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review 2017-02-04 18:03
After The Cheering Stops (memoir) by Cyndy Feasel
After the Cheering Stops: An NFL Wife's Story of Concussions, Loss, and the Faith that Saw Her Through - Cyndy Feasel,Mike Yorkey

Former NFL wife Cyndy Feasel tells the tragic story of her family’s journey into chaos and darkness resulting from the damage her husband suffered due to football-related concussions and head trauma—and the faith that saved her. 

Grant Feasel spent ten years in the NFL, playing 117 games as a center and a long snapper mostly for the Seattle Seahawks. The skull-battering, jaw-shaking collisions he absorbed during those years ultimately destroyed his marriage and fractured his family. Grant died on July 15, 2012, at the age of 52, the victim of alcohol abuse and a degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

Cyndy Feasel watched their life together become a living hell as alcohol became Grant’s medication for a disease rooted in the scores of concussions he suffered on the football field. Helmet-to-helmet collisions opened the door to CTE and transformed him from a sunny, strong, and loving man into a dark shadow of his former self. In this raw and emotional memoir that takes a closer look at the destruction wrought by a game millions love, Cyndy describes in painful and excruciating detail what can happen to an NFL player and his family when the stadium empties and the lights go down.

Amazon.com

 

 

Grant Feasel was a 6' 7" lineman for the Seattle Seahawks throughout the 1980s-early 1990s, playing center and long snapper positions. In this memoir, Grant's ex-wife, Cyndy Feasel, recounts all the years of football trauma she witnessed her husband take and how deeply that affected him and their family up until the day he died.

 

 

Cyndy and Grant met while students at Abilene Christian College, where Grant played on the school's football team while studying to be a dentist. Even in those early days, Cyndy would attend his games, watching him get hit or knocked flat out at nearly every game. But coaches would simply wave some smelling salts under his nose and send him back onto the field. Things didn't get any easier when the NFL came calling in 1984. After being offered a position with the Baltimore Colts (who became the Indianapolis Colts shortly after Feasel signed on), Feasel jumped at the opportunity, figuring he could take up his medical degree again later on if the football gig didn't work out. He only got to play for them a short time before the coaches decided he was one of the expendables on the roster. Much to his relief, he was quickly picked up by the Minnesota Vikings. 

 

Minnesota was where I heard, for the first time, Grant saying things like "I got my bell rung" after a game or "I suffered a stinger" in practice. His body took a lot more abuse and I noticed that he was staying longer after practice to get iced and sit in whirlpool baths...Muscles were bruised, and ligaments were stretched and sometimes torn. 

 

Keep in mind that Grant played much of his career on unforgiving artificial surfaces that were like patio carpet rolled onto a concrete slab. The first generation of artificial turf wasn't very sophisticated and lacked the "give" of a traditional dirt-and-grass playing field or today's softer FieldTurf...Grant often complained of "stingers" on Sunday nights. A stinger was an injury to a nerve in the upper arm, either at the neck or shoulder. A stinging or burning pain spread from his neck to one of his hands and felt like an electric shock down the arm. Many times I heard him say, "My neck is on fire."

 

I'm sure he was hurting. He'd always say to me, "I can barely turn my head," and I believed him every time I watched him drive and switch lanes; his neck barely swiveled. 

 

During the 1985 Vikings training camp, Grant suffered a major collision with a teammate from the defensive line. That hit caused Grant's left knee to have a major blowout -- his ACL, MCL and meniscus all shredded, immediately bumping him to the team's IR (injured reserve) roster. That is, until around Thanksgiving 1986, when he was dropped yet again. But again, luck was on his side -- the Seattle Seahawks snatched him up for their 1987 season and he stayed with them until his retirement in the early 1990s. The Seahawks coaches were aware of his injury record but were also impressed by his formidable size, his hard-working blue collar mentality and his high intelligence that allowed him to quickly and easily learn plays. By this time, Grant and Cyndy had children to support. Fearing that he could lose his spot on the team and thus his income, Grant dedicated himself to finding any means to bulk up, hoping it would prevent or at least soften further injury... even if that meant turning to steroid usage. 

