There’s something about reading someone’s story in their own words that just pulls me in, every time; this probably explains my gargantuan collection of daily-read blogs. Those blogs led me to several of the memoirs below, while others were discovered through a rabbit hole of interests and recommendations on Amazon. These books below deal with everything from a journey from alcoholism to Catholicism, to escaping sequestered religious communities, or overcoming your heritage, diagnosis or medical devastation. Hopefully you enjoy some of them as well.
- These two memoirs follow Heather King from her Northeastern upbringing in a family of eight, through her multi-decade struggle with alcoholism, her law school education, and gradual conversion to Catholicism. She is a very engaging and honest writer, drawing you into the depths of her addiction and eventual wandering into the light. Right now, I’m reading her 3rd memoir, Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Therese of Lisieux, detailing the year she spent ‘with’ St. Therese of Lisieux. Knowing her background and hardships, it is enlightening and relatable to see her relationship with Christ, flaws and all.
Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots – Deborah Feldman
- Deborah Feldman takes us into the world of NYC Ultra-Orthodox Judaism she was born in to and eventually escaped. She shows us a community based on millennia-old traditions and her struggles with it as she yearns for an education, a marriage of love, and a world larger than just a few city blocks. Parts of this book were hard to take; it’s not fun to read about the disenfranchisement of women or the practicalities of reproduction in an arranged marriage when you’d never before been kissed, but Feldman’s honesty and knowledge guide you through the pain to her emergence to the modern world.
- I went through a few weeks where I was very interested in cloistered or removed religious communities, which lead me to the memoirs of women from the FLDS (Fundamental Latter-Day Saints or polygamous Mormon) church. Carolyn Jessop was a sister-wife in a plural marriage to one of the head honchos under Warren Jeffs in the FLDS community. Much like Deborah Feldman, she yearned for freedom and education but was trapped in her community by violence and the threat on her immortal soul. Her memoir can also be hard to read, especially when she details the domestic, emotional and sexual violence against young girls, but her escape into the modern world, along with her 8 children, is definitely a triumph.
- In contrast to Carolyn Jessop, Joanna Brooks grew up in the mainstream Mormon church, part of a loving and happy family in the Californian suburbs. This book documents her struggles with Mormon doctrine, complicated by her love for the traditions and basic beliefs with which she grew up. Having grown up with many Mormons myself, it was an interesting look into the beliefs of the church, and how a young person may struggle with them as they age.
- Stephanie Nielson and her husband, Christian, survived a horrific small plane crash, which killed the pilot, left the couple horribly burned and turned their four children into veritable orphans for many months. This book carries the reader from the couple’s courtship, their growing family and the importance of their Mormon faith. They overcome outrageous obstacles, having to relearn to eat, drink and care for their children, all while undergoing mind-bending physical therapy and surgeries. It’s definitely an engaging and heart-wrenching story of triumph, if a little spiritually heavy-handed.
- Kelle and her husband, Brett, were eagerly awaiting the arrival of their second daughter, Nella Cordelia; surrounded by family and friends, they discovered at her birth that Nella had Down syndrome. This book is the story of Kelle’s life leading up to Nella’s birth and how it changed afterward. Their family was completely unprepared for their daughter’s diagnosis, but after falling apart with grief and worry, they emerged ready to take on the world, no matter what the chromosomes said. Kelle is a very talented writer; she draws you in like a friend and talks to you with honesty and truth. This book made me marvel at the strength of the everyday person and beauty of every situation.