This one is going to be tough for me to review because I did like the book, and it was very well-written, and the audio narration was well-performed (by the author herself!), but I didn’t feel that sense of resolution I normally feel after finishing a good book. On a conscious level, I wanted things from this book that it didn’t seem interested in providing, so there was always going to be a clash there (more on this below), but also, there’s just something I can’t really put my finger on. I was expecting to love this book, but I only liked it.
The first thing, and this is not the author or the book’s fault, is that the blurb is pretty misleading. It makes it seem like this is going to be a book about Ashley reckoning with relationship to her absentee father, who has been in prison for almost her entire life, and thus reckoning in a way with the prison/industrial complex. It also makes it seem like we will be viewing the story more from the POV of adult Ashley than we do. In reality, this book is told almost exclusively with a close third person POV and is mostly set when she is a child. It’s also much, much more about her dysfunctional relationship with her emotionally abusive mother than it is her father, though interactions with him bookend the narrative.
I think I could have overcome these expectations if the book also hadn’t chosen a style that really frustrated my desires for the book, which is that Ford writes it so that her past self almost never engages in self-reflection or analysis. She keeps the narrative focused to whatever her tinier self is going through at the moment. She also doesn’t wrap things up overtly by the end. We are just shown everything that happened and left to draw our own conclusions. I get that this is a choice she made on purpose, but something about it frustrates me. I prefer the memoirs I read to be *less* literary than a novel.
Like, the snake thing. SPOILERS There’s a scene in the middle of the book where Ashley’s grandma takes her out into the yard, unearths a den of garden snakes, and then lights it on fire. She makes Ashley watch as the snakes cling tighter to each other as they burn, not letting go even to save their lives. She says family is like this. But I think that’s bullshit? This scene comes after Ashley has been living with her grandmother in a different state for about a year after her mother was recovering from a still birth, and Ashley doesn’t want to leave because her grandmother doesn’t emotionally abuse her. And Ashley as narrator never comments on any of this, leaving it open to what extent she agrees with her grandmother. Ashley seems to reach a truce with her mother as an adult, but there is zero reckoning between them, and almost no reflection on Ashley’s part about their relationship, other than over specific incidents we see on the page END SPOILERS.
I will absolutely read anything Ashley C. Ford chooses to write in the future, and I will continue to enjoy her guest appearances on podcasts I listen to, but for this one, she just wanted to write a different book than I wanted to read. Sometimes it happens!
[3.5 stars, rounded up for quality]