2 Stars · Autobiography · Book Review · Bust · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · thoughts

Rock Needs River by Vanessa McGrady

91TRgrrdKtL._AC_UL436_There’s nothing worse than being home sick with the flu on a beautiful day.  I did get in about a million naps and was able to finish Rock Needs River by Vanessa McGrady which had been in my list for a few weeks.

Adoption is something that has always interested me and I was hoping to learn more about the entire process, especially open adoption, which seems to be gaining more popularity as adoption becomes less stigmatized.  Unfortunately, Rock Needs River didn’t really answer any of my questions about adoption or teach the reader anything about the adoption process.  Instead, this book was a hot mess of the author oversharing other people’s lives and it was depressing to read.

McGrady spends the first part of Rock Needs River detailing her love life, failed relationships and desperation for a baby.  This portion felt a bit too personal and unfocused in the broader scope of the book.  The sections about McGrady’s family were also a bit cringe worthy and there was a bit more personal family business shared than really needed to be.

Rock Needs River switches gears about halfway with McGrady’s marriage to Peter, and the eventual birth and adoption of her daughter, Grace.  McGrady and her husband accept a last minute adoption after the birth parents pulled out of an arrangement with another potential adoptive mother, leaving them with just a few weeks to get ready for the baby.  The process of working with the adoption agency, how they found them and how they prepared mentally and emotionally for the adoption was not addressed, leaving a gaping hole in the story from “let’s adopt” to “the baby is here!”.   McGrady also glosses over the first few months to first year of Grace’s life, leaving another hole in the story for how she experienced new motherhood as an adoptive mother.  I was interested to know how this experience of having a baby two weeks after notification differed from a birth mother’s experience of mentally and emotionally preparing for nine months.  I also wanted to know how McGrady’s experience compared with maternity leave, hormones, lactation, pain, and all of the leftover physical symptoms of giving birth.

The McGrady’s and the birth parents, Bill and Bridget, choose an open adoption but never outline or define roles for how the birth parents will interact with Grace, leaving Bill and Bridget moving in and out of Grace’s life rather haphazardly.  When Bill and Bridget end up homeless, the now divorced McGrady asks them to live with her and Grace for a while.  This creates an entire situation of boundary issues, with McGrady essentially taking on a nagging disappointed mother role for two adults who can’t get themselves up to her standards.  McGrady essentially laundry lists the ways Bill and Bridget fall short of her expectations and “the real world”.  A similar approach is taken to her husband’s drinking and their subsequent divorce.

Honestly, I was so uncomfortable reading this book and couldn’t imagine how the birth parents or her ex-husband felt with all of their life history, mistakes and painful decisions laid out for strangers this way.

Despite her attempts to help them with a place to live and the occasional cash, clothes and food gifts after they leave, McGrady treats Bill and Bridget with utter disdain and disappointment.  Her expectations of a couple who knew they were not capable of the stability required to raise a child, are just astounding.  Rather than accepting the gift of her daughter and moving on with her life, McGrady inserts herself over and over again in the birth parent’s business.  Eventually, she follows them to Texas to hear their side of the story, which is disappointingly NEVER shared in this book.  Of all the things I wanted to know about this couple, their decision to give up their child and their experience of the open adoption process, was number one.  McGrady glosses over this section with a quick statement of how they felt used by the adoption agency and then runs away to take a walk.  So disappointing!

The book ends rather abruptly, without any real resolution or conclusion and utilizes an epilogue to update readers on Peter, Bridget and Bill.

After reading this book, I was so upset with how McGrady treated Bridget and Bill that I did a quick google search to see if either of them had given any interviews about the book or the adoption process.  While there wasn’t anything from either of them, I did come across McGrady’s blog.  Several of the stories in Rock Needs River were taken directly from her blog, however the tone in which they were written on the blog was beautiful and loving and a little bit confused on how she could help and what she should do, and most importantly empathetic with their struggles.  In the blog, McGrady comes across as a woman who genuinely cares about Bill and Bridget.  Unfortunately, this love and genuineness was edited out of the book.  Whoever edited Rock Needs River, did a great disservice to McGrady, Bill, Bridget, Grace and the reader.

All in all, 2 stars.

Until next time, Cheers and happy reading!

