Jumping Over Shadows: A Memoir by Annette Gendler | Review

I can’t remember what took me to Annette Gendler’s blog. But I would hazard a guess it had to do with writing, memoir, and/or creative nonfiction. Whatever the topic, Gendler’s site is where I learned of her memoir, Jumping Over Shadows: A Memoir. Gendler shares the complex story and many sacrifices made in a marriage between a Catholic and a Jew.
 

Jumping Over Shadows, memoir, Annette Gendler, life story, reviewGendler uses her great-aunt’s story of marrying a Jewish man during World War II to tell her story. Aunt Resi bravely defied tradition. However, her marriage did not survive the war.

Gendler and the man she loved feared losing each other. So, they kept their relationship a secret for three years. Gendler went about learning all she could about Judaism. In the end, she made her own spiritual choice, conversion to Judaism. Not only was the choice hers and hers alone, but it also led the family of the man she loves to accept her.

 
Gendler’s memoir provides an excellent example of showing how to move between generational stories. It isn’t always easy to move back and forth when writing, but Gendler provides a perfect model.
 
The title selection for this memoir is another good lesson for writers. Jumping Over Shadows is not only the title but is also what Gendler and the love of her life did during their secret relationship. They “jumped over shadows” left behind by previous generations. In Gendler’s memoir, she describes how familial understanding and acceptance were achieved. Gendler and her husband jumped from generation to generation (i.e. shadows) to find harmony. This allowed them to form the foundation for a happy marriage.
 
I also recommend following Gendler’s blog.

Annette GendlerAnnette Gendler is an author, writing instructor, blogger, and photographer. Since 2006, she has taught memoir writing at StoryStudio Chicago. Her newest book, How to Write Compelling Stories from Family History, is based on one of her workshops, which I have also taught at the American Writers Museum in Chicago, the Hemingway Birthplace Home in Oak Park, GrubStreet in Boston, WriteSpace Jerusalem as well as the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids.

Her essays have appeared in many journals, and links can be found under Writing on her website. Her photography has been featured in Bella Grace Magazine and Artful Blogging. In 2014-15 Gendler had the privilege of serving as writer-in-residence at the Hemingway Birthplace Home in Oak Park, Illinois.

Follow her on Twitter @AnnetteGendler

 


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Just the Way He Walked: A Mother’s Story of Healing and Hope by Kathy Pooler | A Review

It was just the way he walked, with that self-assured, cocky stance that said he

was in control. Or was it his ready smile and quick wit that reminded me

of his father? Vern’s comment made me realize that Brian was

not just another normal kid, like Vern’s kids were.

He was Ed’s son. It was just the way he walked.

Just the Way He WalksIn her second memoir, Kathy Pooler tackles two difficult issues in her life. She refers to poor personal choices made in her marital life. These choices affected not only the author but also the lives of her children, Brian and Leigh Ann. Here she tells the story of her son Brian’s addiction and her simultaneous battle with cancer. It is a love story, one filled with hope and healing.
Concerned about Brian’s addiction, Pooler worries Brian will end up like his father, Ed. This is a common worry among parents of children in a marriage or partnership with an addicted partner. But how to watch and
help turn a person away from what another presents as normal?
Pooler tries as hard as a parent can try to help Brian, but we all know the various emotional stages of growth. The “I’m wholly knowledgeable” teen years, the “I’m an adult now” years, and the “I don’t need you in my life any more” years. How does a single parent cope with knowing a child is struggling with addiction of any type? Coping with this problem alone is difficult, as Pooler shares in Just the Way He Walked. She holds back nothing.
The strength of her faith is a bolster for her hopes and desires to help Brian. Helpful is a stepfather willing to step up and help Pooler with both battles. Pooler shows how at times we have to let someone step in to help through strengths we may not have. She shares her use of journaling, belief in prayer, and strong faith—a powerful toolbox.
Pooler’s memoir is well written. Her story is written with others in mind trying to help a family member or friend struggling with addiction. Descriptions of her emotions are honest and painful for the reader. But, we must expect reality to shine through in a tough story such as this.
In the synopsis of Just the Way He Walked, Pooler shares the goal in writing this book:

The message of resilience and faith in the face of insurmountable odds serves

as a testament to what is possible when one dares to hope.

I recommend Just the Way He Walked to those looking for the hope of helping an addict to turn his or her life around.
It is rare that I give a 5-star rating to books I review. Yet, often I make exceptions as I have done with Pooler’s new memoir. It is indeed a 5-star book.

