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If Only You People Could Follow Directions is a spellbinding debut by Jessica Hendry Nelson. In linked autobiographical essays, Nelson has reimagined the memoir with her thoroughly original voice, fearless writing, and hypnotic storytelling. At its center, the book is the story of three people: Nelson’s mother Susan, her brother Eric, and Jessica herself. These three chara If Only You People Could Follow Directions is a spellbinding debut by Jessica Hendry Nelson. In linked autobiographical essays, Nelson has reimagined the memoir with her thoroughly original voice, fearless writing, and hypnotic storytelling. At its center, the book is the story of three people: Nelson’s mother Susan, her brother Eric, and Jessica herself. These three characters are deeply bound to one another, not just by the usual ties of blood and family, but also by a mother's drive to keep her children safe in the midst of chaos. The book begins with Nelson’s childhood in the suburbs of Philadelphia and chronicles her father's addiction and death, her brother's battle with drugs and mental illness, her own efforts to find and maintain stability, and her mother's exquisite power, grief, and self-destruction in the face of such a complicated family dynamic. Each chapter in the book contends with a different relationship—friends, lovers, and strangers are all play—but at its heart the book is about family, the ties that bind and enrich and betray us, and how one young woman sought to survive and rise above her surroundings.


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If Only You People Could Follow Directions is a spellbinding debut by Jessica Hendry Nelson. In linked autobiographical essays, Nelson has reimagined the memoir with her thoroughly original voice, fearless writing, and hypnotic storytelling. At its center, the book is the story of three people: Nelson’s mother Susan, her brother Eric, and Jessica herself. These three chara If Only You People Could Follow Directions is a spellbinding debut by Jessica Hendry Nelson. In linked autobiographical essays, Nelson has reimagined the memoir with her thoroughly original voice, fearless writing, and hypnotic storytelling. At its center, the book is the story of three people: Nelson’s mother Susan, her brother Eric, and Jessica herself. These three characters are deeply bound to one another, not just by the usual ties of blood and family, but also by a mother's drive to keep her children safe in the midst of chaos. The book begins with Nelson’s childhood in the suburbs of Philadelphia and chronicles her father's addiction and death, her brother's battle with drugs and mental illness, her own efforts to find and maintain stability, and her mother's exquisite power, grief, and self-destruction in the face of such a complicated family dynamic. Each chapter in the book contends with a different relationship—friends, lovers, and strangers are all play—but at its heart the book is about family, the ties that bind and enrich and betray us, and how one young woman sought to survive and rise above her surroundings.

30 review for If Only You People Could Follow Directions: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    John

    It's hard to want to pick up memoirs these days. Many of them are so self-centered (in the most literal of senses), you feel like you're a vaguely unwanted guest at someone's wild and crazy party, that somehow the horrible things that have happened to these writers make them special—and you couldn't possibly be that special. Nelson's book, on the other hand, is a hard, steady, and extraordinarily beautiful look outward at her family, at the psychology of addiction, and by means of subtle reflecti It's hard to want to pick up memoirs these days. Many of them are so self-centered (in the most literal of senses), you feel like you're a vaguely unwanted guest at someone's wild and crazy party, that somehow the horrible things that have happened to these writers make them special—and you couldn't possibly be that special. Nelson's book, on the other hand, is a hard, steady, and extraordinarily beautiful look outward at her family, at the psychology of addiction, and by means of subtle reflection, her own struggle being the daughter and sister of addicts. The miracle of this book, though, is that I kept seeing illuminating flashes of myself, that Nelson understands her craft so well she knows how to include the reader as a part of her story. She creates this effect through humor, understanding when to offer a funny aside or self-deprecating comment to break the tension, her fine-tuned sense of when to shoot straight and when to allow lyricism to communicate meaning in her prose, and most of all, her honesty—about her fears, about her guilt, and her desire to find peace for herself. Also, the structural resonance of the book, a memoir told in essays, allows the reader a space to breathe, contemplate the fragments, and join them together with his or her own glue. It's a brilliant way of shaping a memoir, because it allows room for the reader to connect, and it's only through that connection that you can be deeply moved by any type of literature. I recommend If Only You People to anyone who wants to read a fine example of the form and find themselves in someone else's story.