-R

3 stars · Autobiography · Bad Ass Women · Book Review · Politics · thoughts

Becoming by Michelle Obama

81h2gWPTYJL._AC_UL436_Becoming is the hottest book on the market right now.  It’s listed as Amazon’s number one best selling book, as well as the number one selling book in the Law, Lawyers & Judges and African-American and Black literature categories.  With over 7,800 reviews, this book is a hot topic!  I was/am a little bit apprehensive about reviewing this book because it is such a political hot button.  Many of the reviews reflect the reviewer’s political views rather than the book itself, which can be frustrating for reader’s wanting to know about the book itself.  My review is strictly on the reader’s experience and not my politics, beliefs or opinion of the Obamas.

Becoming is written in three parts.  The first section, Becoming Me, describes Michelle’s life from birth to meeting Barack.  The second section, Becoming Us, takes the reader through the Obama’s life and relationship as a couple, right up to the time Barack decides to run for presidency.  The final section, Becoming More, details the presidential campaign and the Obama’s eight years as the first couple.

For me, Becoming Me, was hard to get through.  There were so many details, so many names, so many memories.  This portion was incredibly long and very boring.  The writing felt haphazard and choppy, like Michelle had recorded her thoughts and later typed them out without planning or editing for a bigger picture or a cohesive story.  There were many memories that really resonated with me, as a minority female, that just didn’t get the stage time they deserved.  These big important memories that could have served as a connecting point for many young women across the U.S. were drowned in the memories of how orderly she kept her Barbies.

This section was also notable for its constant references to race, particularly in relation to white people.  I understand that she was trying to emphasize how large of a role race played in Chicago during her childhood and how difficult it was/is to be black or brown in America, even today, but the constant references diluted the message when those references were truly relevant and important.

This section was by far, a huge disappointment and I almost gave up reading the book.

Things switched gears rather quickly when Michelle met Barack.  As far the book goes, the writing for Becoming Us got much tighter, better edited and significantly more interesting.  This portion of the book feels like it was written by an entirely different person and I wonder if Michelle was more comfortable sharing these memories and the distance she could maintain in this section or if this portion of the book was edited by someone else.

There is no doubt, after reading this section, that Michelle loves her husband.  This part felt heavily filtered with positive PR and it did get a little old to hear about how amazing Barack was (over and over and over again).  The worst thing we learned about him was he smoked and couldn’t manage to put his dirty clothes in the hamper.

While Becoming Me felt like Michelle was struggling with how to connect to her audience, in Becoming Us, Michelle hits the right chord, sharing just the right amount of memory, emotion, and spirit to connect with anyone who has ever been married, hated their job, desired soulful work, balanced kids and reigned in or chased after ambition.  It was incredibly interesting to read about the Obamas as a new couple, their infertility, how they balanced work and family life and the struggle to keep their own identities and values amidst the political machine.

I appreciated how open Michelle was about her core fear of “not good enough” and how that tiny negative little message influenced many of her actions and decisions.  It was also very interesting to read about how an extremely ambitious and well educated woman grappled with her husband’s dreams and ambition.  Surprisingly, Michelle did not want her husband to enter the political arena and spent almost twenty years waiting for him to return to the private sector.

Becoming More was by far the most interesting portion of the book.  I thoroughly enjoyed  going behind the scenes and learning about the campaign process, the transition from president to president, living in the White House, the Secret Service and all of her First Lady initiatives.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the stories of their children growing up in the White House and appreciated how all of Michelle’s decisions revolved around her children and maintaining their family unit.

There are several major reoccurring themes throughout Becoming which I think other readers will find inspiring and valuable.  Chief among them is the importance of family and good meaningful friendships.  Michelle is deeply rooted in her family and cultivated friendships to last a lifetime.  Over and over again, we see friends and family as her source of strength.  Second, the value of an education.  Throughout the book, Michelle emphasized her belief in using education as a means to free oneself from your circumstances.  And finally, the power in accepting who you are and where your heart lies.  After a long battle with herself, Michelle gave up a prestigious high paying job as a lawyer to find work that was meaningful to her.  We can all appreciate what it means to do work that speaks to our soul and leaves us satisfied at the end of the day.

All in all, Becoming was just way too long.  Becoming Me gets a solid two stars.  This first section could have done with some heavy editing and extreme tightening.  Becoming Us and Becoming More could have and should have been the majority of the book, with a small section cherry picked from Becoming Me.  The latter sections were well written and incredibly interesting.  I learned a lot in these sections about political campaigns and how the first family operates within their roles and how they maintain a residence at the White House.  Four stars for these two sections.  Overall, 3 stars for Becoming.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers,

-R