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Beard's first book, The Boys of My Youth, is a collection of exquisitely autobiographical essays that have the arc and thrust of good fiction. She portrays herself as wary of the world, someone who looks up at the night sky and worries that the moon is looking at me funny. ... Beard's high-wire trick is that despite her grievous subject matter, she hangs on to her squinty, skinny-girl-on-the-sidelines sense of humor and never lapses into mawkishness.