Following the Tambourine Man: A Birthmother's Memoir
by Janet Mason Ellerby


Syracuse University Press, 2007. ISBN 0-8156-0889-6.
Reviewed by Donna Van Straten Remmert
Posted on 03/07/2008

Nonfiction: Memoir

When I read memoir, I scribble the margins full of notes about writing techniques that might apply to my own passion for recording my life as memoir.

Ellerby's Following the Tambourine Man: A Birthmother's Memoir inspired an abundance of scribbles. It's an excellent of example of how to tell a story. Ellerby provides immediacy whether using past or present tense. She skips around in her life with ease, sometimes writing about her adult self and her sixteen-year-old self in the same sentence. And she reflects on an era by using political and cultural happenings and lyrics from the Beatles and other musical groups popular in the 60's. Although we belong to different time periods and Ellerby's story is quite different from mine, I identified with her heart-wrenching drama by imagining what if the accidental pregnancy had happened to me.

Yes, that big what if of my era and hers—before The Pill. Ellerby's privileged life in the conservative suburbs of Los Angeles wasn't protection enough. She and her boyfriend that she loved for way too long into her adult life did it only once, and when her parents found out she was pregnant, they did what any parent with wealth and status did back then. Overnight, they shipped her off to a home for unwed mothers and covered up the incident by constructing a lie that everyone, even the father of the child, was told. One lie led to another, all under the guise of what was best for their daughter.

Ellerby wanted to keep her baby, but it was taken from her after only a moment's glance. She didn't argue nor did she discuss her sadness with her parents or anyone else. Instead, she spent most of her adult life living a lie, feeling lost and lonely.

There is so much more to the story: the birthmother's guilt, her multiple marriages, and then finally the happy ending. I strongly recommend the book.


Janet Mason Ellerby is a professor of English at the University of North Caroline, Wilmington. She is the author of Intimate Reading: The Contemporary Women's Memoir, also published by Syracuse University Press.

(See another review of this book, here)

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