We Were Mothers
By: Katie Sise
Reviewed by: Georgia Rindler
Cora O’Connell, Laurel Madsen, Jade Moore, Sarah Ramsey; these four women are at the center of Katie Sise’s We Were Mothers.
With so many characters introduced at the very beginning, I was tempted to give up, fearing the story would be too hard to follow. But each chapter focuses on a different character, separating the book into manageable sections.
It begins with the birthday party of Cora & Sam’s two-year-old twins, George and Lucy. Over the course of the weekend, the charming town of Ravendale, New York is the location of an assault, a missing person’s report, and a shattering discovery.
Cora finds a journal entry revealing Sam had an involvement with their 21-year-old babysitter. Mira is the daughter of Laurel & Dash Madsen, neighborhood friends to the O’Connells. Cora confides in her mother Sarah with what she found. The two haven’t been close but Sarah can empathize as Cora’s father had an affair and left her for another woman.
Mira disappeared the day after the party and her younger sister Anna was the last to see her. Both girls have a romantic interest in their teenage neighbor, Asher Finch. Laurel and Dash have problems that go far beyond couples drifting apart after years of marriage.
Jade & Jeremy are also in the midst of some marital challenges. Jeremy desperately wants to start a family with biological children. Jade, on the other hand, wants to adopt. The two reach an impasse and their relationship begins to unravel.
Integral to the story is Maggie Ramsey. She was Cora’s sister, Sarah’s daughter, and best friend to Jade; killed in a tragic automobile accident six years earlier.
The pressure builds with each chapter as things get messier and more revealing. The story unfolds with an abusive relationship, an explosive confrontation, and a scandalous confession.
The novel reads like a Knots Landing soap opera. But as with the popular daytime dramas, the reader gets involved with the characters, staying with the story to find out what happens. There were twists and surprises I did not see coming.
The central theme is in the title. Motherhood is what drives the women to do what they do. And it is the bond that pulls them and the story all together.
We Were Mothers can be found with the fiction books in the library; FIC SIS.
By: Tara Westover
Reviewed by: Georgia Rindler
Tara Westover grew up in the mountains of Idaho, raised in a family of survivalists. The youngest of seven children, she had no birth certificate, no medical records, and had never set foot in a classroom. Her father distrusted the government and was preparing for the end of the world. He believed when that day came, his family would be able to continue on.
Tara was five years old when an eleven-day siege occurred near Naples, Idaho. Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris resisted US Marshals at the Weaver property. A shootout followed and several people were killed including Weaver’s wife and fourteen-year-old son. Tara’s father sat the family down and explained the Weavers were freedom fighters who would not let the government brainwash their kids, so the Feds came after them. It was over a decade later when Tara learned of the Ruby Ridge incident and realized the story her father told was his distorted version and not the facts.
Val Westover, who is given the pseudonym Gene in the book, was suspicious of the medical establishment, so the family did not go to hospitals or see doctors. Tara’s mother treated all injuries and illnesses at home with herbalism. The children did not go to school. Gene believed public schools were little more than government propaganda programs. Lacking formal education and connections with the outside world, Tara only knew what she was told. She and her siblings spent their days scrapping in the junkyard with their father.
In the shadow of Buck Peak, Gene Westover warned everyone about Y2K and what was to come. He advised the righteous to have a ten-year supply of food, fuel, guns and gold. The family stockpiled food in a root cellar dug in a field and concealed by a hillock. Nearby was a pit with a thousand-gallon fuel tank. He also purchased a fifty-caliber rifle with a range of more than a mile. When January 1, 2000 dawned and the end did not come, Gene became despondent.
As the children aged, they began to have interactions with people unlike themselves. One of Tara’s brothers left home to attend Brigham Young University. He encouraged her to do the same, and at seventeen she set foot in a classroom for the first time. In college she learned of the Holocaust and The Civil Rights Movement. It is there she heard the term bipolar disorder and recognized the symptoms in her father. Her thirst for knowledge took her across the ocean to Cambridge University where she earned a PhD.
Educated is an account of a family isolated from a world beyond their mountain. Tara breaks away time after time, but there is a powerful pull over her. She returns believing things will be different; someone will realize the family dynamics are not normal or acknowledge what she experienced is true. She finally decides to sever some ties and make peace with the relationships she can sustain.
This story is not one of the distant past, Tara was born in 1986.
Educated can be found in the library with the non-fiction books; 920 WES.
Rambler: A Family Pushes Through the Fog of Mental Illness
By: Linda Schmitmeyer
Reviewed by: Georgia Rindler
Steve and Linda Schmitmeyer were happily married for 15 years with three young children. It was a wonderful life. That changed when Steve abruptly quit his job, which began a steady downward spiral. Five years later Steve had a major psychotic episode and Linda learned her husband was being followed by the FBI. What followed were questions, confusion, tension, hospitalizations, doctor appointments, and more questions. Steve was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The diagnosis was later changed to schizoaffective disorder. That was in the 1990s when not a lot was known about mental illness. The family endured and survived with the love and support of those close to them.
Linda grew up in Sidney and Steve on a farm outside of Minster. They met as students at the University of Dayton and married after graduating. Living in west central Ohio, Steve was an engineer at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and Linda taught high school English. After ten years Steve accepted a position with the Society of Automotive Engineers headquartered in Pittsburgh. The family moved to Pennsylvania. Three years later, after a fight with his boss, Steve quit his job. Linda began to notice changes in Steve’s personality. He became short-tempered and withdrawn. Mood swings were accompanied by psychotic thinking and erratic and obsessive behaviors.
On Monday, March 6, 1995 Linda started a journal account of the five most traumatic days of her life. Steve had been taken by police to Detroit Psychiatric Institute following an incident while attending an SAE conference. After a few days, he was transferred to St. Rita’s Hospital in Lima where he spent a month. Their children ranged in age from five to fifteen at the time. The entire family began to learn what living with a severe mental illness meant. Steve was discharged taking five different medications. It took another three years until he was mentally stable.
Bipolar disorder or manic depression and schizoaffective disorder are complex. There are no reliable medical tests to determine mental illness. More than a dozen medications were tried for Steve. Linda writes that at times he wanted to be homeless to escape the overwhelming responsibilities he felt. That was when he lived in his Rambler; a car whose name gives the book its title, and a term that somewhat describes Steve’s journey. Steve took his medications as prescribed and participated in research studies at University of Pittsburgh. Both he and Linda attended workshops and classes offered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness to help them better understand. They fought hard to get to the other side of the nightmare.
Steve was in his late forties when his mind stabilized. A combination of lithium, Wellbutrin, and an antipsychotic were a milestone in his treatment. Family and friends could not comprehend the illness, but did not abandon or distance themselves when things were at their worst.
Linda reflects on why she wrote during Steve’s illness. Her great-great-great grandmother was a writer and life in the 19th century was far from easy. Looking to the journaled history, those writings give a better awareness of the struggles encountered by her ancestors. Linda’s book took fifteen years to write and may give a face to mental illness and an understanding of what ordinary people experienced.
Linda’s life did not progress as she had imagined. Her journey took her inward. She ends with, “It’s given me a greater appreciation for the resiliency of the human spirit. When thoughts of what if emerge, I move into the moment, toward humility, for there I am at peace with what is.”
Rambler; A Family Pushes Through the Fog of Mental Illness can be found with the non-fiction books in the library; 616.89 SCH.