  2. 4 out of 5

    thePromoParrot

    If Only You People Could Follow Directions: A Memoir by Jessica Hendry Nelson is no ordinary memoir. It is a collection of linked autobiographical essays put together to form an amazing story, the like of which I have never read before. It is about addictions, mental illness, death, incarcerations and financial instability. It is the story of a dysfunctional family, a story of hope as much as it is a story of redemption. Jessica Hendry Nelson is a smart and sharp writer. When you are not taken in If Only You People Could Follow Directions: A Memoir by Jessica Hendry Nelson is no ordinary memoir. It is a collection of linked autobiographical essays put together to form an amazing story, the like of which I have never read before. It is about addictions, mental illness, death, incarcerations and financial instability. It is the story of a dysfunctional family, a story of hope as much as it is a story of redemption. Jessica Hendry Nelson is a smart and sharp writer. When you are not taken in by the story, you’ll still find yourself browsing through the pages egged on by her fine writing and sheer brilliance. It is unputdownable! Whatever your verdict may be about this book, it is both real and surreal. In the midst of a seemingly insurmountable mountain of ruins, the author finds hope. Don’t be bogged down and overwhelmed by your problems – survival is still possible. If Only You People Could Follow Directions (Counterpoint) is one of those rare books which do not come along so often. I strongly recommend it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

    This book is a disjointed memoir of Jessica Hendry Nelson chronicling the battles with mental illness, drug addiction, and alcohol addiction running in her family. Each chapter is sort of an individual essay relating a story of a single relationship her life be it her mother, brother, father, friend, or boyfriend. It's an interesting concept for writing a memoir in the form of linked stories, but it didn't play out very well for me. I think my major issue was the fact that the stories are not in This book is a disjointed memoir of Jessica Hendry Nelson chronicling the battles with mental illness, drug addiction, and alcohol addiction running in her family. Each chapter is sort of an individual essay relating a story of a single relationship her life be it her mother, brother, father, friend, or boyfriend. It's an interesting concept for writing a memoir in the form of linked stories, but it didn't play out very well for me. I think my major issue was the fact that the stories are not in any kind of chronological order, which makes it unnecessarily difficult to piece together how the separate stories relate to each other. In a book that is already not designed to tell a through story the mixing up the timeline seemed like a poor choice. I think the book suffered from trying to be overly creative.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    Really enjoyed this. Compulsively read on a flight from Vermont--straight through. A group of essays--the first one, the prologue, a declarative overview of the difficult young life of a girl with addiction running through her family like an earthquake fault. What impressed me the most was the brutal unregenerate gaze here, the inability to soften, to look away, to fake up a happy ending, a sweet 'lesson.' No lesson here, no excuses, no apologies for the failures of self or of others. What is co Really enjoyed this. Compulsively read on a flight from Vermont--straight through. A group of essays--the first one, the prologue, a declarative overview of the difficult young life of a girl with addiction running through her family like an earthquake fault. What impressed me the most was the brutal unregenerate gaze here, the inability to soften, to look away, to fake up a happy ending, a sweet 'lesson.' No lesson here, no excuses, no apologies for the failures of self or of others. What is courage in memoir writing? The revelations of how it really was, and one's own part in it. It's the unwillingness to look away. Her relationship with a difficult grandmother in 'The Dollhouse' particularly complex. Here's a bit on memory: "… These memories are, however, far from fixed. They shift with the changing tides of the water on our brains, the bubious salt of mere matter. A cold, Northeast wind, perhaps. Who can say for sure? Each remembering is different, such successive dredging more unreliable than the last. Our brains recreate (as a function of self-defense, or self-sabotage maybe) a slightly larger hand, a slightly longer hug, a steeper walk, a harder ache, a toothier smile, a smaller child…." Such beautiful writing.. just lines like: "She falls, and the taste of gray is acrid like the dew on a familiar metal fence…" "He looks through a window and watches the moon undress in the front yard…"

