Booklist Reviews 2008 April #1
"So who's the monster . . . your mom or your dad?" Sontag is asked during the writing of this childhood memoir. The answers are complicated, as becomes all too evident in her descriptions of the bewildering cruelty she suffered growing up. As in many abuse stories, Sontag's parents' public and private personae are nearly impossible to reconcile. Her father is an admired physician; her mother is trained to be a caring school social worker. At home, though, her father's paranoia and controlling behavior are astonishing: he locks up the phones; prescribes lithium for Sontag's mother when she speaks out; and hurls vicious insults at young Rachel for bizarre, perceived infractions of his complicated rules ("How does it feel to wake up every morning knowing that you are the scum of the earth?"). Sontag also speaks about her mother's deeply wounding inability to protect and support her children. With riveting candor and mature insight, she explores the profound complexity of her family relationships and offers a powerful story of survival, strength, and hope. Copyright 2008 Booklist Reviews.
LJ Reviews 2008 April #1
A painful childhood is grist for the mill in contemporary memoirs, and this one has all the necessary components: a controlling, mentally ill father and distant mother, stints in group homes, and experimentation with drugs. Yet somehow, Sontag rises above the predictable in this gripping, quirky, unusual look back at a childhood that would have ruined adulthood for most people. Sontag's father was a respected physician who insisted on keeping track of every area of his two daughters' lives, down to the growth of their hair and the length of their fingernails. Her mother, a social worker, stood helplessly by, watching, for example, as her husband locked Sontag out of the house on a cold Chicago night to "teach a lesson" about forgetting one's house keys. Ultimately, Sontag's mother shoulders most of the blame for this family gone haywire because of what Sontag sees as her inability to leave the marriage or to put her daughters and their welfare before the demented standards of her spouse. Sontag's voice remains clear, authentic, and humorous throughout. Recommended for public libraries.—Jan Brue Enright, Augustana Coll. Lib., Sioux Falls, SD[Page 91]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
PW Reviews 2008 February #2
Sontag, a doctor's daughter, grew up in a family that seemed every bit the normal, suburban ideal. She and her sister were raised to value book smarts as well as worldly experience. What those outside of the family didn't know was that the reason Sontag was so accomplished and committed to her extracurricular activities was that she would've done anything to get away from her father, Stephen. By enforcing a peculiar system of rules and consequences, he micromanaged every moment of her life, tape-recording her conversations, measuring the length of her fingernails and locking all the phones in a safe when he left the house. When Sontag broke the rules, regardless of circumstance, he would verbally abuse her for hours, dictating letters of apology from her to him ("I am a selfish, rotten, worthless brat," etc.). Sontag's mother, Ellen, reneged on plans to divorce him for years, perhaps partly because Stephen prescribed her into complacency with lithium. In adulthood, Sontag found herself caught in self-defeating patterns that smacked of her father's thrall. Struggling to break free, she even resorted to homelessness before finally severing her relationship with Stephen. Sontag's is a brave account, not only of what it's like to take the brunt of an abusive parent's wrath, but of what it means to have the courage to leave. (Apr.)[Page 60]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.