 

The detrimental hits didn't stop though, no matter what measures Feasel chased. Instead, the norm became him being sent home with first one baggie full of prescription grade pain killers, then multiple baggies. He also turned to his own remedies, mainly a Sunday & Monday night ritual of downing an entire 6 pack of Coors Light with a Vicodin chaser. As Grant approached his last years in the NFL and then retirement, Cyndy saw the gentle, hard-working family man she fell in love with transition into a man of barely bottled rage. Grant's moods spiraled into a dangerous blend of anger, paranoia, and uncharacteristic profane behavior / language. Though he would seek the help of psychiatrists, more often than not he'd simply be sent home with yet more prescriptions for pain killers or mood enhancers / suppressants. In time, Cyndy discovered her husband's secret: abuse of prescription medications. An alarmed and terrified Cyndy watched her once happy marriage descend into a living nightmare of emotional (and later, physical) abuse. 

 

Though Grant's official cause of death was listed as ESLD or End Stage Liver Disease (aka cirrhosis of the liver), Cyndy lays out why she believes her husband essentially committed suicide slowly over the course of nearly 20 years, thanks to his then-undiagnosed CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) disease. Grant's brain was donated for study to the "Brain Bank" at Boston University, where the brain matter of numerous deceased NFL players have been sent to be tested for CTE. To date, CTE is a condition that can only be determined postmortem (after death). 

 

CTE can only be tested for postmortem, when scientists study the brain's tissues for a buildup of an abnormal protein known as tau, which was becoming associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgement, impulse control problems, aggression, depression and progressive dementia...concussions and "dings" on the football field that aren't allowed to heal thoroughly activate the tau protein, which then moves throughout healthy brain cells. When the frontal lobe -- the seat of socialization, emotional intelligence, and rational thinking -- become affected, the brain deteriorates over time. Memory loss and confusion become more prevalent. 

 

Having recently read the non-fiction work League of Denial, which takes a lengthy look at the topic of the NFL and the CTE epidemic in general, I thoroughly appreciated the opportunity to read Cyndy Feasel's personal account of trying to live with someone who battled the condition (though they weren't aware of it at the time). Reading the two works together really cemented in my mind the truth that though the NFL has made progress in better caring for their players, the scourge of CTE is still very much a topic that requires persistent discussion. Near the end of Cyndy Feasel's book, there is a definite lean towards pushing parents to keep their kids away from team sports. While I understand the stance, I personally find it a drastic one.

 

While I am sympathetic of Cyndy's struggles, I was a little put off by how watered down and somewhat bland the writing is here. Though the story is Cyndy's, the writing is actually done by Mike Yorkey. His author blurb gives him credit for writing or co-writing some 100 books to date. Why then was the writing so simplistic? That's what stumped me. For example, did the reader really need an explanation of what Advil is... seriously?! I was also surprised that while Feasel talks of immersively educating herself on the topic of CTE after Grant's death, I didn't see one mention of Dr. Bennett Omalu, though he was instrumental in the discovery of the disease in the first place! (Will Smith portrayed Omalu in the film Concussion).

 

Again, I would recommend checking out League of Denial for an in-depth look at the topic of CTE, but I appreciate Feasel's memoir as a personalized, supplemental offering on the subject. 

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: BookLookBloggers & Thomas Nelson Publishers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book & requested that I check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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review 2017-01-25 22:53
A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay
A Portrait of Emily Price - Katherine Reay

Art restorer Emily Price has never encountered anything she can’t fix—until she meets Ben, an Italian chef, who seems just right. But when Emily follows Ben home to Italy, she learns that his family is another matter . . . Emily Price—fix-it girl extraordinaire and would-be artist—dreams of having a gallery show of her own. There is no time for distractions, especially not the ultimate distraction of falling in love. But Chef Benito Vassallo’s relentless pursuit proves hard to resist. Visiting from Italy, Ben works to breathe new life into his aunt and uncle’s faded restaurant, Piccollo. Soon after their first meeting, he works to win Emily as well—inviting her into his world and into his heart. Emily astonishes everyone when she accepts Ben’s proposal and follows him home. But instead of allowing the land, culture, and people of Monterello to transform her, Emily interferes with everyone and everything around her, alienating Ben’s tightly knit family. Only Ben’s father, Lucio, gives Emily the understanding she needs to lay down her guard. Soon, Emily’s life and art begin to blossom, and Italy’s beauty and rhythm take hold of her spirit.

Yet when she unearths long-buried family secrets, Emily wonders if she really fits into Ben’s world. Will the joys of Italy become just a memory, or will Emily share in the freedom and grace that her life with Ben has shown her are possible?