  5. 5 out of 5

    Pasquale Russo

    Uneven. There were times when the writing grew tiring and other times when it painted incredible scenes and feelings. The jumping around from past to present was sometimes difficult to follow.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    There are some good passages of writing in this book. I might have liked it better except: 1. It's all too easy to use non-linear time to enhance the "artiness" of your story-telling. It would be a much more challenging writing assignment to tell the story in as compelling a fashion following linear time moving forward. 2. It's structure is too much like the weekly writing assignments in a creative writing class. It does do a good job of describing what addiction (to alcohol and or drugs) is all ab There are some good passages of writing in this book. I might have liked it better except: 1. It's all too easy to use non-linear time to enhance the "artiness" of your story-telling. It would be a much more challenging writing assignment to tell the story in as compelling a fashion following linear time moving forward. 2. It's structure is too much like the weekly writing assignments in a creative writing class. It does do a good job of describing what addiction (to alcohol and or drugs) is all about. And it makes one speculate on the bonding that occurs even within very dysfunctional families. But that's not enough for a major literary work. But if JHN ever wrote a novel, I'd probably read it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Marie Labombard

    Jumbled, hard to follow, one of the worst books I have picked up in a long time. It is unusual for me to NOT finish a book, but I couldn't slog my way through this one. Jumbled, hard to follow, one of the worst books I have picked up in a long time. It is unusual for me to NOT finish a book, but I couldn't slog my way through this one.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    This review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.5 of 5 What do you write about a book that is very well written - the author conveys her message very well with compelling imagery and succinct language - but which is so depressing that I never want to read anything else by this author ever again? Jessica Hendry Nelson has had a pretty tough life. This collection of memoir essays, If Only You People Could Follow Directions, gives us a raw look at what Nelson has toughed out to b This review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.5 of 5 What do you write about a book that is very well written - the author conveys her message very well with compelling imagery and succinct language - but which is so depressing that I never want to read anything else by this author ever again? Jessica Hendry Nelson has had a pretty tough life. This collection of memoir essays, If Only You People Could Follow Directions, gives us a raw look at what Nelson has toughed out to become the person she is today. But Nelson isn't looking for sympathy (not that I can tell) ... she's simply being frank with the reader. Those of us who didn't have such a raw up-bringing understand, intellectually, that there are people like this in the world, but experiencing it through the eyes of someone who lived it definitely makes me uncomfortable. And of course, that is perhaps the point. Nelson is trying to get us to follow directions ... to see the bigger picture. The book opens with "A Letter to Eric" - Jessica's brother, who will play a major role in most of the book. The letter recalls the two of them visiting their father in one of his many addiction recovery hospitals and then visiting him at another, and then another. Her entire memory of her father appears to be visiting him. Eric takes up where her father leaves off, and despite a very close relationship, it is full of struggles. She writes of some of their early times together: I have a very early memory of choking my brother until he turned blue. He couldn't have been more than two years old. Choking was one of my favorite methods of assault, my scrawny brother writhing as I held him on the ground, my knees pressed deep into his stomach. I wasn't satisfied until he cried... But despite the fighting, the two are incredibly close,in the way that only two siblings who have to face a cruel world together can be. Drugs and alcohol are a shared vice, though Eric's will get him into trouble not unlike his father, while Jessica appears to have hidden it well. Nelson also writes of her sexual encounters - thirteen and a friend who was having sex with a boyfriend introduced her to someone who wanted to have sex with her. Her memory more of the concrete floor under her back and the enfolding arms afterward than the sex itself. I was compelled by Nelson's writing, and like a traffic accident - I didn't want to read on, but I couldn't help but gawk anyway. Looking for a good book? If Only You People Could Follow Directions is a collection of memoir essays by Jessica Hendry Nelson that recalls a sad family life. I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

