Book Review: A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She is Today by Kate Bornstein (Audiobook narrated by Alice Rosengard)
Kate Bornstein is a playwright, gender theorist, and queer activist. She chose to write a memoir as a way to reach out to her daughter, Jessica, who is still in the Church of Scientology, and thus, must not speak to her. Her memoir talks about growing up Jewish in the 1950s, feeling like a girl inside a boy’s body. It then talks about why and how she joined Scientology (still identifying as a man, Al), climbing Scientology’s ladder, marrying, fathering Jessica, and finally getting kicked out of Scientology and becoming disillusioned. From there the memoir explains to Jessica how and why Al decided to become Kate and talks about the person behind the queer theory, trying to explain who the incredibly unique parent she has truly is.
I was feeling bad about how far behind I’ve fallen in writing up reviews for the books I’ve finished reading, but with the historic DOMA ruling in the US yesterday (giving official federal support to marriage equality), I’m really glad I had a GLBTQ book in the queue ready to be reviewed. And not just any GLBTQ book. An amazing one! You can’t read that title and not be intrigued. It’s impossible. I spotted it on tumblr and instantly knew I had to read it. A memoir about a transwoman who was a member of Scientology?! It’s the intersection of three topics I find fascinating.
Kate is unabashedly honest about the fact that this book exists as a letter to her daughter, Jessica. The prologue explains that this memoir came about as a way for Kate to reach out to Jessica and her children, even after Kate has passed away. This lends a tone to the book of an elderly neighbor sitting down to tell you their life story, and you finding out gradually that your elderly neighbor is, in fact, a bad ass, and age has nothing to do with how cool a person still is to this day. And Kate doesn’t hold back because of this perspective. If anything, she is more brutally honest than she might otherwise be. She wants Jessica to have a whole, clear picture of who she is. Flaws and all. One technique that I thought was brilliant for a memoir and helped establish trust in truth between the reader and the author was the fact that Kate would tell a family story she heard growing up and then say, well, that was a lie. I thought it was true, but it turns out what people told me was a lie. Given that, how can we ever know what really is true? Just because we think something is true doesn’t mean it is. It’s an excellent grain of salt to be given in a memoir.
After the prologue, Kate tells her story chronologically. Her story can be roughly summarized as the following sections: growing up a gender queer person, joining Scientology, break-down after getting kicked out of Scientology and coming to terms with her queerness, transitioning, life as a lesbian trans activist, finding BDSM, and overcoming depression and suicidal thoughts. It’s an emotional rollercoaster ride, and one cannot help but feel empathy for this person just struggling to find a place in the world. Personally, I think Kate’s life story is an excellent argument for breaking down the binary gender divide. A lot of Kate’s struggles come from the rigid gender norms and expectations placed upon her by others. It would have been much simpler for people to have let her be gender fluid, and indeed, Kate in more recent years has come to be an activist for gender fluidity and queerness (as is evidenced by her book Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us). This memoir of course explores trans issues, but it also is an amazing gender queer memoir.
The Scientology section was surprisingly mundane compared to what I thought actually happens in Scientology. Yes, there was abuse and lies and many other things going on that demonstrate the fallacies of L. Ron Hubbard, but honestly none of it was that much worse than religious extremists of any religion. Scientology expects its followers to cut themselves off from people deemed poisonous and to proselytize non-stop. It takes over the lives of the people in the upper-echelons, controlling every aspect of their lives. We can see all of this in Kate’s years in Scientology, and while it was interesting, none of it is shocking to anyone moderately informed on Scientology. I actually was more interested in how Kate wound up joining Scientology. Scientology teaches the the soul is genderless, and you also reincarnate. Everyone has been in both male and female bodies. Kate (then Al) found this incredibly comforting. It’s possible that his soul was just more frequently in female bodies, and so that’s why he felt like a girl inside. What an appealing concept to a confused, unsupported trans or gender queer young adult. I think this part of the book demonstrates clearly why it’s important for families and loved ones to be supportive of their glbtq teens and young people. You don’t want a harmful group of people snapping them up with promises of understanding and caring and information that sounds more supportive than the people they live with.
