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.
... explores the richness and dignity of Appalachian life in the 1980s, and of people who are too often stereotyped in the media ... Without overlaying the judgment of adulthood onto her experiences, Rodenberg writes from the perspective of a child who accepts the world around her as normal. This makes her descriptions of the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of a 'handsome drifter' who became her tutor even more poignant ... Through it all, she writes about her difficult childhood with a sense of grace and generosity that keeps this book from being too painful to read ... Fortunately as readers, we bear witness to the fact that she has put these stories to paper. The echoes of an important chapter from America’s past call out from these pages, and Rodenberg’s stories of lives that are generally overlooked make for essential reading.
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.