  9. 4 out of 5

    J C0llier

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I wish I could say this was a riveting tale of a family woes and triumph over addiction with the help of love. To me this seemed like one long disjointed journal entry. The broken or fragmented recall of her past did not vibe with me. So what she got high and still managed to graduate from college. Her tales of getting high with her mom and friends, her friends struggles, the highs and lows didn't tell this story any differently to me. Many people did this...it's called living life in poverty. J I wish I could say this was a riveting tale of a family woes and triumph over addiction with the help of love. To me this seemed like one long disjointed journal entry. The broken or fragmented recall of her past did not vibe with me. So what she got high and still managed to graduate from college. Her tales of getting high with her mom and friends, her friends struggles, the highs and lows didn't tell this story any differently to me. Many people did this...it's called living life in poverty. Just when my interest was piqued or I was moved to care, she switched topics. I wanted to ask her to follow directions. Then I realized she wasn't trying to follow any and based on her tales didn't think anyone in her co-dependent family could either. Maybe my history as a substance abuse counselor made me want to counsel her rather than anything else. The book wasn't terrible but I doubt if I'll ever read it again.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kim Hooper

    There's a blurb on the back of this book that talks about how Nelson has taken "another familial memoir of addiction" and made it "vital" and "compelling." I have to respectfully disagree. To me, it was just "another familial memoir about addiction." While I appreciated her writing (there are some great poetic lines in here), I wasn't that into the story. Yes, the characters have their quirks and they are portrayed wonderfully well, but I've read this type of story so, so many times. Nothing abo There's a blurb on the back of this book that talks about how Nelson has taken "another familial memoir of addiction" and made it "vital" and "compelling." I have to respectfully disagree. To me, it was just "another familial memoir about addiction." While I appreciated her writing (there are some great poetic lines in here), I wasn't that into the story. Yes, the characters have their quirks and they are portrayed wonderfully well, but I've read this type of story so, so many times. Nothing about it hit me square between the eyes, which is what I want from a memoir. Also, I found it kind of scattered. It jumps around A LOT, sometimes without a section break to clue you in to what's happening. One paragraph is in the present, the next is a flashback to another time. I really wanted to like this, but it just didn't do it for me.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jenn

    This book was interesting. I loved the catchy title and truth be known, I was drawn to this book because of the title. I thought this would be another well-written memoir about a dysfunctional childhood and family. And it was -- for the most part. The writing was at times very good, but I found it very disjointed. By the end of the book, it even seemed like the author had taken on a different style of writing. It kept my interest, but I wasn't blown over. Had I known this was a "collection of es This book was interesting. I loved the catchy title and truth be known, I was drawn to this book because of the title. I thought this would be another well-written memoir about a dysfunctional childhood and family. And it was -- for the most part. The writing was at times very good, but I found it very disjointed. By the end of the book, it even seemed like the author had taken on a different style of writing. It kept my interest, but I wasn't blown over. Had I known this was a "collection of essays" put together it would have made more sense as I was reading it. I still like the title but felt like it was missing her explanation about that. She had one chapter with the same title, but really no specific connection to it.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    I've heard that writers are supposed to open a vein to write, but I wish Ms. Nelson had chosen some other veins. Her pain, the drugs, the word choice were all too much. When one of her stories mentioned her MFA, I chuckled to myself and wondered if her degree required that her stories be overwritten. I battled on and enjoyed one story, "In New York" about her trials as a school teacher and a few moments in some of the other stories in the last half of the book. Overall, it was a struggle. It was I've heard that writers are supposed to open a vein to write, but I wish Ms. Nelson had chosen some other veins. Her pain, the drugs, the word choice were all too much. When one of her stories mentioned her MFA, I chuckled to myself and wondered if her degree required that her stories be overwritten. I battled on and enjoyed one story, "In New York" about her trials as a school teacher and a few moments in some of the other stories in the last half of the book. Overall, it was a struggle. It was country music without the humor. It was a depressing sort of memoir told by a woman who has lived longer than she should in a time shorter than it seemed.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Tuck-Ihasz

    While this book is a collection of short stories, they are so tightly related it feels more like a loose novel. These are sticky stories that need to be lived with a bit. They are heavy, but contain a beautiful, wobbly sort of hope that draws you in. I would suggest reading these stories interspersed between another book or books. Reading them in one long sitting draws a false attention to their familiarity, IMHO. I think they are best enjoyed un-collected, as they might have been published in m While this book is a collection of short stories, they are so tightly related it feels more like a loose novel. These are sticky stories that need to be lived with a bit. They are heavy, but contain a beautiful, wobbly sort of hope that draws you in. I would suggest reading these stories interspersed between another book or books. Reading them in one long sitting draws a false attention to their familiarity, IMHO. I think they are best enjoyed un-collected, as they might have been published in magazines, found over time.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Maya Lang