Interestingly, the much more shocking section was the one in which Kate discusses discovering BDSM and getting pleasure from pain. Kate was part of a BDSM triad for quite some time, and this is addressed. It does, however, come with a warning for Jessica and readers who might not want to hear the details so they can easily skip over it and still get the most important information without getting all the details. I thought that was a nice touch from Kate, showing her maturity and openness. Of course, I read that section, and I will say that Kate had a more intense BDSM relationship than you tend to see in literature, and it was interesting to read about.
It’s also interesting to note that from the prologue Kate is honest with the reader about being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder years ago. This is not something I knew coming into the book, and I don’t think Kate’s mental illness played very much into the book. I certainly think she would have had a better time coping with her mental health issues if she had had a supportive environment for her queerness. Even within the GLBTQ community, she was ostracized for some of her less mainstream beliefs within that community. It’s sad that even a community of people ostracized by the larger society, people can still be unaccepting and unloving. In spite of the fact that the book talks a lot about depression, self-injury, and other mental health issues, I am hesitant to label it as counting for my Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge. I don’t want the casual reader to think that I’m equating being queer with having a mental illness. However, the fact remains that Kate herself states she was diagnosed with BPD, and trans and queer people certainly can have mental illnesses. One does not cause the other, although certainly I think lack of acceptance and loving increases symptoms of mental illnesses. In any case, for this reason, I am counting this read for the challenge, but I want to be crystal clear that this is due to Kate’s BPD and NOT her queer/trans orientation.
The narration of the audiobook was perfect. Thankfully, they chose to use a female narrator throughout, which fits perfectly with the image of an older Kate Bornstein telling her life story to her daughter. Alice Rosengard was a perfect narrator. She became Kate in my mind, and there’s not a better complement you can pay a narrator than that.
I feel like I’ve rambled a lot about this book. It’s hard to succinctly discuss a memoir as unique as this one, let alone a book you love as much as I loved this one. It’s amazing. It’s unique. It does exactly what a memoir should do. It tells a unique life story in an engaging way that forces the reader to put herself into someone else’s shoes and feel empathy and maybe even come out of it with a changed worldview, however slightly. I strongly recommend this book to everyone, really, but especially anyone with an interest in GLBTQ history/theory/studies or an interest in the first few decades of Scientology. I will definitely be reading more of Kate’s works, myself, and want to thank her for being a pioneer, in spite of everything.
5 out of 5 stars
Book Review: January First: A Child’s Descent into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her by Michael Schofield
Michael and Susan thought their daughter, January’s, high energy levels and vivid imagination were the result of her high IQ, but when she turned five her imaginary friends started to tell her to do bad things like hit her baby brother or throw herself out of windows. Soon it became apparent that her imaginary friends were actually hallucinations. What followed was a harrowing struggle to get their daughter diagnosed and treated.
It’s rare to see a memoir by a father. There are a ton of memoirs by mothers but not a lot by fathers, particularly not by fathers of daughters. Put this together with the fact that Jani (her parents’ nickname for her) has childhood-onset schizophrenia, and you have one unique book.
This is an excellently told memoir. It opens with Michael speaking about having his daughter’s diagnosis now and struggling with all the barriers toward a normal life presented not just by her illness but by the world we live in. He talks about how some people argue that it’s impossible to diagnose a child with a mental illness, let alone schizophrenia, and of course some people even suggest that Jani is possessed by demons. He gets the denial. It’s scary to see a child consumed by an illness that is completely arbitrary in choosing its victims. But he says,
Denial is not going to help Jani or any of the other mentally ill and schizophrenic children I have come to know. What they need is acceptance. What they need is for us to be telling them “your illness does not define you.” We cannot go inside their minds and “fix” them. But we can fix the world so they can live in it. (location 90)
That speaks very strongly toward the whole reason I created the Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge, and I knew then that this was going to be not just a unique read, but a challenging and good one.
