I’ve been thinking for a while that I should include book reviews on my site, what with my B.A. in English and stacks of books to read and all. When Jilian Amodio approached me about doing a review I figured there was no time like the present to start!
But first, a quick anecdote.
When I was engaged, I really really liked to drag my then finance to Barnes and Nobel, plop down in front of the “wedding planning” shelf, and sporadically flip through every book there in no particular order because this was before Pinterest and I had no other ADD way of finding inspiration. One book that I picked up again and again was this huge coffee table picture book simply called “Texan Weddings.” I liked that one. It was just an oversized picture book for adults. I felt like a preschooler again holding that thing and pointing at pictures going “Oooooh, purple! Look, flowers!”
Eventually, my groom-to-be and I got in some kind of fight which was resolved by him surprising me by buying me this book. I came to find that this was in fact not just a really mesmerizing picture book but that it did, in fact, have stories inside it as well. Each two page spread was of one wedding in particular, and featured a short snippet of writing from the brides of each wedding. I read the whole thing giant cover to giant cover. The brides seemed to be given free reign to write about anything from how they met the groom to how they got engaged to some funny story about the wedding day.
This is the style of the book I’m going to talk about today – a book called “New Life Within.” It is also a compilation of short writings from a group of women with something in common – in this case, they are all mothers.
Like my wedding book, the authors have a lot of freedom to write about most any topic they choose. Some write about motherhood in general while others share specific stories or moments from their journeys. I’ve only ever come in to contact with one other book of this sort, which is why I shared my little story above. I think it’s a very unique style and it’s really fun and breezy to read. Each little story is quick and sweet and perfect to read in small bite-sized chunks. It would be a great book for reading on the go, in waiting rooms, or even as a toilet companion.
Now I’m sure by now many of you are feeling that as nice and fluffy as weddings and babies are, what on earth does any of this have to do with Do I Look Sick and invisible illness? I was actually wondering that myself. You see, I was actually referred to Jillian through a mutual friend who wrote one of the short stories in the book. I admit I went in blind – I had no idea what the book was about really, though I could glean that it probably had to do with pregnancy from the title. I began reading and a few stories in I had read my friend’s story (which was very well-written and moving) along with six or seven others and I really began wondering what I was doing here. My friend and I are very close and she knows I’m excited to start a family of my own soon, plus I’m a writer myself. But as far as reviewing it on my blog, I was beginning to think it would just be random topic-wise.
Not at all. By the end of the book, I had read quite a few stories of mothers with invisible illness. Endometriosis came up three or four times, along with other chronic pain conditions. There were also enlightening stories about mothering through fatigue and depression. I very rarely come across testimonials about parenting with illness, and I’ve only read one blog that regularly shares on that subject. There’s no shortage of “mommy blogs” out there, and illness blogs are on the rise, but you don’t really see the two together very much. I was really glad to see some light shed on this topic, and I felt empowered to share stories of my own when I have them. Illness never automatically makes you a bad parent, and if you’re thinking of having kids but struggling with the idea of juggling illness and parenting, I encourage you to read this book and be inspired.
Now for the negatives. Yes, there are negatives, I’m sorry, but I’m a very critical reviewer. I’m the kind of person who could find fault in Shakespeare. I strongly believe in criticism as a positive thing in life, and I am by no means bent on flaming anything I review. Personal confession though: in college I once offered a ride to a guy in one of my poetry peer review classes, and he timidly accepted. We got to talking and he said he’ll never forget the first review he got from me. His exact words were “Whoa. She really hates me.” Oops. But we’re friends now, see? I’m just trying to help!
So my biggest problem with this book (and any book in this style, really) is that you’re reading work by non-writers. That can be a good thing and even a great thing! But I think inevitably you’ll start a story somewhere in here and just cringe through the whole thing. That comes down to style and personal taste, but in this particular case you’re all but guaranteed to have to plow through some writing you just don’t like. It’s just common sense that multiple authors means you get inconsistent pace and even reading level. That’s part of the reason I really prefer reading these things in small bits. Reading a ton of mini-stories all in different styles is tiring.
Another small note – the book opens with a forward which is good, because it can explain about how there’s multiple authors and the background of the book, but I did feel that it got a bit preachy. It made it pretty clear that this is an anti-abortion book, and if you’re thinking about getting an abortion then you need to read this and see how all these different people did what they did and so on. That’s fine, and I have nothing against creating such a resource, but I think you get that from the book without the forward.
Some of the stories are very “traditional,” in so far as they involved married people having planned children, but there are also a lot of stories that take place in the realm of single parenting and teen pregnancy. In fact, there are even a couple of instances of abortion! And those mothers express their sorrow and really talk about what a struggle it was and it’s clear that they aren’t advocating it.
Overall, the book has a strong positive message that everyone is a little scared when they first get pregnant because it’s a huge, scary, life-changing thing. It lets you know you’re not alone in your wavering faith in yourself as a mother and your fears about money and the future. Some stories show a lot of religious faith and growth while others show more growth in areas of self-acceptance and self-reliance. I like how eclectic this book is and I think it has something for everyone – but the intro sort of robs it of some of that intrinsic good. Seeing stats about abortion and talk about Christianity (note: I am a Christian and even I am turned off by this combo) right off the bat makes this book seem like a book you don’t want to read. There are a lot of such books – books you only read when you have to, and you never want to have to.
Basically, this is a book for someone considering an abortion – which I’m pretty sure is a position no one wants to be in no matter what your stance on the issue is. Now take me for example – I’m a young married Christian girl thinking of starting a family. If I pick up this cutesy wutesy baby book and read the intro, I’d think oops, wrong subject. I’m not thinking about having an abortion, I just want to read about motherhood. But this book is a wonderful overview of many voices on that topic! It is a book I’d want to read, but the intro made me think it wasn’t.
My point is that this is a really great read on motherhood, whether you’re thinking of starting a family, unexpectedly starting a family, or you have grandkids by now. Don’t let the intro scare you off! If it were me and I really wanted to include that kind of message, I’d put it at the end. Just a page or so with stats and some numbers to call for help. Then I would pick up the book, buy it, read it, and at the end go “Oh cool, resources, that was smart of them.” Nice and neat.
But that’s just my opinion. And really I don’t think book reviews are supposed to spend that much time talking about an introduction but hey, I’m new.
To sum up – this is a fun book to read. It’ll make you smile, it might make you tear up, and it’ll inspire you if you’re struggling with any kind of invisible illness. Plus it’ll make you go “awwwwwww.”
Check it out here – it’s available for Kindle and old-timey paperback. Also be sure to go check out Jillian Amodio’s Blog and show her some love! A big thanks to Jillian for asking me to review her book and being patient while I took forever to read it! And a shout out to my friend L. Rodgers, who wrote a beautiful piece for this beautiful book and got me in contact with the author.