She Bets Her Life: A True Story of Gambling Addiction
by Mary Sojourner


Seal Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1-580-05298-6.
Reviewed by Susan M. Andrus
Posted on 12/08/2010

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Life Lessons; Nonfiction: Faith/Spirituality/Inspiration

Gambling addiction, like drug, alcohol, and sex addiction, takes a huge toll on people's lives. But unlike other addictions, it's one of the most difficult to recover from because of the emotional component that cannot be replaced by eating sweets, drinking pickle juice, or finding other people, places, and things with which to associate. So gamblers—in this case, women gamblers—must live out their addiction with little hope for recovery. That is, unless they meet a group like Scheherazade's Sisters and find the support they need to help them through the rough times.

Mary Sojourner met up with this group after trying a geographical cure: moving to Hot Springs, Arizona. She connected with them because of their "deep affection for their sisters-in-trouble...stubbornly clean, witty, and in possession of the best recipe for lemon sand tarts I'd ever tasted." One aspect of the meetings that seemed to help was when a member wrote her bio and read it to the group. At each meeting, someone else would take a turn.

A journalist with an assignment to write about gambling addiction, Sojourner asked them if she could include their bios in her book, with their identities changed. They agreed, and She Bets Her Life materialized. In the book, research studies, combined with the Scheherazade's Sisters' stories, create an interesting, compelling statement about the dearth of research about women gamblers, who appear to be quite different from men in their habits and motivations for gambling.

Sojourner writes with courage and compassion for her fellow sisters as she weaves her own troubled story with the others. Her descriptions of the desert, the casinos, and her struggles add depth to an already deep topic. Although she is not quite as compassionate toward her own behavior, she offers an insightful look into the world of gambling addiction, and an insightful read for those who might know someone with that addiction.


Mary Sojourner is an NPR commentator and the author of Bonelight: Ruin and Grace in the New Southwest, an essay collection; Solace: Rituals of Loss and Desire, a memoir; the short story collection Delicate; and the novel Going Through Ghosts. She holds a master's degree in psychology from the University of Rochester. She lives and writes in Bend, Oregon, and is in recovery from gambling addiction. Visit her blog.

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