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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Book Review: You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers

This is a rare example of a book that wasn't at all what I was expecting, and yet I wasn't disappointed in the slightest. I was expecting to find out when Heather and her family figured out she was face-blind, when and how she was diagnosed, and what methods she used to deal with her condition. I was quite shocked that Heather didn't realize she had this condition until more than halfway through the book. We readers were already suspicious (having been made to expect it was coming by the subtitle at the very least, if not the flap copy, which I read years ago if at all) so the hints dropped made more of an impact on us than on Heather who didn't know anything different than what she'd experienced her whole life.

But the book was so engrossing because really, face-blindness was the least of Heather's problems. She grew up in a terrifically disfunctional family. Her mother is most likely schizophrenic. Her father is a not-very-functioning alcoholic with additional issues. She has a brother who did not want to be in the book so he's just mentioned once and never again which is odd but I can understand how someone who grew up in this environment and got out of it, might want to seriously distance himself from it. (Although I still wish he was mentioned at least from time to time, if not named.) Some people have questioned how she was able to become a college professor from this background but she did. Luckily she was smart and luckily, she wanted to get away so she chose a further away college than the local community college. Luckily, she had a good college counselor in high school. People do get away from bad situations with little damage or at least able to put together a good life, all the time.

However, her ability to put together a good life was where she faltered and where she began to finally look at her past with some distance and see that all was not right. She brought her very serious boyfriend and his two sons to Florida to meet her parents. Her father was drunk and unable to carry on much of a conversation. Her mother kicked them out of the house for no particular reason. After a trip to Disney World, the boys went on while Heather went on to a speaking engagement and her high school reunion (the excuse for the trip), only to run into an old boyfriend who asked if her mother was schizophrenic. After seeing her mother through her boyfriend's eyes, suddenly things she'd always written off as just odd, stood out as much worse. More like bizarre. Crazy.

I do not doubt that she didn't understand the awfulness of the situation when she was in it--and even for years afterwards. Denial is powerful. Our brains protect us as best they can. And when that's the only thing you've ever known, who are you to question if it's "normal?"

The book flashes back to her childhood (mostly high school) quite a bit and she visits her parents again in an attempt to find out more and understand better. As her relationship back home starts to fall apart, she sees a therapist and eventually does figure out the face-blindness aspect of her life, too.

The book was riveting. The flashback transitions were occasionally a little shaky, especially when coming back to "now," but never to the point where I didn't understand what was going on. But the horribleness of her childhood kept me glued to the page, as well as the mess her current life was. I truly appreciated that she was finally trying to get everything straightened out, even if it didn't all resolve the way she would have liked. Ms. Sellers is a writing instructor and that helped her tell a very complicated story with minimal effort. I enjoyed it very much.

I bought this book at a Borders GOOB sale.

1 comment:

Jen said...

I'm not sure if this is a book I'm going to pick up for a read, but I admit, it sounds intriguing.