    Powerful, provocative, spellbinding, stunning. This isn't just about addiction. It's about family and finding one's way in the world. I especially loved what Nelson does with time, traveling between moments in a way that felt true to memory. This is how we experience stuff. One moment kicks up another. This memoir doesn't give you a nicely packaged chronology. It goes back and forth, as we do. Not a single word in this haunting book felt false. Powerful, provocative, spellbinding, stunning. This isn't just about addiction. It's about family and finding one's way in the world. I especially loved what Nelson does with time, traveling between moments in a way that felt true to memory. This is how we experience stuff. One moment kicks up another. This memoir doesn't give you a nicely packaged chronology. It goes back and forth, as we do. Not a single word in this haunting book felt false.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Erika

    A stunning, powerful story told through a series of exquisitely-written essays. This book is an original, exceptionally creative approach to personal essays and memoir. Nelson exercises her astute wit and captures a lovely child-like voice that illustrates moments of simultaneous pain, love and beauty perfectly. A fantastic read!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    I did not bond with this book. I loved the title. I don't know why we didn't bond - I didn't object to the essays written out of order but maybe that had something to do with it? Nothing ever seemed to really change - it was just all bad, all the time - very sad story. I did not bond with this book. I loved the title. I don't know why we didn't bond - I didn't object to the essays written out of order but maybe that had something to do with it? Nothing ever seemed to really change - it was just all bad, all the time - very sad story.

  17. 4 out of 5

    David

    There are some stunning lines in here. I love the path through the book. Not chronologically linear, it makes mental sense in a way that is often so elusive. Definitely moving as well. There is an urgency to the book that pulls at the reader. Impressive.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    I made it 70% through this book and just can't waste any more of my life on it. The writing is good but the story is boring. I made it 70% through this book and just can't waste any more of my life on it. The writing is good but the story is boring.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Christine Del Buono

    Gave up on finishing this one. I like memoirs of this kind, but the writing didn't grab me at all. Gave up on finishing this one. I like memoirs of this kind, but the writing didn't grab me at all.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Cher

    I thought it was great, rough but great.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Long

    The subject matter of this book is interesting to me but the writing was so disjointed and hard to follow that I had to give this one up.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    Once I began reading this artful memoir, I could not stop! I admit to feeling a strong connection to the writer because I have a comparable younger brother with similar problems, a somewhat parallel family dynamic, and many similarities in my life path to hers. The realistic yet tenuous healing the writer finds, despite tragedy and disappointment, offered this reader hope. I enjoyed the entire work, but particularly relished the sections about New York and the title essay. I found a strong sense Once I began reading this artful memoir, I could not stop! I admit to feeling a strong connection to the writer because I have a comparable younger brother with similar problems, a somewhat parallel family dynamic, and many similarities in my life path to hers. The realistic yet tenuous healing the writer finds, despite tragedy and disappointment, offered this reader hope. I enjoyed the entire work, but particularly relished the sections about New York and the title essay. I found a strong sense of catharsis in her intelligent and descriptive prose and look forward to reading more of this talented writer's work.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Erica Clou

    This is a nonfiction essay collection that collectively forms a memoir. Even though it's collectively a story about addiction and neglect, the part that stands out is the affection that persists in the family in spite of their difficulties. I also appreciated her reflections on the death of loved ones and mourning. This is a nonfiction essay collection that collectively forms a memoir. Even though it's collectively a story about addiction and neglect, the part that stands out is the affection that persists in the family in spite of their difficulties. I also appreciated her reflections on the death of loved ones and mourning.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kali