Amazon.com

 

 

Art restorer Emily Price is sent on a business trip to Atlanta, Georgia to help an Italian family revive some of their family heirlooms. It's there that she meets Benito (Ben) Vassallo, the nephew of her clients, newly arrived from Italy. He's temporarily staying with his aunt and uncle while he helps them try to breathe life back into their restaurant, which has quietly but steadily losing business of late. As their respective areas of work have them frequently running into each other, they find themselves caught up in a whirlwind romance with each other. Ben spontaneously proposes to Emily, she agrees with equal spontaneity, and within hours they're on a patch of grass getting married by the nearest justice of the peace they could find!

 

The newlyweds fly off to Benito's hometown of Montevello, Italy (back cover synopsis mistakenly has it as "Monterello") where it doesn't take long for some of the luster to fall off the rose.  Sure, Emily found almost immediate love & friendship in the arms of Ben, but it won't be so easy when it comes to his family. She quickly starts to feel very much out of her element. Though Emily tries to make herself as amiable and helpful as possible at every turn, it just seems like anything she attempts she royally ruins. Ben feels bad for her, things are not unfolding quite as he envisioned either... but he has his own special blend of stress, being caught in between a sense of loyalty to his family as well as to his new wife. Even outside of the shock of Ben coming back married, the family has additional sources of stress and strife they're all trying to work through. It's a rocky homecoming all around!

 

Emily becomes concerned with her developing feelings of alienation from the rest of the family. That is, until she finds herself surprisingly bonding with Ben's quiet father, Lucio. But is having one ally other than her husband enough to make forever work?

 

This is only the second of Katherine Reay's works that I've picked up. I was surprised to find how deep some of the themes in this one got, as I remember the first book I tried -- The Bronte Plot -- was cute but as far as meat in the story, didn't really get too deep past surface level coziness & fluff.

 

Ben was quite the charmer and will likely have the "hopeless romantic" type readers of all ages swooning, even if just a little bit. :-) I liked that Ben had layers to his character. He could be a charming flirt one minute but the next could just as easily show some serious emotional turmoil, trying to hold the family together. It was also nice to see that his love for Emily was not rash or merely physical, he was honestly always about her well-being, making her as comfortable and appreciated as possible at all times. Who's not going to want to get to know a character like that! I also awwed over the relationship between Ben's parents, Lucio and Donata. Donata could be a fiesty one, a bit of a prickly exterior, but around Lucio? A big ol' bowl of melted butter. And Lucio always seemed to know just how to round off her sharp edges when Donata had her claws out. The sense of warmth, patience and love that radiated between them was a real joy to experience. 

 

The symbolism of the sunflowers was the standout take-away for me. I love the idea of the field of girasoli (Italian for sunflower), where Ben explains to Emily that one has to allow them to turn to the light on their own. If you force it, you snap the stem and potentially kill the flower. 

 

"Girasoli - Piovene Rocchette, Vicenza" by Renzo Pietribiasi

 image from Trek Earth

 

 

All in all, I'd deem this a fun read for lovers of Italian food, culture or landscape. Author Katherine Reay does a nice job having her characters make connections between the layering of art and the layering of culinary flavors, as well as the overall importance of always coming back to that strong family bond. You're bound to have a good time getting to know Ben's clan! :-)

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book & requested that I check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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review 2017-01-19 05:13
The Confessions of X by Suzanne M. Wolfe
The Confessions of X - Suzanne M. Wolfe

Before he became a father of the Christian Church, Augustine of Hippo loved a woman whose name has been lost to history. This is her story. She met Augustine in Carthage when she was seventeen. She was the poor daughter of a mosaic-layer; he was a promising student and heir to a fortune. His brilliance and passion intoxicated her, but his social class would be forever beyond her reach. She became his concubine, and by the time he was forced to leave her, she was thirty years old and the mother of his son. And his Confessions show us that he never forgot her. She was the only woman he ever loved. In a society in which classes rarely mingle on equal terms, and an unwed mother can lose her son to the burgeoning career of her ambitious lover, this anonymous woman was a first-hand witness to Augustine’s anguished spiritual journey from secretive religious cultist to the celebrated Bishop of Hippo. Giving voice to one of history’s most mysterious women, The Confessions of X tells the story of Augustine of Hippo’s nameless lover, their relationship before his famous conversion, and her life after his rise to fame. A tale of womanhood, faith, and class at the end of antiquity, The Confessions of X is more than historical fiction . . . it is a timeless story of love and loss in the shadow of a theological giant.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Between the years 397 - 400 AD, St. Augustine of Hippo released his multi-volume memoir Confessions. Within the pages of the early passages, he makes mention of a woman who was quite important to him prior to his church life, but the woman remains unnamed except for when he calls her "Una" -- The One. In The Confessions of X, Suzanne Wolfe imagines who that woman might have been, what she might have been like, and what might have transpired to have this mystery female part ways with Augustine.  

