"I named you Joy, you know because you were my first great-grandchild," Blanche told Linda Joy Myers when she made an early visit to the family farm in Iowa near the banks of the Mississippi River. A good choice of names, for Myers does bring joy even in the midst of turmoil, treachery and abandonment. And she brings hope in this powerful book.
"It's just a word, but words create whole worlds." Myers does exactly this. She creates the world of a troubled, lonely girl cast off by those who should love and care for her and another world of the grown woman who finds her way beyond that painful world. The word is "mother."
I read the book twice. Probably, I will read it again. The first time through, I was swept along by the moving story and Myers' powerful writing. Her descriptions of people—her grandmother wears "good manners like frosting on a cake"—and places are evocative. On the second read-through, I found deeper meanings. As I read her words, I would stop, reflect and find insights into my own, far different, journey to adulthood.
There are many journeys. A mother brings her daughter to her grandmother, but it is not a visit. It is an abandonment, and not the first one. This mother is but repeating her mother's behavior, and that of her mother's mother before her. Three generations of mothers in this family sought life without their daughters. Childhood for Myers was filled with uncertainty. Her mother appeared. Her mother disappeared.
"'When are you leaving?' I ask.
'You mean how long am I staying?'"
Mother and daughter both know that it will not be for long.
Young Linda Joy knows little certainty. She lives in a foster family where she suffers constant abuse. She is rescued by her grandmother, but only to enter a life of turmoil. Gram is a constant, but only as a presence. Her erratic behavior leaves Linda Joy wondering whom she will find when she comes home—the sophisticated Gram with the assumed English accent, the Gram of comfort and cookies, or the rage-filled Gram who refused to listen.
There are moments of joy and tranquility. Life is never totally bleak. The family, back on the family farm in Iowa, offers a stability and love throughout Linda Joy's childhood that continues into her adult life. On an early visit, she relishes being a part of the rhythm of their lives and their routines. "I follow them around from room to room, eager to be included in all they do, feeling the comforting mantle of family settle around my shoulders like a shawl."
Back at the unsettled home in Enid, Oklahoma, there are islands of stability. Gram's friend "Aunt Helen" and an inspiring music teacher who shows the young girl the beauty and escape of music.
There are dark days ahead as Linda Joy grows up, goes to college, enters and leaves a marriage, and becomes a mother herself. Constantly across the years, she continues to reach out to her mother and to be rejected. There is a final reconciliation before her mother's death.
Myers, a therapist who offers memoir-as-healing workshops, does more than tell her story. She explains how she saved herself, how she found healing and understanding. There is much to learn from reading and understanding her story, but she goes further in helping readers find self-knowledge. The first appendix lists useful tips for writing your own healing memoir. The second appendix provides an excellent listing of mental health resources. You can learn more about Linda Joy Myers at her website.
Check out our interview with the author of Don't Call Me Mother.
Authors/Publicists: For promotion purposes, you may quote excerpts of up to 200 words from our reviews, with a link to the page on which the review is posted. ©Copyright to the review is held by the writer (review posting date appears on the review page). If you wish to reprint the full review, you may do so ONLY with her written permission, and with a link to http://www.storycirclebookreviews.org. Contact our Book Review Editor (bookreviews at storycirclebookreviews.org) with your request and she will forward it to the appropriate person.