Disclosures:
I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review and nothing more. Opinions expressed here are solely mine.
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A Happy Truth: Last Dogs Aren’t Always Last by D.A. Hickman | Review

Caring for them is also a gift in disguise; it’s not optional.

Their needs can motivate and inspire us to keep moving.

Keep breathing, at a minimum.

Daisy Hickman shares with readers once again her gift of lyrical prose. In A Happy Truth: Last Dogs Aren’t Always Last, the story emerges as if she paints with a fine brush in delicate colors. Hickman’s story unfolds as one filled with immense love among dogs, cats, and humans.
 
A Happy Truth, memoir, animals, people who love animals,This fascinating story drew on my imagination to the exclusion of the outside world. It was as if I quietly sat in the midst of the storytelling and watched the story unfold. Animal lovers will discover a sense of magic in these pages. And not-yet animal lovers may be converted.
 
Hickman shares stories of a variety of pets. Some finding her family. Family searching for the “right” pet. Traveling in the middle of the night with ill companions, and walking with happy dogs. Each example brought me close to home and evoked memories I had not considered for some time.
 
Growing up with dogs, I related to stories of energetic puppies alongside older dogs. Often the older ones showed patience with their newly chosen younger family members. Since my marriage some 38 years ago, cats have become the animal to share our lives. Currently, we enjoy the antics of two cats; yet, over time we’ve loved and nurtured three others.
 
Hickman shares bits of wisdom about the love and care afforded to our animal family members. Often, out of the blue, she asks her readers a question, and I found myself answering many of them. In other words, you, the reader, become the author’s companion as she tells her story.
We talk to our pets, doesn’t everyone?
I recommend this book to anyone who loves animals. Readers considering adding an animal may find it helpful. And those readers looking for a beautiful story to read will be delighted.
 
A Happy Truth will make an exceptional gift to someone on their birthday or at any other time.
 
Thank you, Daisy Hickman, for this beautiful example of what we can learn from our animal friends. 
Some people doubt that animals and emotions coexist, but it seems

we would have to be slightly oblivious to overlook the

endless and poignant ways in which they try to share

their understanding, awareness, and generous affection with us.


Disclosures:
I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review and nothing more. Opinions expressed here are solely mine.
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This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story by Jackie Shannon Hollis | A Review

In society today, we celebrate the label “mother” more than any other label given to women. To decide against being a mother seems foreign and strange to many of our culture.
 
This Particular Happiness, memoir, Jackie Shannon Hollis, childlessness, bookBut Jackie Shannon Hollis chose between her husband’s love and childlessness. She writes about her choice in This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story. Hollis opens the door on her own feelings and emotions at play in making this decision.
 
When Hollis and her husband attend a family gathering, she is the only woman in the group without a child. Making such a decision doesn’t mean we don’t look back and wonder if it was the right choice. Hollis had moments and days when she wondered this very thing. Past relationships played a role in both Hollis’s feelings and those of the man she married.
 
Over time, Hollis talked with her husband about the possibilities of having children. She felt as if she were missing something, but not with certainty what it was. Yet, their discussions never altered their decisions.
 
Hollis offers her readers an opportunity to experience pressures and tensions from others. A couple’s choices, such as childlessness, bring out family and friends with opinions. This is a suitable book for individuals considering childlessness. It provides an overview of certain issues that may come up in conversation with others.
 
Hollis is authentic in revealing this tender and emotional time in her life. Bringing this book into the public arena took courage on the part of both Hollis and her husband, Bill.
 
This memoir is well written and structured. The story unfolds with each chapter and in a timely fashion. Hollis’s voice is strong and bold. She paints a detailed description of her feelings.

My thanks to Jackie Shannon Hollis and Forest Avenue Press for providing an Advance Reader’s Copy to me in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are solely mine.

This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story will be available on October 1, 2019. Preorder your copy here.

 

 

Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl by Marian Longenecker Beaman | Review

Mennonite Daughter, memoir, Mennonite childhood

Marian Longenecker Beaman’s memoir shares heartwarming vignettes of life in Lancaster County, PA. The author paints images with words of the joys and frustrations of growing up as a Mennonite. I visited Lancaster County several years ago. But I was not as aware of the Mennonites and their restrictions as I was of the Amish. So, some of Beaman’s revelations were surprising to me.
 
The author’s use of detail in descriptions of people and places brought them to life. Thus, the reader feels an actual part of what and where Beaman was describing. The inclusion of family photographs allowed the reader to “see” the life Beaman described.
 
