Eight true stories of perseverance through adversity, interspersed with applicable advice and resources.
In their second book together, Mulcahy and Knowles (What You Need to Know Before Your Child Starts Secondary School, 2008) explore a wide range of challenging topics including domestic abuse, sexuality, teenage motherhood and immigration. Knowles begins by recounting her brother’s suicide and her own process of understanding his untimely death. From there, she reflects on the impact her relationship with her brother had on her relationships with others as well as her general outlook on life. Mulcahy follows, sharing the story of how a series of accidental head injuries affected her daughter’s cognitive and emotional capabilities. As she explains, her daughter’s traumatic injuries affected the entire family, increasing their sensitivity toward others. Mulcahy and Knowles go on to interview six other individuals who bravely discuss their own harrowing experiences, including teen pregnancy and growing up gay with an alcoholic father. Within each story, Mulcahy and Knowles embed bulleted advice from counselors and experts on the topic at hand, as well as a list of online resources and support groups for readers who may be dealing with similar issues. Although admirable and accessible to a wide audience, the efforts to integrate practical information into these personal stories can disrupt the narrative flow, sometimes with awkward results. Additionally, the authors are sometimes prone to generalizing: For instance, Knowles posits that “when a child can overcome the difficulties of an abusive home, they often become adults who are really effective at helping other people because they know what it’s like to have been there.” Perhaps two people who have survived similar situations will be able to empathize with one another, but the supposition that they will inherently understand each other seems to diminish the individuality of personal experience. The book’s greatest strength, however, is in its humanistic interview process. The interviewees effectively convey how their attempts to overcome tragedies and traumas helped shaped their lives—welcome reassurance for readers looking to do the same.
Stylistically a bit awkward, but an honest, powerful book nonetheless.