Monday, May 4, 2015

Invisible Girl (Book Review)

Mariel Hemingway grew up feeling invisible, and now she's written a book with Ben Greenman to share her story with teens called Invisible Girl, (Regan Arts, 2014). She was born in 1961, a few months after the death of her famous grand father, writer Ernest Hemingway. That's just the start of her complicated family.

In Hemingway's family, she grew up dealing with her parent's alcoholism, OCD, and depression. Her mother became frail with cancer and dependent on Mariel. Her parent's marriage was full of conflict. She has memories of hearing them argue and fight intensely. She'd wake up and clean up all the broken dishes after their late night drunken tussles. Mariel was the youngest of three daughters, and both older sisters had mental illness. (Later in life, older sister Margaux, an actress, also died by an intentional drug overdose, just one day before the anniversary of her grandfather's suicide.)

The book is written like a diary in the voice of young Mariel as she observes what is going on in her family, and attempts to make sense of it. She includes "things to think about" at the end of each section for teens who may be reading it. Growing up in the small town of Ketchum, Idaho, Mariel often found solace and comfort by going outside into nature. The book has suggestions for teens on how to cope in positive ways with family problems, including talking about your experiences with someone you trust.

All the concepts in the book are put into teen-friendly terms. It's a short read of just 176 pages, with sketches and self-care tip lists in each chapter.

When children grow up with alcoholic parents, they adapt in different ways. Mariel became the "parentified" child, often cleaning up after her parent's drinking bouts and caregiving for her ill mother. The concept of growing up feeling invisible is an apt one. It's tough to grow up in a home where your development is overshadowed by parent's problems like substance abuse, a high conflict relationship or mental illness. Young people can see themselves as supporting cast to the family drama.

Learning to tell your story and have it validated by someone you trust, and to learn to do self-care are steps to becoming visible. This is a simple little book about some important subjects that don't often get talked about with teens. Hemingway's tone is kind and caring, and she carries credibility for having lived through family issues and becoming a happy, well-balanced adult who still finds her comfort in nature.Young people can feel less alone if they know that others are dealing or have dealt with similar family issues. Hopefully, Hemingway's book can reach girls and help them process difficult family dynamics and begin to consider their own needs.

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