Saturday, August 12, 2006

Review: Comeback

When I was asked to review Claire and Mia Fontaine's book I thought it sounded interesting. It's a mother/daughter memoir of their shared experience, told from both of their perspectives. I knew that it was not a book I would pick up and read because I don't read a lot of biographies but the description of the book that Claire sent me made me very curious:

Do you remember how you had to just let your two-year-old squawk when you put her in time out? Well, I had to do the teenager version. Following her drug-fueled descent into society's underbelly, and my fruitless attempts to save her life by conventional means, I finally had to force her into a lock-down boot camp school, first in Eastern Europe and later, Montana. What followed was a grueling, two-year journey of self-discovery and transformation in which we both healed from a childhood trauma I had naively assumed was long behind us. It was extreme, but then so was she, and it worked. She recently graduated from Georgetown University.
This pretty much sums up the main action points of the story. It's a harrowing tale of what happens when your child decides to run away from home and doesn't want to return. This isn't the story of a girl who hated her mom and step dad, this is the story of a girl who hated herself and wanted to escape from the fallout of a childhood trauma into a world of drug-induced numbness.

The book starts out with a slice of what Claire thought was a happy family life, all was going well, she was working on adapting a great book into script for a movie and Mia was getting good grades at a prestigious, private school. After working late, she returns to find that her daughter wasn't in her bed and the window is open. Panic sets in when she discovers her daughter is missing and of course her thoughts turn to kidnapping until she sees her daughter's goodbye note and then her whole world shatters and the rest of the book is about her putting their lives back together.

Imagine what it must have felt like to come home after a perfect day to find that your one and only daughter has left and she doesn't want you to try to find her. Image how you would feel. Claire helps her reader imagine by painting a vivid picture of her experience. You live with Mia and Claire throughout the harrowing months of Mia's descent into drugs and living a life of degradation and you experience the painful growth process necessary for them to become a family once more. Claire's writing style matches her material, it's intimate and urgent. There's a rawness of emotions that comes through her writing. You experience the pain of rejection and failure that Claire experienced and you understand why Mia does the things that she does, she gives reason to the seemly senseless actions of a teenage girl. What would make a teenage girl run away from a good home, one with parents who love her very much? Mia helps the reader to see why this might happen. Her experience helps the reader to see inside the head of a messed up girl and not only her but those she befriends at the facilities she went to.

What really jumped out at you, on almost every page of the book, was the love that Claire had for her child. It poured from the pages of the book, from it's beginning to it's end, you know that she loves her daughter:
It is its own religion, this love. Uncontainable, savage, and without end, it is what I feel for my child.
I know what love like that feels like because I've experienced it with my own daughters. I was able to connect with Claire through the shared emotion of love that we feel for our children. It makes the rest of the book so hard to read because you know how you would feel if the child you loved so much rejected you and wanted to live in squalor instead of the loving environment you provided for her. But it's also what gives Claire the determination to continue even when she may have wanted to give up.

I also appreciated the stark contrast between how the state treated Mia and what the treatment facility did. It really demonstrated the problems that we have with our family court system. Claire knew what was wrong with her daughter, she immediately could see that a trauma in her past had not been resolved for Mia and this pushed her to her current behavior but the state's "professionals" didn't listen, they thought she should do as she wished and not be pushed by her mother. They looked at her mom as controlling and Mia, being a brilliant manipulator, was able to play them and get the freedom she wanted and fall further and further under the influence of heroin. But the treatment facility knew Mia's game and wouldn't let her play it, they called her on it. They used a tough love and a peer review approach that was really quite brilliant. Who do teenagers listen to? Each other. They could see through each other's games and called each other out on them.

There were some slow points, the material on the seminars that Claire attended while her daughter was in treatment were a little longish and seemed repetitive, though I can understand why she included them. It was part of the process of healing for her and Mia. Through them she came to the realization that she helped contribute to her daughter's problems even though she didn't realize it and they helped her grow in her knowledge of who she is and what she wanted in life and what she wanted to be able to give Mia when she returned from treatment. It's really brilliant of the treatment facility to make sure the parents are prepared to change so that they can be ready to receive a changed child. The facility heals the family dynamic while at the same time they treat the child.

But here is a warning before you buy the book, as Claire says, it deals with the underbelly of society. It is not for light, entertainment reading, it is a sad book about a girl who has to deal with some very dark issues and lives through a hellish nightmare at a very young age and decides life is not worth it sober. This leads here to do things that you wouldn't want your teenager doing. But the book is about hope and love and for that alone it should be read. You can't just close your eyes to what is going on in the world and it helps you to understand the street kids that you see in LA and other major cities a little better. They are there for a reason and this book helps you to see why.

Claire has a blog and there is a website for the book and if you want to purchase the book, go here.

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  1. Anna Venger said...
    Oh, my heart. This is every parent's worst nightmare, to pour yourself into your children and still have the unthinkable happen.

    I love my children fiercely. That is the best adjective. And knowing that they have the power to hurt me more than anyone else is frightening.

    And in the end, when we destroy ourselves, I suppose that God, who loves us most and loves us fiercely too, must hurt the worst of all.
    e-Mom said...
    You've written a compelling review. Also, anna venger's comment above rings so true for me. "I suppose that God, who loves us most and loves us fiercely too, must hurt the worst of all."
    Thanks for sharing.
    Catez said...
    Sounds like a good read. I've worked with street kids and addicts, and also do street ministry now - so not unfamiliar territory to me. Would be interesting to read it from the Mom's viewpoint. Nicely reviewed - I got a good sense of the book.
    Janice (5 Minutes for Mom) said...
    So intriguing. I would love to read this book. I was a youth worker beforeicose to stay at home with my son and my heart is with broken and hurt youth. Along with writing and teaching the Bible, it is one of my greatest passions.

    great review. i will check out her site.
    Malissa said...
    wow sounds like a great book

    visiting from the BC carnival;)
    Pamela said...
    The young woman who gave my pedicure (a present from my daughters) was telling me Saturday about her teenage daughter - and the running away, the drugs, and how she has lost faith in the system.

    Would this be a book to recommend?
    michele said...
    Yes! This book will give her hope that there is a way to reach her daughter. That she's not beyond help.
    Karmyn R said...
    You gave the book a very nice review - I will put it on my "List To Read".

    From your review - it sounds similarly to parents who have to deal with the "system" with their mentally ill children.
    Tracie said...
    Thank you for sharing this book. I am going to put it on my "going to read" list! It sounds good and the way it is written is intriguing (to get to see both sides of the story is a rare thing!)

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