Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Forging a Family Against the Grain

by Debra Monroe

Pub Date: June 30th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-87074-560-7
Publisher: Southern Methodist Univ.

A single woman’s spunky memoir about the hazards and rewards of building a home and a family outside a small Texas town.

Novelist and short-story writer Monroe (English/Texas State Univ.; Shambles, 2004, etc.) adopted Marie, an African-American baby, and raised her in the West Texas countryside where single female professors were an oddity and single white women with black babies were unheard of. The child of divorced parents and with two failed marriages behind her, the author wanted to create a loving family of her own, but first she had to fashion a suitable home out of a rundown cabin she owned. How she became her own contractor and handled the assorted workmen who didn’t know how to deal with a female boss could have been a stand-alone story, but the author integrates it into the larger context of motherly love. Single motherhood is challenging, but when race, misdiagnosed illnesses, surgery and the demands of a busy professional life are added, the struggles are compounded. Some problems—e.g., how to handle Marie’s mass of kinky hair—are not exactly serious, but nevertheless time-consuming and frustrating. “If you’re white,” writes the author, “black hair care is a secret,” and she devotes an entire chapter to her dedicated search for the key to that enigma. Finding a mate amid adverse circumstances—the pickings for a female professional are slim in rural West Texas—presents another problem, but the central issue is the journey of parenting. At the end, Marie is a joyous ten-year-old, teetering on the threshold of independence, and Monroe is on the verge of a new marriage.

Occasionally disjointed—some parts were previously published as magazine pieces—but this tale of trials and triumph is an engaging, poignant read.