 

In this novel, the woman remains officially unnamed though she is given nicknames by some, such as her best friend Nebridius. Their first meeting was at the town creek when they were small children, so he gives her the nickname Naiad (Greek for "spirit of the river") while she calls him Nereus (jokingly meaning "wet one" but also name of a Greek god of the sea).

 

Augustine and his special lady meet when they are 17, both being friends of Nebridius. They have a whirlwind romance but their relationship faces a major roadblock. Augustine is from a privileged family and heir to a great fortune while X is the daughter of a humble mosaic artist. In fact, X's father has her living with his sister since he struggles with drinking and gambling addictions. Tough sell for a man in Augustine's position, but he feels true love for X so he presents her with the best situation he can offer her -- no official marriage, but instead a position as his concubine.

 

It had cost me nothing; it was to cost me all.

 

In that era, the role of concubine was a little different than what we imagine when that word comes up now; back then it was more like vowing yourself into a common-law marriage via commitment ceremony... spiritually powerful but not as legally binding. In fact, under the concubine arrangement, in the case of a break up, the man would automatically get full custody of any children he sired, while the woman would basically be out on her rear. 

 

X bears Augustine a son and they have many content years together. Neighbors seem stunned at just how cozy & lovey-dovey the couple remains as the years continue to pass. But there is a restlessness to Augustine's spirit that X cannot seem to calm. X packs up their home and moves the family from Carthage, Africa to the bustling city of Rome, hoping Augustine's heels would cool once he got settled into a more academically satisfying community. Hard as she tried though, nothing seemed to answer his need quite enough. When she overhears one of his colleagues whispering that X may be playing a part in Augustine being held back professionally, she makes the choice to exit out of his life at the age of 30, returning to Carthage so that he might make a advantageous and official marriage with someone within his class. But as history buffs know, Augustine goes on to choose the church over another woman. 

 

I'm new to the writing of author Suzanne Wolfe, though she's had a few books out prior to this one. This novel though... WOW. Her descriptions of this world are so palpable! This is one of those books you have to be willing to take slow because there is A LOT of detail to take in and while you might feel a little worn out in the process taking it all in, it's all worth it. There's one heck of a story here! I can't imagine processing the kind of painful decisions X was pushed to make multiple times over the course of her life. I just picture this woman with a shattered heart that never found a way to entirely heal but somehow she pushes through and carries on.

 

Although the roots may be in darkness the flower grows toward the light. Root and flower are one, not separate.

 

The story isn't all heartbreak though! There are some loving scenes between Augustine and X that are alternately beautifully deep and sometimes tragic but also sweet, adorable, even hilarious in parts. I had a good laugh over one scene where X is talking with her friend Neith, the mother of a large herd of children. X just has her one son. Neith hypothesizes that X's love of books is just a band-aid for her pain, an odd side effect from struggling to conceive again, shrugs it off with "you'll soon be cured." The reader is then given a glimpse into X's inner thoughts, the memory of how the birth of her son very nearly killed her, making her think that maybe she doesn't WANT to be cured of reading! X-D

 

This gorgeous bit of historical fiction gave me a glimpse into a time & place I've admittedly read very little about -- the Romans in Carthage, Africa. Weird how it's hard to think of Romans outside of Rome but this novel reminded me of the true scope of the Roman Empire. History aside, I also fell in love with all these unique characters -- not just Augustine and X but also all their friends, neighbors and colleague who had small but important influences on their day to day life decisions. These characters were wonderfully alive and I eagerly look forward to exploring more of Wolfe's work! 

 

FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book & requested that I check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

 

_____

 

Extras

 

A couple of new-to-me vocab words I took away from this novel:

 

 

Anchorite = a religious recluse

 

Suborn = to subhorn is to bribe someone to commit a crime

 

"The Latin word that gave us suborn in the early part of the 16th century is subornare, which translates literally as "to secretly furnish or equip."

