Monday, May 01, 2006


10-pages-in book review: Come Back

Today's review is being written not at the 10-pages-in point, but after I have read the whole book. I'm glad I finished the book before I posted my review, too, because had I written it before I finished the book, it would likely have been a much less favourable review.

Today's book is Come Back: A Mother and Daughter's Journey Through Hell and Back. It is the shared memoir of Claire Fontaine and her 15 year-old-daughter Mia Fontaine, told in alternating first-person narrative. It follows Mia as she tumbles from seemingly happy, successful prep-school student to a drug-abusing, self-hating homeless teen on the run, and then follows her difficult recovery at boot camp-type schools in the Czech Republic and in rural Montana. It is a harrowing, painful, but ultimately redeeming story of a mother and daughter whose bond is stretched beyond capacity, but never breaks.

Claire Fontaine herself sent me an e-mail offering me this book to review, and I had a strong sense of obligation to keep reading it because of that. It was, especially at the beginning, a difficult book to read. Early in the book, Claire describes the abuse she and Mia suffered at the hands of her ex-husband. I found it nearly unbearable to consider the sexual abuse three-year-old Mia endured, and still can’t quite understand the denial and obliviousness that Claire claims upon realizing that it has had a traumatic and life-long impact on Mia.

It took me a while to invest in Claire and Mia emotionally, too. Mia's early passages are full of contempt for her mother, her surroundings, herself - and it is difficult to reconcile this angry, troubled young woman with Claire’s insistence that Mia was a loving daughter who, at fifteen, still liked her mother to sing lullabies to her over the phone when her mother was working late - right up to the night Mia runs away from home. It's hard to believe they are experiencing the same reality.

As Mia works through her recovery in a ‘school’ that has rules that require students to be locked down, be silent unless spoken to by staff, and line up heel-to-toe every time they move from one room to another (they are even forbidden from looking out the window), Claire is forced to face her own demons in a parallel recovery program for parents. I found Mia’s burgeoning self-awareness fascinating and redeeming, her mother’s slightly less so.

In the end, I'm glad I kept reading. Claire’s story of a mother’s determination to save her daughter is compelling, written with passion, hard-won insight and humour. It’s Mia’s story, though, that makes this book worth reading. Reflecting on her long journey, Mia writes:
It’s funny how things come full circle. Morova and Spring Creek’s philosophy is based primarily on accountability, of being aware of your choices so you don’t wake up miserable one morning and wonder how you got there. But, it’s ironic that the most powerful lesson I learned, the awareness that you alone create your reality, is one that children instinctively know. It never occurs to them that there’s anything that they can’t do or be. And it shouldn’t occur to adults, either; we’ve just grown accustomed to living with limitations.

I even learned a little bit about myself from this book. Claire, like someone we know who shall remain nameless, has control issues, and her insight into that through the parallel program for parents gave me insight into myself. And Mia’s examination of how it was her mother’s intense love that both impelled her to hide from that love in the dark world of drugs and worse also helped bring her back into the light gave me greater understanding of my own issues about needing parental affirmation.

I liked this book enough to share it, so I’m stealing an idea from Wonder Mom. I’ll pass this book along to a randomly selected commenter at the end of next week. If you’d like me to enter you into the draw, drop me a note in the comment box. To make it interesting, tell me something you did as a teenager that you hope your kids never do.

Edited to add: if you'd like more information about Claire and Mia Fontaine and some of the projects they are working on, or some resources for families dealing with abuse, you can visit their Web site at http://www.claireandmia.com.

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