After the introduction, Michael tells the story in a linear fashion. He does a good job remembering how he felt in the early days. His immense pride at his daughter’s high IQ and creative mind coupled with a determination to help her succeed and be herself. It’s fascinating to see, as an outsider, how early there were warning signs that something was not quite right with Jani but that Michael and Susan (her mother) attributed to a positive cause. I think that’s typical of parents and indeed of anyone who loves someone. They were looking for the best. Believing in the best for their daughter. They may be that moderately annoying couple on the play date who just insist their daughter with inappropriate behavior is gifted, but seeing it from Michael’s perspective makes that make sense. Most people (with the exception of parents with Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome) don’t want to believe that their child is sick. So of course you exhaust every other option first.
This of course makes Jani’s move toward violent behavior at the age of five that much more heart-breaking to read. I’ve heard and read stories and documentaries of how difficult it is for parents of young adults who become schizophrenic but at least they are adults. To have this happening to your five year old is completely terrifying. How do you control a child for whom no punishments seem to work? Who is more concerned with appeasing her hallucinations than with obeying her parents?
I certainly don’t agree with all the parenting choices the Schofields made in the first five years of her life (and for the record, neither do all of the psychiatrists), but none of their choices would create schizophrenia. Being overly lenient with your kids won’t make them hallucinate and become this violent at the age of five. This is one of those occasions where you don’t always agree with the choices the memoirist made, but you’re also not right in the heat of the battle. It’s far easier to say, “oh, you should have done this,” when it’s not your child who’s being lost to a mental illness right before your eyes.
That’s the thing about this memoir. Michael is so obviously completely honest. He tells things that happened that don’t present him in the best light. He is completely forthcoming in his own shortcomings, but he reiterates over and over how much he loves his daughter and wants to keep his family together. This combination does for this memoir what a lot of memoirs don’t have: it lends a complete sense of validity to the story as a whole. Michael is so honest about the emotional struggle of it all that even though you may not like him as a person, you respect him as a father.
This level of honesty combined with his writing ability make this memoir a strong call. A call to parents of children who are other-abled (whether mentally or physically) that they are not alone. It’s also a call to the rest of us who are not one of these parents to take a moment to think how difficult it must be and go easier on the parents and the child. I know I for one might think the next time I see a kid throwing an epic tantrum, “Maybe that child has an illness” instead of “Sheesh, do a better job, parents.”
Overall, this is a well-written memoir presenting the unique perspective of a father caring for a daughter with a mental illness. It also provides one of the few accounts of childhood-onset schizophrenia. Highly recommended to parents with special needs children, as well as to anyone who enjoys memoirs and the different perspectives reading them can bring.
4 out of 5 stars
This review needs a bit of backstory.
Once upon a time, I was dating a guy who is now so universally loathed by myself and my friends that we usually just refer to him as The Douche. Sometimes The Dickwad. One of his all-time favorite comics was (is?) Sarah Silverman, I’m not sure if that’s because A) he finds her funny B) she’s from NH and Jewish and he’s from NH and Jewish or C) he secretly wants to bang her. It is possible it is all three.
In any case, I am not a fan of Sarah Silverman myself, but when I saw that she was coming to Brookline Booksmith to do a live reading and signing of her new book, I bought tickets for us to surprise him with. Because I am seriously that awesome of a girlfriend. I kid you not. In any case, I did also buy myself a book to have signed because who goes to a book signing and reading doesn’t get a copy signed?
When I say that I’m not a fan of Sarah Silverman I don’t mean oh I don’t really know I never watched or heard or blah de blah. That’s not how my relationship with my ex (The Douche) worked. He liked her, ergo I wound up watching basically everything she ever did. I don’t dislike the woman, but honestly her sense of humor is not my style. It doesn’t offend me, but it also doesn’t make me laugh. The most she might get is a snort.