~ from merriam-webster.com

 

 

 

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review 2017-01-18 19:51
Twilight at Blueberry Barrens (Sunset Cove #3) by Colleen Coble
Twilight at Blueberry Barrens (A Sunset Cove Novel) - Colleen Coble

Kate Mason has devoted herself to caring for her family’s blueberry barrens. But after her fields stop producing fruit, she’s forced to come up with alternative ways to make a living.

Renting out the small cottage on her property seems an obvious choice, but it won’t be enough. When entrepreneur Drake Newham shows up looking not only for a place to rent but also for a nanny for his two nieces, it’s almost too good to be true. And maybe it is—because Drake brings with him dangerous questions about who might be out to kill his family. The more time Kate spends with Drake and the girls, the more difficult it becomes to hide her attraction to him. But a family crisis isn’t exactly the ideal time to pursue a romance. Meanwhile, Kate learns that her uncle—in prison for murder—has escaped. Add to that a local stalker who won’t leave her alone, and Kate is looking over her shoulder at every turn. With threats swirling from multiple directions, she wonders if her blueberry fields will ever flourish again . . . or if this twilight is her last. Set on the beautiful coast of Maine, Twilight at Blueberry Barrens brings together suspense, romance, and the hope that one day new life will come again.

Amazon.com

 

 

For years now, Kate Mason has grown accustomed to running her family's blueberry farm in Maine but recently the farm just hasn't been producing a profitable amount of fruit. As finances become increasingly tight, Kate is forced to look to other means of income. She gets the idea to renovate a small cottage on her family's property and make it available for summer rentals. During this renovation process, in walks Drake Newham. Drake, with his two nieces in tow, is a visitor to Sunset Cove, looking for a place to stay for awhile. What he doesn't reveal is that he fears there's someone trying to hunt him down, set on hurting him and / or his nieces, so the casual "place to stay" inquiry is really a desperate need for a spot to lay low until he figures out what's going on. 

 

Needing someone to look after his nieces while he investigates, Drake also asks about available nannies. Kate, seeing a potential (much needed) double dose of income, volunteers herself for the job. Over the course of the story, Drake and Kate have a lot of page time together so they reveal quite a bit about their respective backstories. Drake explains that he is the legal guardian of the girls now, as his brother and sister-in-law are dead, a suspected murder-suicide. With the constant sense of being hunted down himself, Drake has his doubts about that. Kate meanwhile has been in recovery from chemo treatments after a diagnosis of aplastic anemia. To make matters even more stressful, her convicted murder uncle has escaped from prison, there's a Peeping Tom / possible stalker of Kate's roaming the island creeping everyone out, and bodies are washing up on the beach just a little too regularly for Kate and her sister Claire, who have already been put through the ringer throughout the course of this series. 

 

I struggle with this series. I am drawn to the setting --- who doesn't love a good mystery set along a New England coastline, right? And the plot ideas are not bad, they definitely stir my curiosity each time, but each time so far whenever I dig into the story, there's something that always seems to land just off the mark for me. In this installment, I think the biggest culprit was the way the plot unfolded --- Drake's brother has ties to a Chinese drug lord?! Kate's uncle in prison because he killed the mother of Claire's (Kate's sister) fiancee ... strenuous tie there btw... because said mother saw him moving a body?! That scene where Kate and Claire are talking out in the yard and Claire just gets nailed by a crossbow bolt outta the blue ... and all this before you're even 85 pages in! -- A lot of ideas flying around, but a noticeable lack of cohesiveness to bring it all together. There was also a sense of a good idea being taken too far (see examples mentioned above) or not fleshed out enough. 

 

The writing here was not Coble's best, IMO. I personally found the characters and the mystery from Sunset Cove #2 a little more engaging. Here, the dialogue often came off a little too scripted, especially with Kate's, making her feel a bit wooden at times to me. But we gotta work in a romance so of course Drake looks past what seems like a pretty cardboard personality to me and comes at her with "no woman has ever intrigued me like this." Poor guy. Kate's tendency to overstep her bounds when it came to caring for the girls got on my nerves as well. I get you're the nanny but you shouldn't get to basically tell the legal guardian "you should shut it and do it my way" multiple times. In real life, you'd likely be fired, not have your employer fall in love with you! But I guess Drake likes himself a dominant kind of lady friend. 

