by Emi Nietfeld

As a homeless teenager writing college essays in her rusty Toyota Corolla, Emi Nietfeld was convinced that the Ivy League was the only escape from her dysfunctional childhood. But upward mobility required crafting the perfect resilience narrative. She had to prove that she was an “overcomer,” made stronger by all that she had endured.

The truth was more complicated. Emi’s mom was a charming hoarder who had her put on antipsychotics but believed in her daughter’s brilliance — unlike Emi’s Minnesotan foster family who banned what they dubbed her “pornographic” art history flash cards, which in reality were of Michelangelo’s David.

Both a chronicle of the American Dream and an indictment of it, this searing debut exposes the price of trading a troubled past for the promise of a bright future. Told with a ribbon of dark humor, “Acceptance” challenges our ideas of what it means to overcome — and find contentment on your own terms.