Beaman’s family’s devotion to their Mennonite faith was unmistakable in all they did. I have known Beaman from her blog, Plain and Fancy, for several years. I was not surprised at the faith commitment. Yet, reading about Beaman’s baptism at age 10 took me quite by surprise. Everything changed for this young girl. The church’s rigid rules about dress, everyday activities, and schooling controlled her life. The little girl who wore frills and ruffles her Mennonite mother sewed had to put those dresses away. How conflicting this must have felt to her.
 
Beaman also writes of her father’s punishments and abuses. It is not uncommon for an abusive parent to declare his/her faith and to use Scripture as a basis for the punishment. I felt Beaman’s pain and heartbreak as I read her emotional words and desire to know why. Beaman was a strong young woman who stood up to the leaders in the church and to her father. Although she mentioned a fear of her father’s actions, she overcame that fear. What courage this took. 
 
Beaman has taken the opportunity to tell her true story. While telling of punishments and abuse, she reflects on the loving nature of her home life. The author shows respect and admiration for her mother. Yet, she questions the lack of intervention on her mother’s part at times.
 
She also expresses the love felt for her grandmother and Aunt Ruthie. In fact, one might say Beaman had two homes. There was a home filled with parents and siblings. And the home maintained by her grandmother and Aunt Ruthie. This second home was a place of escape where restrictions were a bit looser. Beaman enjoyed many happy days with their grandmother and Aunt Ruthie.
 
I enjoyed reading Beaman’s memoir and taking a trip back in time to Lancaster County, PA. The story is rich in family and one woman’s history with traditions and culture. Her shining moment is in her courage to take a step away to build her own life.
Beaman is a master storyteller and wordsmith. Her writing is fluid, detailed, expressive, and strong. I highly recommend this memoir not only to those who enjoy reading a memoir. But also to those who want to write or are writing a memoir. Beaman does it just right.

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover


Mother had always said we could go to school if we wanted. We just had to ask Dad, she said. Then we could go. But I didn’t ask. There was something in the hard line of my father’s face, in the quiet sigh of supplication he made every morning before he began family prayer, that made me think my curiosity was an obscenity, an affront to all he’d sacrificed to raise me.

 
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover is a difficult and emotional story to read. Yet I could not put it down. Westover has a determination and grit about her that made me want to read her story. Many of us have lived a childhood of abuse in varying degrees. I suppose my own experience draws me to the stories of others who have suffered abuse as well.
 
Westover’s family lives off the grid in Idaho. Husband and father believes the government is out to get them. They must protect themselves. He keeps his family so isolated no one could get to them. It is how he ensures the children never learn the truth about their country.
 
Educated: A Memoir, Westover, bookMost of the seven children didn’t have birth certificates because they were born at home. There were no medical records for any of the family because they had never seen a doctor or been in a hospital. The children weren’t allowed to attend public school. Instead, they were “homeschooled” by their mother. They were taught to make survivalist kits and canned many jars of fruits. Exercises were practiced in case of an unexpected siege. Not the kind of education considered normal according to our country’s standards.
 
Westover learned midwifery and herbalism at her mother’s side. She also worked with her siblings in her father’s junkyard salvaging scrap metal. Often she dealt with various injuries resulting from the labor in the junkyard. Her parents didn’t believe in doctors and hospitals. Instead, they believed the power to heal rested in herbal tinctures and the Lord’s power.
 
One of Westover’s brothers leaves to attend Brigham Young University. She begins to see possibilities away from home. She begins to mentally question her father’s preaching against education, healthcare, and more. Despite her lack of education, Westover begins to study for the ACT exam. She also teaches herself math, grammar, and science. Westover hoped to get a score that would qualify her for admittance to BYU.
 
At age 17, Tara Westover begins her education. She has waited a lifetime for this experience. One example that sticks with me is a class in which the lecturer touches on the Holocaust. Westover had no idea what the Holocaust was. No one had ever mentioned it; no one in her family likely knew too much about it. This seems impossible in a country where an education is free for all.
 
Many have questioned the validity of Westover’s story. I believe we shouldn’t question another’s telling of their story. We each have a story to tell, and it is ours to tell as we remember it.
 
Tara Westover has done that. She has told her story of her childhood which left her uneducated and abused. Then she tells of passing the ACT and gaining admittance to BYU, on to Harvard, Cambridge, and beyond. It has taken determination and grit to do what Westover has accomplished.
 
If you enjoy memoir and/or autobiographical works, Educated may be a book you’d enjoy. Be prepared for the difficult portions. Throughout it all, Tara Westover has prepared herself for the woman she has become today.