    from kalireads.com: Jessica Hendry Nelson’s If Only You People Could Follow Directions Is An Intimate Look At One Family’s Struggle With Addiction Cut. Take gazillion and one. This time with a little less weepy-weepy, please. A little less improvisation. A little less lip. A little more faith. A little more higher power. A little more prayer, a little less wine. Cut the crap. Cut the line. Tuck the chin. Look left, right, faster, slower. Pick seven dandelions on the first day of spring. Hate less or from kalireads.com: Jessica Hendry Nelson’s If Only You People Could Follow Directions Is An Intimate Look At One Family’s Struggle With Addiction Cut. Take gazillion and one. This time with a little less weepy-weepy, please. A little less improvisation. A little less lip. A little more faith. A little more higher power. A little more prayer, a little less wine. Cut the crap. Cut the line. Tuck the chin. Look left, right, faster, slower. Pick seven dandelions on the first day of spring. Hate less or more. Work harder. Chew slower. Be better. Look to god, God, GOD. Watch your language. Watch your back. Collect rocks. Lick ‘em clean. Count the pigeons in the backyard and multiply times forever. Give it up, let it go, take it back, take control. Say yes, say no. Say no, no, no. Stick to the script. Steps One through Twelve. One through Twelve. Keep coming back. It works if you work it. If only you people could follow directions. –Jessica Hendry Nelson, If Only You People Could Follow Directions Jessica Hendry Nelson‘s If Only You People Could Follow Directions is like a photo album of a family wading through the darkest depths of addiction. In a collection of personal essays, Nelson describes memories like snapshots, sad and bright and strange, jails and fear and funerals replacing the smiling faces that fill most family pictures. Rather than try to explain addiction, in medical or historical terms, Nelson leaves those general concepts unexplored and focuses on her own family’s story. This narrow view forms addiction into an ominous cloud, an elusive force pulling and pushing those around her. Nelson tells of fun, terrifying times with her father, dead early from alcoholism. She reveals guilt at having introduced her brother to drugs, as he’s now following in her father’s footsteps. And her mother does the best she can, smoking and drinking her way to something like peace. In one essay, Nelson traces that unquenchable thirst back for generations, to her great-grandmother. Nelson’s grandmother has memories of discovering her own mother so drunk she’d fallen out of bed, incoherent, and been sick on her nightgown. “Looking at her lying there, crooked and pale, I was so afraid.” Cynthia, Nelson’s grandmother says. In writing of this as an ongoing saga, Nelson is almost like the survivor of a car crash, or a plane wreck, but not really even that because she’s still lost amidst this familial struggle. So she’s in a car, right now, crashing against this beast of addiction. She’s glancing around, despite the high speeds and the loud noises, and relaying how this crash-in-progress looks. She’s telling us how much it hurts, and how little she can do to stop the forward movement. Books without much of a plot don’t work if the prose isn’t so moving that it propels you forward, and Nelson’s writing is sad in all the right ways. It’s bittersweet and at times so bare it hurts. It helps to be really interested in this topic, and people who haven’t experienced or been affected by addiction may just not get it. Other reviews are all over the map–some people say it’s overwritten, or that the drifting format feels overwhelming at times. But sharp memories torn from a disorderly life seem to perfectly express addiction’s elusive, repetitious nature. In the prologue, a letter to her brother recalls the countless locales they’d visit to see their troubled father: rehabs, prisons, “Grandma’s big house.” Then, “He visits us every time you land in the same jail, your twin mug shots forever floating in the same county database, each one more fucked up than the last.” Addiction is such a muddy, messy thing; push up your sleeves, let down your guard, and grab your Kleenex.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sean Prentiss

    If Only People Could Follow Directions is a short book with short chapters, and those two things help make it a wonderful debut memoir for Hendry Nelson. The quickness of the chapters allows the readers to dive right into a book, to swim right through it. But the power of the book comes from the stunning and powerful personal narrative about a family falling apart due to addiction and mental illness. These ideas hold the reader in its current for hours at a time, pulling us through the chapters If Only People Could Follow Directions is a short book with short chapters, and those two things help make it a wonderful debut memoir for Hendry Nelson. The quickness of the chapters allows the readers to dive right into a book, to swim right through it. But the power of the book comes from the stunning and powerful personal narrative about a family falling apart due to addiction and mental illness. These ideas hold the reader in its current for hours at a time, pulling us through the chapters until, sadly, we're to the final chapter even though we want to narrative to continue. This book reminds me of another Counterpoint Press book. Joe Wilkins's The Mountain and the Fathers and Hendry Nelson's If Only People Could Follow Directions both possess broken and disjointed narratives where we're always moving forward, always progressing toward some conclusion, but rather than moving in a straight line it's like a coiled snake. There are vertical parts touching and linear parts touching all at the same time, so that even if all the scenes are not linearly connected they are thematically all driving toward a single goal. This technique works so well in both books. Also both books also focus on the loss of the father. And both books have that beautiful, elevated language. A great first memoir by Vermont writer, Jessica Hendry Nelson.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia Archer