 

As far as the writing itself, I struggled with a few passages that apparently escaped an editing eye (check out pages 71, 111) where the wording / grammar was off juuuust enough to make for a harsh silent reading experience. There were also way too many people involved in that ending.

 

Nice to see another cross-over appearance of Gwen Marcey, the investigator from Carrie Stuart Parks' Gwen Marcey mystery series!

 

Note: This is the third installment of Coble's Sunset Cove series. I have not read the first in the series (Inn at Ocean's Edge), but have read / reviewed the second book. This third book brings back some of the characters from the first book (I checked the synopsis of the first book) -- Claire, Luke (Claire's now fiancee) and Kate -- but can easily be read as an independent story.

 

FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book & requested that I check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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review 2017-01-14 07:17
You Carried Me (memoir) by Melissa Ohden
You Carried Me: A Daughter's Memoir - Melissa Ohden

Melissa Ohden is fourteen when she learns she is the survivor of a botched abortion. In this intimate memoir she details for the first time her search for her biological parents, and her own journey from anger and shame to faith and empowerment. After a decade-long search Melissa finally locates her birth father and writes to extend forgiveness, only to learn soon thereafter that he has died―without answering her burning questions. Then her birth mother’s parents say they are unable to pass along Melissa’s letter. Years later, when she finally hears from the woman who carried her and gave her life, she finds out why. But the shocking truth is more than she can bear. Yet even the most startling family secrets are eclipsed by the triumphant moment when Melissa becomes a mother herself in the very hospital where she was aborted. And she reveals how―through the miscarriage of her only son, the birth of a second daughter with complex health issues, and her own birth mother’s story―she gained a deep empathy for every woman who has had an abortion. Like none other, this intensely personal story of love and redemption cuts through the debates surrounding a divisive contemporary issue to touch our common humanity.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

In this certainly unique memoir, author Melissa Ohden tells the story of how she came to be... the kind of story one just doesn't hear every day! In 1977, Ohden's teenage mother became pregnant with her. An appointment for an abortion procedure is made, the appointment is kept, but the procedure itself doesn't really go as planned. Against all odds, after 5 DAYS worth of being pumped full of toxic saline solution Baby Melissa (or Katie Rose as the nurses called her, Melissa was the name her adoptive parents ending up choosing) survives. She is born prematurely, weighing in at just two pounds. After one nurse hears a faint noise coming from the child, a flurry of nurses rush to save her life.

 

{Sidenote: Ohden explains how the saline is made toxic for a fetus in her book -- she notes that a standard abortion procedure from start to finish is typically completed within 48 hours so that gives you an idea of just how much extra solution her little body had to take, making her story all the more miraculous.}

 

Once the newborn is deemed stable, the search for prospective adoptive parents begins. Doesn't take long for a suitable and interested couple to be found but the decision is made to keep Melissa at the hospital until her weight is at least five pounds. When the time comes, Melissa's new parents take her to a farm 100 miles away from where she was born. There she is raised in a loving, nurturing environment out in the farmlands of Iowa. At the age of seven, when her adoptive parents welcome a biological son, it sets off the first sparks of curiosity in Melissa about her own biological parents. But her search for the truth doesn't really begin until a few short years later when during a fight with her sister (also adopted), her sister makes the remark, "At least my mom wanted me." When Melissa presses for an explanation, she's simply told to ask their adoptive mother.

 

Having avoiding talking much about the day of Melissa's birth previously, her adoptive mother comes clean and lays out all the details. Melissa then launches into what will be a decade long search for any information about her birth family. In that time, Ohden battles depression, anorexia, bulimia, as well as a bout of teenage alcoholism and promiscuity, mostly with older men in town. She explains that with the sensation of everything else in her life feeling as if it were running completely off the rails, the eating disorders, drinking and sexual exploration -- though admittedly unhealthy and dangerous -- did seem to be one aspect she could control.

 

Bulimia, alcohol, sex -- these were my unholy trinity of coping mechanisms. They dulled, but didn’t deaden, my torment. That all this suffering was hidden from everyone who knew me seemed to be the point -- I was singularly chosen for misery; I was different, broken, unworthy. Alone.

