenses; and a high-powered Manhattan executive of a cosmetics company. In her epilogue, Zook tells of her own struggles and those of the women in her family. Vanessa Bush
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