    Jessica is an excellent writer. I enjoyed her style and descriptions. Her story was genuine, and I greatly appreciated her open and painfully exposed story of herself and her family. This is not the family next door, and yet it actually could be and that is what is scary. Jessica and her brother had a special relationship that was very close as children, but eventually is torn apart through her brother's life choices which follow in their father's footsteps. I could feel her hope and belief tha Jessica is an excellent writer. I enjoyed her style and descriptions. Her story was genuine, and I greatly appreciated her open and painfully exposed story of herself and her family. This is not the family next door, and yet it actually could be and that is what is scary. Jessica and her brother had a special relationship that was very close as children, but eventually is torn apart through her brother's life choices which follow in their father's footsteps. I could feel her hope and belief that things were all going to be OK, slip away as she tells the story of her dysfunctional family and their addictive behaviors. I only people could follow directions! Ultimately though, I found the story to be very sad and not entirely important enough to overcome the feelings of dread and despair produced by her inability to save her brother. I thank the publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this title. I would recommend it to readers who enjoy memoirs of the struggles of ordinary people, particularly in dealing with real life problems. Just don't expect a fairy tale ending.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Davita

    Stories of dysfunctional families and addiction abound, but it takes a truly gifted writer to shed new light on the genre and Jessica Hendry Nelson is that writer. With exquisite prose, she paints a picture of light and shadow, a harrowing story of drug addiction and tragic turns interspersed with touching, even comedic moments that reveal a very real humanity that is compelling and moving. The book is a series of linked autobiographical essays; I love that it's not the typical linear account an Stories of dysfunctional families and addiction abound, but it takes a truly gifted writer to shed new light on the genre and Jessica Hendry Nelson is that writer. With exquisite prose, she paints a picture of light and shadow, a harrowing story of drug addiction and tragic turns interspersed with touching, even comedic moments that reveal a very real humanity that is compelling and moving. The book is a series of linked autobiographical essays; I love that it's not the typical linear account and forces the reader to (joyfully) pay attention. They are complete on their own but woven together, the tapestry is quite beautiful. She is a young writer to watch and I'm eager to see what comes next for her.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Travel Writing

    Jessica unfolds the poignant and painful and lovely story of her family in a profoundly touching way. I was drawn in and followed her down every dark corridor and then out into the blinding light of her family addiction and dysfunction. I couldn't put the book down until I finished every single essay. My only struggle was with the uneven chronology. It was all over the place: bobbing way back in time, then just a little forward, then back again to some other place. It was disjointing and did not Jessica unfolds the poignant and painful and lovely story of her family in a profoundly touching way. I was drawn in and followed her down every dark corridor and then out into the blinding light of her family addiction and dysfunction. I couldn't put the book down until I finished every single essay. My only struggle was with the uneven chronology. It was all over the place: bobbing way back in time, then just a little forward, then back again to some other place. It was disjointing and did not assist with the cohesiveness of this great memoir in essay form.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mainlinebooker

    An autobiographical essay composed of linked chapters that is set in Philadelphia describes a very difficult and traumatic growing up surrounded by alcoholism, mental health issues ,jails, and drugs in her family and surroundings. The dialogue is smart,flippant and expressive in dealing with the destruction that is dealt to her family. I was particularly taken with her dialogue and ability to make us care about the narrator and what happens to her in her future life.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Howvuben

    I listened to the audiobook version of this memoir. Usually I stay away from audiobooks that are read by the author because they tend to be lifeless and monotonous. This was a different story. I can not imagine this book read by anyone other THAN the author. More than just beautiful words on a page, this book book also had a rhythm to it which enhanced the emotional aspect of the book. I anxiously await her next book!

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