January 2021 is the month of memoirs! Two that were on my radar this month are Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu and American Daughter by Stephanie Thornton Plymale. Both books are very different, but have the same core theme of finding a sense of home. I was drawn to both of these because of that concept and also because they each depicted elements of emotional childhood trauma, which almost always draws me to a memoir. Memoirs are a favorite genre of mine, as they are such an intimate insight into the author's life and I have the utmost respect for people that are vulnerable enough to put the story in print.
Nadia is lived between Africa and Europe, until moving to the United States to attend college. Born to an Ethiopian father who worked for the United Nations and an American Armenian mother who was absent most of her life, Nadia knew what instability felt like. As an adult, she grapples with her identity, grandeur childhood memories, and if she truly has a "home." Her psyche takes a turn when she uncovers information about her father that makes her question if she knew him at all, which, in turn, flips her reality on it's head. Nadia's story is one of finding yourself, among the nuances of family relationships, cultural history, and generational trauma. She bares her soul in Aftershocks and I guarantee you will see this book winning awards later in the year. Nadia shares her story metaphorically through the stages of an earthquake. No earthquake occurs without signs leading up to it and lasting effects after. This metaphor was absolutely brilliant and was a great way to structure her story as it didn't have a linear flow. I highly recommend this memoir and encourage you to enter my giveaway on Instagram to win a finished copy.
"Sometimes I think my memories are more about what didn't happen than what did, who wasn't there than who was."
"In countless ways and for countless reasons, I loved growing up in many countries, among many cultures. It made it impossible for me to believe in the concept of supremacy. It deepened my ability to hold multiple truths at once, to practice and nurture empathy. But it also meant that I have no resting place. I have perpetually been a them rather than an us. I have struggled with how to place myself in my family histories."
"A study from New York's Mount Sinai Hospital found that genetic changes stemming from the trauma suffered by Holocaust survivors were capable of being passed on to their children. Our genes change all the time when chemical tags attach themselves to the DNA and turn genes on or off. The study found that some of these tags-found in the genes of those survivors-were also found in their children. The changes led to an increased incidence of stress disorders. This passing down of environmentally altered genes is called epigenetic inheritance."
"Some things are out of the gods' control. And some matters require more from us than hope or prayer. They require us to see and support one another. They require us to defend one another. We must all, in the end, make peace with that."
"Contradiction, to me, spoke to the existence of context and complexity, and beyond that, to the reality that, no matter how much we know, there is much that cannot be known. The universe, the earth, our bodies, are ever changing. What is real in us might not be real, might not be who we are, tomorrow. We might be one person in our houses and another person at our neighbor's house down the road."
What drew me to American Daughter was the story of resilience, healing, and reflection as the author works through her tumultuous childhood, as an adult. Stephanie Thornton Plymale grew up never knowing who her real father was and living with a mother who suffered from mental illnesses and addictions. Stephanie faced homelessness, poverty, hunger, foster care, emotional and sexual abuse, and indescribable trauma as a child. As an adult, she never talks about her childhood and has only opened up to her husband, whom she met at the age of fifteen and she credits to helping her find a sense of stability that pulled her out of her circumstances. Stephanie receives a call from her estranged mother that she has lung cancer and months to live. In what feels like a sign from the universe, Stephanie meets with her mother to uncover her story and her family legacy. What she finds is deeper and darker than she ever expected, but sheds light on who her mother was and who her family is.
Stephanie's story is incredible and her resiliency shines through the pages. This one is being compared to The Glass Castle and I agree with the comparison. What set American Daughter apart is how the author describes her healing process as an adult, which is what I appreciate most about her story. I highly recommend you read the epilogue. Most of the book felt like it skimmed the surface and was telling the story, but I wanted more of Stephanie's internal dialogue and emotions. The epilogue gives you that, I just wish that had been done more throughout the book. There were also a lot of foreshadowing that I felt did not fit in a memoir, as well as metaphors of the author's career in interior design and her desire as a child to create a home. While, I understood the metaphors, they felt a little flat.