You can see how non-plussed I was by the whole event from this Friday Fun! post I did about it. (You may notice that post doesn’t mention my ex at all. Painting on the wall, Amanda. But I digress). In fact, the main things that stood out to me at the event were A) how poor Sarah seemed like an introvert who really just needed to be given a cup of tea and sent away from this huge crowd and B) how mortified I was by my ex trying desperately to be all “Hey I’m from NH too!” during the book signing. Dear Sarah, if you are reading this, I was the girl cringing next in line while you somehow managed to not be like “Wow another Jew in Brookline who has been to NH. I am shocked.” Also, we compared signatures later and my name got an exclamation point and a heart, which his did not. I told him that meant you liked me better. Possibly not true, but it was fun to use during fights, so. Brownie points to you, girlfriend.
In any case! Oddly, I still had this book, unread, on my shelf, signed by Sarah, over a year after my relationship with the ex dissolved. If that doesn’t say Bottom of TBR Pile I don’t know what does. But, I think it’s important to know the backstory of I’m not a fan and I got this book going to a book signing with my douchey ex who embarrassed me in front of a celebrity and I couldn’t pick it up for over a year due to a combination of first missing my ex while simultaneously loathing him then after that faded to just not being a fan so why would I pick up a book I would probably find not funny anyway?
Because I’m ocd about my tbr pile that’s why.
So. Knowing all of this, you will understand why my review you are about to read is more like “hey I’m a librarian so who might want to read this and what would they think” as opposed to “omg I love Sarah Silverman and here’s what I think of her book.” Capiche?
This is a memoir that says a lot without actually saying all that much. Sarah tells us some things about her childhood and adult life without actually getting into the nitty gritty real details of who Sarah is. The deeper moments we get are the best in the book–when she talks about struggling with depression in her pre and early teens and about being a long-term bedwetter. Beyond that, we don’t really get to know Sarah. What makes Sarah tick. How does she feel about being an agnostic while her sister is a rabbi on a kibbutz, for instance? Or how did it feel to have a relationship so abundantly in the public eye? (Hers with Jimmy Kimmel. Side-note: I’m Fucking Matt Damon is the only thing she’s done that I find uproariously funny).
Ok, I get it, some people aren’t comfortable talking about more personal stuff (even though that’s what people want in a memoir). But she’s a celebrity. She’s got unique experiences that can’t be all *that* personal. Like maybe she could talk a bit more about what being backstage at the MTV VMAs was like. But all we get is “oh the comics don’t get to see the act right before them.” Kind of disappointing.
There’s also the fact that the memoir is not particularly linear. It kind of swoops around in an ADD manner. Some readers might enjoy that. Others might be turned off. Again, that could be the sense of humor that I just don’t get.
Overall, it’s not a bad memoir. It’s not like it was torturesome to read. It just falls short of the level of information that people kind of expect from a celebrity memoir. It’s possible that it’s an uproariously funny piece of writing, but you’d have to be a fan of Sarah Silverman’s sense of humor to be able to determine that, which I am not.
Recommended for fans of Sarah Silverman with the understanding that it’s more a piece of comedic work than a revealing memoir.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Brookline Booksmith
Or bid on my signed copy on ebay Auction now over!
After the death of his mother, who also was his last living family member, Colin set out on a journey to the mountain of Kailas in Tibet. The mountain is holy to both Hindus and Buddhists and is closely associated with the process of dying and crossing over. Through his eyes we see the people of Tibet and his emotional journey.
I am not sure if words can describe what an epic miss this book was for me. The combination of British western eyes othering Tibetans, an entire chapter dedicated to his father’s big game hunting, a surprising lack of emotional processing of death, and the *shudders* British accented narrator imitating Indian and Tibetan accents…..oh god. It was painful.
I see nothing wrong with a Western person traveling and appreciating something revered in another culture. If it is done right, it can be a beautiful thing. A lesson in how we are all different and yet the same. Yet through Colin’s eyes I felt as if I was very uncomfortably inhabiting the shoes of a colonizing douchebag. Perhaps part of it was the narration style of Crossley, but it felt as if Colin was judging and caricaturing all of the Tibetans and Indians he met. There was so little empathy from someone supposedly on this journey to deal with death of loved ones. You’d expect more from him. I could accept this perspective more if either Colin learned over the course of the trip or this was an older memoir, but neither is true! This is a recent memoir, and Colin is the exact same self-centered prick he was when he went in.
