In her debut memoir, former entrepreneur and catastrophic claims adjuster Atwell chronicles the challenges of helping an adult child with disabilities transition to independent living.
Atwell and her husband, John, were celebrating the independence of (and their independence from) Lindsey—who had recently graduated from high school, was employed, and lived in a cottage in their backyard—when Lindsey breathlessly announced that she’d had sex with Gabe, a developmentally disabled friend. Much to their relief, the encounter did not result in pregnancy, and Lindsey elected to undergo a tubal ligation, a decision that both relieved and disturbed Atwell, who mourned the grandchildren she would never have. The next indication of trouble came when Lindsey accepted a second job at a pizzeria, which seemed never to have any customers, owned by Emmett, a twice-divorced former pastor whom Atwell found creepy. Lindsey quit her full-time job and moved in with Emmett. Lindsey grew increasingly distant from her family, both geographically and emotionally. Emmett insisted the Atwells were prejudiced against him and ignored their concerns about his controlling behavior and lies about his past. After several years, frequent moves, and a period of homelessness, Lindsey finally returned to her parents. Eventually, Lindsey achieved a new level of independence, and she and Atwell reached a hard-earned truce in their strained relationship. Atwell frankly addresses the difficulties inherent in dealing with the sexuality of a special needs child. Told in flashbacks, she doesn’t focus on her journey to diagnosis, but begins when Lindsey is already an adult, illustrating that acceptance of a child’s special needs is an ongoing process. Some aspects of the account may make the reader cringe, such as Lindsey’s attempts at seduction. Lindsey’s story drives home the fact that legal adulthood begins at 18, regardless of maturity level, which hampered the Atwells’ efforts to rescue her from her bad relationship. Atwell’s evocative descriptions provide added depth to the characters, particularly Lindsey, whose voice emanates from the pages. The text is occasionally repetitive, but it doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the writing.
A brutally honest, affecting memoir of family resilience.