Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Sometimes Daughter, by Sherri Wood Emmons

My first thoughts upon finishing the book:
Good book, but maybe three out of five stars. I thought I might identify with a book called The Sometimes Daughter, and I did for some things. Maybe I didn't care so much for it because the writing was strictly narrative with no underlying meaning, or maybe I just don't care for hippie stories, but this isn't a book I'll be passing on to anyone anytime soon.
***SPOILER ALERT*** (and brief synopsis)
The book follows a young girl named Sweet Judy Blue Eyes, starting at birth, and spanning almost two decades of Judy's life. Judy's mother was a hippie, and didn't always take the best care of Judy. For instance, she would sleep with men other than her husband while Judy was in the next room, unattended and eating marijuana brownies. Cassie, Judy's mother, runs off with her daughter to a hippie commune in Kentucky. When Judy's father finds out that her mother kidnapped her, he goes to get Judy from the commune, and sues for custody. This is when the disruption of Judy's life begins.
Throughout her elementary years, Judy was teased and tormented because of her crazy mother and her ridiculous name, all while resisting more kidnapping attempts. Her mother eventually joined up with Peoples Temple and was nearly involved with the mass suicide that occurred in Guyana. Luckily, Cassie turned up, physically unharmed, but extremely emotionally scarred. When she has healed, she disappears again, and Judy doesn't hear from her for years.
The next time Cassie enters the story, she has met a new man, Navid. She is pregnant, again, and she is engaged to be married. Judy visits her twice, the first time for the wedding and the birth of her half-brother, Kamran, and the second time a year later to visit. The second time Judy visits, she notices her mother repeating the behaviors that she exhibited with her father: cheating and leaving her new family. Cassie ends up in an ashram in India, and has once again disappeared from the novel. By the time she reappears, Judy has been a drug dealer, a cheerleader, been arrested, been broken up with, and had an abortion. The book ends with Judy cleaning up her tumultous life and asking her mother the questions her mother should have answered years and years ago. We also find out that Cassie went through some of the same experiences that Judy went through, like the abortion, and we find out just how screwed up Cassie is, as a result of her mother.
For this review, I think I will pick from some of the reading questions in the back portion of the book:
What responsibility, if any, does Cassie's mother bear for her daughter's choices?
When we find out that Cassie had been raped at a party, and that rape had caused Cassie to become pregnant for the first time, Cassie's mother shamed her and sent her to a home for pregnant teenagers so the baby could be given away when it was born. Cassie's mother had called her a slut when Cassie told her what had happened at the party, instead of validating Cassie and her feelings, calling the crime what it truly was. As a result, Cassie felt rejected, and as Kirk (Judy's dad) argues, Cassie leaves her relationships and her families because she is afraid of being left, and being hurt again. I would argue that Cassie's choices also reflected on Judy, and caused some of the behavioral problems with Judy. Judy, who formed a clear ambivalent attachment to her mother developed less-than-healthy behaviors in her young adult life. Selling drugs to make money, and then having sex with a random stranger after her breakup were poor choices on Judy's part, and while I have to say that she made a choice in those instances, I will also suggest that it was partially the fault of her mother, for indirectly encouraging unstable behavior by not fulfilling her role to Judy as a stable role model.
While I'm on the point about Judy having sex with a random stranger, I would also like to address whether this incident should have been classified as rape. Kirk is understandably angry with the boy Judy had sex with when she tells him that she is pregnant. The critique that I have for Sherri Wood Emmons was the lack of a clear line, defining what he did as rape. I think that she was trying to draw a parallel between Judy's experience and her mother's but it needed to be more clearly defined as rape. What labeled it for me was the fact that the boy who raped Judy gave her alcohol before he started taking off her clothes. She also never really consented, and she was upset, and waited for it to be over. I think that it wasn't clearly identified as rape because of society's misconceptions about what rape is. If someone is taken advantage of while under the influence of alcohol, it is rape. If the victim isn't able to make clear choices about what they are doing, it is rape. I think the young man should have been reported for raping Judy, even though Judy wrote it off as not rape.
On a final note, Cassie's own story about her baby's adoption and her own rape explains her behavior to a certain degree. I think that what effected Cassie the most was her mother's response to Cassie's rape. However, despite the terrible occurrance in Cassie's life, I do not believe that it is any excuse for her to act the way she did toward her children. What she needed to do was see a counselor or a therapist to heal from her childhood issues before trying to become a mother herself. If she had done this, she might have broken the cycle, and not have started her daughter on the same path.
The book ends on a good note with Judy seeking closure from her mother, with the suggestion that with time, everything will be okay.
My father was in my life until just last year, and everything is not okay. Even after I had my closure. I don't think that the ending of this book was realistic, but in a society that sells books and movies by happy endings, it was doable.