Similarly, Colin when he is not othering the Tibetans and Indians is either reminiscing joyfully on his father’s exploits as a big game hunter and basically colonizing douche in India or giving us a history lesson in Hinduism and Buddhism. Ok? But he’s not an expert in these religions and also that was not the point of the book? A few explanations here and there, sure, but if I wanted to learn about Buddhism or Hinduism, I sure wouldn’t be getting it from a travel memoir from an old British dude. I’m just saying.
Overall, this is an incredibly odd book. It is a book out of time that feels as if it should have been written by an understandably backward gentleman traveler in the early 1900s, not by a modern man. I honestly cannot recommend it to anyone.
2 out of 5 stars
Leigh Brill recounts in her memoir her life before, during, and after her first service dog, Slugger, a golden retriever with a heart just as golden. Leigh had no idea her cerebral palsy could even possibly qualify her for a service dog until a similarly disabled fellow graduate student gave her some information. Her touching memoir tracks her journey, as well as the life of Slugger.
This was my first book borrowed from the kindle lending library, and it was such a great experience! I know people were skeptical that maybe only low-quality books would be available, but this one is absolutely stunning. I sort of wish I had bought it, just to support Leigh’s service dog efforts.
It’s difficult for me to describe what a pleasure this book was to read. It covers three areas that are a passion of mine–animals as beings worthy of rights, the experience of any type of disability and the extra difficulties that come with that, and the need for universal rights. Top this off with the fact that this is a memoir, a beautifully written one, and I was left nearly speechless. Leigh’s descriptions of learning to communicate with Slugger, Slugger’s unconditional love healing her heart, and the discrimination she faced in public areas with a service dog, they all left me feeling so connected to her. It’s impossible not to be touched by a story of how an animal changes a person’s life. But how an animal changes a disabled person’s life, a person with a disability that is less obvious than others, a person who other people have laughed at and neglected to help. It’s just yet another example of how powerful the human/animal connection can be when we let it.
Of course, this gorgeous experience wouldn’t be possible without talented writing on the part of Leigh. She manages clear, chronological story-telling without missing the opportunity to reflect on how various experiences affected and changed her. She strikes an eloquent balance between reflecting on her relationship with Slugger and talking about her experiences as a disabled person.
Overall, this is a beautiful memoir that eloquently discusses the companionship of animals, as well as the experiences of a woman with cerebral palsy. I highly recommend it to all, but especially to those with an interest in memoirs and disability studies.
5 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle Lending Library
Lacy grew up in Missouri to a traditional, poor farming family that never bothered to keep track of its European roots. Through interviews with her family members and a series of personal vignettes, Lacy explores what it is to be white and poor in America, the farming community, and the odd in-between Missouri inhabits as not quite southern and not quite midwestern.
The concept behind this book is excellent. The execution is discombobulated with a few gems at best, off-putting to the reader at worst.
I think what is most difficult about this book as a reader is that we jump around through time and situations with no guidance. Who is Judith? How is she related to Archie? For that matter, how is she related to the author? We have no real idea. I’m not against the jumps around the family time-line as a method in contrast to the more traditional linear timeline, but the reader needs to know who we are reading about. I honestly think an intro with a simple, straight-forward family tree would have helped immensely. Instead we have to wait until later in the book to determine who these women are that the author is speaking about. It leaves things confused.
Then there’s the narration style. It jumps from “you are so and so” to third person to first person past to first person present without any real rhyme or reason. I can appreciate the style of the individual vignettes. Individually, they are well-written. But assembled together into one single book where they are all supposed to tell a cohesive story, they are puzzling and off-putting.
The absolute strength of the work is when Lacy puts down her story-telling mantel and simply talks about the history of the terms “white trash, cracker,” what it is to grow up white trash, what it is to change class setting from poor to academic. These were interesting and relatable. I believe this is the author’s strong point and would encourage her to pursue this in future works. It is certainly an experience that she is not alone in having in her lifetime.
