Rodenberg recounts a harrowing girlhood: At four, her Vietnam-veteran father spirited her family from their home in the hills of Eastern Kentucky to Minnesota to live in the Body, an off-the-grid End Times religious community. When the community falls apart, the family returns to Kentucky, where Shawna learns to perform a perilous balancing act between who she has been and who she will become.
The chronology is disjointed, jumping back and forth, shifting timelines as well as locations, which can be disorienting for the reader, but that effect feels true to the narrator's experience: Kentucky exerts a strong pull even in Minnesota, and pains felt by generations past are ever present ... As narrator, Rodenberg is intelligent and insightful. As character, she is resourceful, scrappy, defiant, brave and exposed. Her memoir is heart-rending and hard-won ... a work of nuance that complicates received narratives in all the best ways.
Rodenberg doesn't keep to her own story. She intersperses third-person accounts of her mother's life in Kentucky and her father's before he went to Vietnam, including pages—perhaps too many—of letters he wrote to his parents while he was stationed there. The change in perspective is jarring, heightening the surreal aspects of the book and emphasizing its Southern gothic aesthetic. Ultimately, though, the alternating chapters provide context and feed Rodenberg's overarching theme about how stories repeat in families ... Kin begs comparison to Tara Westover's 2018 memoir, Educated. Westover's work is much more optimistic, however ... Even though Rodenberg strives for a tidy ending for herself, obstacles keep popping up. And why shouldn't they? Life isn't neat, and she leans into that, digging deep with dense but readable prose and providing compelling insights.
Rodenberg has plenty of material for a fascinating memoir. What makes this one special is the way the debut author widens her view to tell the stories of her parents, grandparents, and other relatives, including times before she was born, with as much compassion and realistic detail as she gives her own story ... Rodenberg avoids the 'Mountain-Dew-mouth and dirt-floor stereotypes' through which Appalachia is often seen to create a nuanced portrait of a complicated place and people.