What We Have
by Amy Boesky


Gotham Books, 2010. ISBN 978-1-592-40551-0.
Reviewed by Janet Caplan
Posted on 08/10/2011
Review of the Month, September 2011

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Body Language

What We Have is a recounting of the author's life as it relates to the legacy passed on to her through the women in her mother's family. Ovarian cancer was the cause of death of her grandmother, great aunts and aunts—all before the age of 45. Boesky's mother died, in her late fifties, of breast cancer as a result of genetic mutation.

Being conscious of her family history, Amy Boesky grew up fearful that she and her two sisters would suffer similar fates. She says that she had "anxiety of airplanes...of interior organs...of highways...of steep grades...of descent...of failure...of speaking...of strangers": that is to say of pretty much everything. The memoir discusses her overall feelings of living in fear and at the same time describes Boesky's ability to keep a clear perspective on the hand she (and her sisters) have been dealt. As the mother of two daughters herself, she had much to consider. After giving birth to her girls, Amy elects to have her ovaries removed, followed two years later by a double mastectomy—preventative measures helping to ensure a long, healthy life.

Much of the book deals with the dilemma that Boesky faced during a particular time in her life—her thirties. New academic positions in the Washington, DC area and then Boston, marriage and children, 2 daughters in fact, fill these years. While she navigates her way through, her mother develops Stage Four breast cancer. The sadness, worry, and fear over this are palpable and movingly described.

While this story of fear and loss is compelling and sad and one that still stays with me, I was struck by Boesky's writing about her family dynamic. It is positively uplifting to read about the closeness, reliance, and interaction between Amy and her sisters and the love of and caring for their parents. There is no question about supporting each other—each is there for the other.

This is a wonderfully written, important read, not only about the tragedy of living and dying with cancer but about the wonders and joy of a closely-knit family.

Read an excerpt from this book.


Amy Boesky is an associate professor of English at Boston College. She has degrees from Harvard and Oxford. Boesky is the author of several books for children and young adults. She lives with her family in Massachusetts. Visit her website.

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