 

As Melissa embarked on her college journey, she started seeing more and more eerie ties between her own life choices thus far and the little bit she had been able to learn about her birth mother. First off, the college she chooses to attend: shortly after she starts classes, Melissa discovers her school is the very same her birth mother attended (and her maternal grandmother taught at as well!) -- what are the odds, considering she was raised 100 miles away and could've just as easily chosen a school closer to home! The link ends up being too much for her. That, combined with other stressors -- a large part of that being her constantly being silenced whenever she tries to share her abortion-birth story, being shushed part way in or being called a liar later on -- pushes Melissa to make the choice to drop out and re-enroll in courses closer to her hometown. Her college experiences (after the school switch) lead her to take up social work, mostly with domestic violence support groups. A second powerful tie to her birth mother comes during Melissa's own experiences with pregnancy. Ohden has her first delivery in the very same hospital where her mother tried to have her aborted! After having a stillborn son and a daughter with developmental disabilities, Ohden's search for her birth mother begins to feel all the more important. She needs to hear her mother's story, needs to know the why of it all and attempt to make sense of her traumatic origins once and for all. 

 

Melissa's story is a powerful one, no question there. In all honesty though, while I found this book incredibly moving and well-written from start to finish, I struggled with the second half (approx). I will say here and now my issues with this book are for the most part tied up in the fact that Ohden and I do not see entirely eye to eye on the topic of abortion. While this book did help me to understand why she feels the way she feels -- and I can respect her views -- I struggle to put a full stamp of agreement on her opinions. About halfway through this book, it went from being a memoir on her personal journey to a full-on, hardcore pro-life soapbox fest. I myself am very pro-choice but never try to shut down pro-lifers who want their voice heard. I'll hear them out... I think we're on the same page... up to a point. 

 

Here's my thing: I say I am pro-choice because while I could never see myself choosing abortion, I can't speak on the life situations of anyone but myself. I figure the people who choose that path could very well have quite valid reasons for deciding that's the way for them. Ohden here goes on a pretty hard attack of Planned Parenthood. She talks of how she went once for a general check up because they offered services she would've otherwise struggled to afford. But there were abortion protestors out and about one day as she was leaving who got her thinking. She then seemed to feel dirty being anywhere near a PP office. In fact, later on in the book she states that one of the biggest honors of her life was being asked to testify on Capitol Hill in a hearing to consider ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood programs. Again, my stance: I figure there will always be a least a small number of women who will feel the need to choose abortion. If so, at least PP is there to have it done in a clinical setting with medically trained staff, rather than some back alley sitch. Furthermore, so many people these days act like PP is ONLY for abortions when, in fact, I myself have gotten literally life-saving help from the doctors at my local office back when I was too poor to go anywhere else. It was at a PP office that a serious medical condition was found within my heart that is now being regulated... thanks to a PP doctor. So it bugs me when protestors want to so quickly say everything about PP should be shut down. 

 

It's not just the PP story. Throughout the whole second half of the book she keeps bringing up instances where she continues to almost vilify anyone who does chooses "the evil of abortion" as she repeatedly describes it. Near the very end of her story though, she does admit that being the mother of a special needs child did teach her to have more empathy towards those who feel the need to choose abortion (so she says). Being a woman who is unable to have children myself, I also cringed at lines like (describing her first experiences with motherhood), "We were no longer JUST a couple, we were a family." I truly struggle with books that perpetuate this idea that without children a woman's existence is not complete. It just brings out the involuntary eye roll in me. 

 

So that's it. That's why I'm torn. I struggle with my own personal beliefs clashing with Ohden's. Enough to where it makes me uncomfortable as the reader, enough to where I may even feel her views are naive or misguided at times (hey, I'm allowed to have my opinions too -- I AM a blogger after all), but not so much that I shut my ears / mind off to her. In fact, I quite enjoyed hearing her story. As I said, the writing style is impressive, the flow is nice, and while I might not always be on same page with her, I do think she handles a tricky subject with impressive grace, bringing a conversational tone to a topic that very much needs regular discussion. I was even surprised to learn that Ohden and I share a very similar recurring nightmare -- Wild! 

 

I'd recommend this read for anyone interested in the topics of medical education (specifically abortion, obviously), feminism, women's health, women's issues or adoption stories. Differing beliefs or opinions aside, there's always an education to be had in hearing someone else's story. 

 

FTC Disclaimer: Handlebar (Plough) Publishing kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book with a request that I might check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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