Overall although the concept of this memoir is strong and unique, the method of time-jumping vignettes and constantly changing narration styles make for a confusing read. I would recommend you browse a copy in a library or a bookstore if you are interested in the author’s writing style or one or two particular vignettes, but not venture beyond that.
2 out of 5 stars
Book Review: Falling For Me: How I Hung Curtains, Learned to Cook, Traveled to Seville, and Fell in Love by Anna David
Anna David is a successful writer in her mid 30s living in NYC when an overwhelming depression hits her. She’s still single. What’s wrong with her? While fighting off tears in the self-help section, she finds a copy of Sex and the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown, which was a bestseller in the 1960s. Essentially a guide to being happy single while still keeping an eye open for Mr. Right, Anna instantly connects with Helen Gurley Brown and decides to spend the next year challenging herself and taking advantage of everything being single has to offer.
It should really need no explaining why I picked this book up. I’ve always been the relationship type (even when I tried not to be), but I also won’t settle for just anybody, and sometimes that combination leads to some ennui. I was hoping I would find a connection to and insight from Anna, and I was certainly right about that.
The very first chapter has Anna breaking down in line for food in her head, basically saying, “I’m going to be alone forever,” and going on from there adding that she’ll be the crazy old maid cat lady and going further and further on into ridiculousness that really doesn’t seem that ridiculous when it’s your brain saying it to yourself. I knew instantly that Anna and I would get along.
As opposed to a lot of other single gal memoirs, the focus is neither just love yourself the way you are nor fake everything to land a man. It’s more like….Do you have any idea how lucky you are to even have this phase in your life? You’re single! You can do anything, go anywhere, decorate however you want, and etc… Anna realizes that she hasn’t been taking full advantage of the things being single affords to her. Things like deciding to house swap and live for a month in Seville (try doing that with a baby) or taking French classes in the evening or spending the day rollerblading and winding up in a park in the sun. So Anna isn’t just trudging along being herself. She’s pushing herself to try new things, go new places, and yes the future Mr. Anna may be there, but even if he’s not, she’s still having a fun time doing it.
The book also addresses another common issue among single women and, well, people in general–grass is always greener syndrome. Anna eventually realizes that she seems to think all of her problems will just disappear if and when she gets married, when that is really not the case at all if you pay an iota of attention to married couples.
One specific line in S&SG that I keep thinking of—“I’ve never met a completely happy single girl or a completely happy married one”—and how it’s helped me to see that I’m somehow convinced that getting to the next stage will make me instantly joyous. (page 36)
The other thing that is sooo relatable that Anna talks about is how it’s so easy to become so desperate for a partner that you start trying to change yourself for him or worry constantly about whether or not you’re good enough for him, when that’s not how dating is supposed to work!
You spend all your time trying to manipulate a guy into wanting you to be his girlfriend when what you should be doing is enjoying yourself and then later figuring out if you even want him as a boyfriend. (page 205)
There are definitely things about Anna that I don’t like or I disagree with (for instance, she eats veal and foie gras, ahem, the book almost got thrown across the room at that point), but even though we’re different, we’re also the same. We’re two single gals who are wondering why everyone else seems to be coupling up but me? What Anna slowly realizes over her year-long experiment is that there is no timeline for love and marriage. It’s not like it’s a game of musical chairs and she’ll be left the only one without one. Maybe her music is just playing at a different speed. I think that’s a really important thing to remember and touching to see someone else struggling with, because it’s far too easy to start pressuring ourselves and the men we date into situations that just aren’t right for either of us. It’ll happen when it happens.
This is a rare instance when I feel the need to sort of reveal the ending. I was worried the book would end with Anna abundantly happy in a relationship, kind of like Eat, Pray, Love, which honestly would only have made me more depressed. Like the book was all about yay singlehood but I still landed a man, right? But no. Who Anna falls in love with is not a man, but herself.
