Monday, November 30, 2009

Replacement Child by Judy Mandel - 256 pgs

Book CoverJudy Mandel is a replacement child: a child born to take both the emotional and physical place of her sister Donna, who was killed in a freak plane accident when she was just seven years old. Judy's older sister Linda was also seriously injured in the accident and spends her life bouncing from one reconstructive surgery to the next. Although Judy longs to be loved and accepted by her parents, it seems as though she lives as a shadow beside the memory of Donna and the perpetual care that is the hallmark of Linda's life. Though the plane accident that robbed the family of so much is broadly hinted at, it is not until Judy begins to research her own memoir that she discovers the horrible secrets about the day that changed her family's lives. As Judy tells the story of her life, she intersperses chapters from the past and chapters that relate the minute by minute countdown to the moment when the fateful accident occurred. Judy paints individual portraits of each of her family, from her stern and distant father to her overwhelmed mother and brave sister; each member touched differently by their torturous trial. Her journey centers around trying to understand her role and place among those marked by tragedy and trying to find her own small voice above the din. Both disturbing and sensitive, Replacement Child exists as part tell all family chronicle, part examination of the the attempts to reconstruct a family out of the ashes.

I was really moved by this story and thought that it was written very respectfully and with great conscience. It was not until the later sections of the book that Judy discovers that the term for people like her is "replacement child" but it was easy to see that once she found the definition, her story seemed to fit perfectly within the boundaries of the definition. It wasn't that her parents were cold or calculating people who disrespected Judy's individuality or singularity; instead it seemed that they were just unconsciously trying to fill a hole that existed within their family.

I found it very sad that Judy's father decided to never call attention to his daughter's beauty because it might diminish something in his other surviving child who had been so disfigured by the accident, or that he never really showed any outward affection toward her either. I also found it very sad that the family never seemed to notice Judy or the trials that she experienced in her life, instead focusing so much energy on Linda and the memory of Donna.

For the most part, I would have to say that Judy was extremely well-adjusted and, remarkably, not bitter about the experiences of her life. Instead of becoming isolated and angry, she seemed to realize what her role in the family was and responded by becoming more loving to her sister and more understanding to her parents. I can imagine that it probably hurt her very deeply to be thought of as second best, a replacement or substitution for the sister that she never knew. In reading the book, it seems clear that her situation mostly manifested itself in some very severe self-image and self-esteem problems, problems that her parents never addressed or spoke to her about.

I also got a very clear picture of what a family living through constant grief must go through in their day to day life. It seemed as though the girls' parents spent a lot of time rehashing the accident while still trying to keep the actual facts of that dreadful day under wraps. As Judy examines the family both through the past and the present, she comes to some startling realizations about her family's financial situation, her parent's marriage and the realities of Linda's future that shape the way that she deals with them and reinforces some of the ideas that she has held for years.

There were bits in this story that were humorous and comic, but overall the book cast a somber and reflective tone throughout Judy's analysis of her family's particular dysfunction. The book also examines the many unsuccessful relationships that Judy found herself in after moving from her parents' home. As she explains her reasoning behind her choices in mates, it was vary easy for me to see the influences in her past that had led her to make the types of decisions that she did, and I was genuinely happy for her when she broke out of the pattern of choosing distant and emotionally cold men.

I thought this was a very powerful memoir and very different from any that I have read before. The book was very balanced and didn't attempt to portray either camp in a damaging or negative light; instead the author chose to spotlight the situation and respondents in a clear and unambiguous way that gave me a great deal of respect for her. If you are a reader of memoirs, I would definitely recommend picking this one up. It is the unusual story of a life of compromise, told with affection, grace, and respect. A very moving and incredibly solid read.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

12 comments:

bermudaonion said...

Oh my gosh, this is a true story? Judy sounds like a remarkable person, but what a sad childhood.

Aarti said...

I remember you telling me about this book- I'm glad you found it enjoyable. It sounds really sad, especially if her parents had the author to replace a different child, but then never showed the author any love out of guilt. That's horrible.

Lynn said...

I personally know this author but know her much more intimately after reading her story. And yes, a remarkable person indeed!

Anonymous said...

I encourage Aarti to read the book if she hasn't already. While the events in the book are certainly sad (the crash, the death of a child and the severe injury of another), I found the story itself to be one of hope, renewal and success. The author shows amazing courage in her journey through life. Her discoveries about her family, her relationships and herself could not have been easy. I think there are a lot more "replacement children" out there than we are aware of. This is a story of inspiration to those children and the parents of those children.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Oh, gosh, you know I love personal memoir ... I hadn't heard of this book until your review. I'm glad you enjoyed it. The term itself is so sad, replacement child, imagine the heights Judy Mandel must have felt she had to live up to ...

Suko said...

What a sensitive and well-written review! The accident seemed to have taken a heavy toll on the entire family. This memoir sounds sad but from your review I can tell that Judy is a true survivor in every sense of the word.

moonnell said...

Judy was a classmate and friend in New Jersey. She always seemed upbeat. The ramifications of the horrible accident were deep but to her friends it was not evident. I applaud her courage for writing this book. It is ultimately uplifting.
Marianne

Diane said...

Sounds like a heartbreaking read. NF?

Great review.

The Tome Traveller said...

Sounds like a powerful book. Definitely one for my wish list! Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Carey

Marie said...

sounds like an incredible, moving and wonderful read. i really shoudl read more memoirs,and start with this!

Lenore said...

Wow - Judy IS remarkably well-adjusted. Good for her!

Petunia said...

My neice Faith was born after the death of her sister. I wouldn't call her a replacement child(What an offensive description!). She was more like a providential accident(another offensive term.) She is loved and cherished for her own personality. She didn't replace her sister but she gave my SIL a reason to move forward, beyond the grief that was overtaking her. How sad that the author felt she lived in the shadows of both of her sisters, but it was probably why she has the strength she has.

I don't know if I could read this book because it seems to have stirred some strong emotions in me. It hits to close to home.

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