Here’s what I’ve come to understand: I used to not really believe I deserved thick, gorgeous panels for my windows or to pull books from a bookshelf specifically selected for my apartment. It didn’t occur to me that I was worth cooking homemade chicken soup for or dressing in beautiful clothes. I thought I was half a person because I didn’t have a partner but that when I had one, I’d do those things for him. Now I see that I’m entirely whole so that if and when I find him, we can be two whole people together, not the person and a half we would have been. (page 305)
Yes, yes, yes! Finally. A book about being single and loving yourself and taking care of yourself and being a whole person as just you. Sure, the professionals tell us that, but it’s super-nice to get to hear it from a gal who could easily be somebody I have bimonthly cocktails with.
I highly recommend this book to any single ladies in their 20s and up. It’s a nice reminder that we’re not the only ones learning to love ourselves and be patient for the right person.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: Public Library
Emma recounts her childhood growing up with an outgoing older sister, a permissive father, and an addict stepfather in rural America. She then relates attending college as a single mother, her failed marriage, and studying abroad in Paris.
Imagine the most whiny, entitled, immature person you know. Now imagine that person perceives herself as simultaneously awesome, intelligent, and put-upon. Now imagine that person wrote a memoir and couldn’t even maintain the same tense throughout. That’s Stephens’ memoir. To a T.
Yes, a few things in Emma’s childhood weren’t perfect, but most people don’t have life handed to them on a silver platter. Her sister overshadowed her a bit. Her stepfather was an addict who had to go to rehab. Interestingly, though, Emma and her sister were unaware of his addiction until her mother and stepfather sat them down to explain why he was going into rehab. It seemed to me that they actually handled the situation quite well. When Emma’s stepfather returns from rehab, he and her sister clash a bit in the typical teenage angst style, but since the girls also have a father, Emma’s sister moves in with him and their stepmother. It is at this point that Emma starts making the series of dumb decisions that really mess up her life for….well for forever.
Emma ditches her mother and stepfather who had just made over her room for her and goes to live with her absentee father and stepmother who really aren’t behaving like parents at all. Emma proceeds to whine about this situation, when she did it to herself. She whines about everything about living there, when all she had to do was go back to the healthy household with her mom and stepfather. Why didn’t she? Dare I to suggest that she actually liked the freedom, no responsibilities, slacking off in school, getting drunk, having sex, etc…? Why, yes I do. She then proceeds to run away from home multiple times, scaring the crap out of her mother, who appears to be the only one who goes looking for her. It’s the typical what do we do with this horrible out of control teenager story only told from the teenager’s perspective. Aka, it’s terrible. It’s horrible to read about. There is no remorse, no chagrin. Everyone else is always at fault but Emma.
Perhaps teenage angst can be forgivable, but what occurs later was simply horrifying to read about, partially because at first it seems that Emma is straightening her life out. She gets pregnant, keeps the baby, and still completes her pre-med courses and graduates with her BS. This is admirable. I’m sure it was difficult, and she seems to be focused on providing a good life for her son. That all quickly ceases though when she gives up on becoming a doctor, gets married, moves to LA, gets a boob job, and then starts shopping herself and her son around for movie roles. You claim you want to give your son a better life, so you throw him to the wolves in Hollywood? Really?
Naturally, the marriage doesn’t work out, and we then see a series of men coming into and out of her son, Gabriel’s, life. He is routinely left with friends or family so Emma can gallyvant around with these various men, oh, not to mention go do a semester abroad in France without her son when he’s only 11 years old. All she can seem to think about or focus on is money. Not creating satisfying relationships. Not broadening her horizons. Not anything but money. Think I’m exaggerating? She ends up ditching her son for weekends so she can fly across the country to be a high-class hooker. Meanwhile, her mother has settled in the mountains and become an addiction specialist. If you’ve ever needed proof goodness isn’t genetic, there it is. In fact, I’d love to read her mother’s memoir. I bet she has a lot more valuable things to say.
Perhaps all of that could be bearable if she simply wrote well, but she doesn’t. She talks in circles and constantly changes tenses to the point where following the story is incredibly difficult.
Overall, this is a badly written memoir by a person who is a bad daughter and irresponsible mother who has seemingly learned nothing from her mistakes. I cannot in good faith recommend it to anyone.
1 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy via LibraryThing’s EarlyReviewers