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This morning I have an interesting book to share with you. While the Catholic faith is woven throughout the pages, it could be a great read for anyone who enjoys a ‘coming of age’ type of book.
About Confessions of Joan the Tall
A coming of age memoir written in the voice of a twelve year old Irish Catholic girl living in the Bronx in 1954, Confessions recounts one year in the life of Joan, a very tall, religious, funny, self-conscious, obsessive, resilient, guilt ridden, emotionally imprisoned, lovable girl whose journey takes her from innocence, isolation, and inhibition to the beginnings of freedom and awakening. Fiercely committed to seeing only the good –be it in her family or the world, the Joan who greets us is flush with the beauty and pleasure of family and the Lord.
Gradually however, she sinks into the devastation of adolescent self consciousness over her many physical problems including her height, her weak bladder and her body’s eruption with boils and colitis all of which set her off from the boys and girls her age and open her up to ridicule of the most vicious kind. Her battles are also spiritual: her unbridled guilt and view of herself as a sinner far from the girl Jesus and her father want and deserve and her abject terror of “having to be a nun”; and familial as well: her ambivalent relationships with her parents and siblings which deteriorate into extremely painful interactions and betrayals. Of particular importance are her relationships with her parents–while her father is the adored saintly ideal she struggles to model and please, her possessive often angry and withholding mother demands complete obedience of the very malleable Joan as she conducts her battle to control the family.
Confused by her Catholic commitment to confess all one’s wrongs on the one hand and her mothers’ dictate to say nothing of what happens inside the family ‘four walls’, Joan struggles to find a place where she can reveal all that torments her—this relief she finds in her notebook. And it is her compulsion to write her pain along with her resilience, maturity, her growing awareness of her parents’ imperfections, her sustained love affair with the beach and her emerging sexuality and attractiveness that ultimately save her and prepare her for life in the world outside her family and small community.
About Joan Cusack Handler
Publisher and senior editor of CavanKerry Press, Ltd., a not-for-profit literary press that serves both art and community, Joan has two published poetry collections– Glorious and The Red Canoe: Love in Its Making. Her poems have appeared in Agni, Boston Review, Poetry East and The New York Times among others. She’s received five Pushcart nominations and awards from The Boston Review andthe Chester H. Jones Foundation. She has also served as resident faculty at the Frost Place annual poetry festival. In her other life, she’s a psychologist in clinical practice.
My Thoughts About Confessions of Joan the Tall
I have to start off by saying that I read most of this book while confined to bed with an illness. For some, that’s a time when you don’t want to be doing much of anything. However, I found this title to be a great way to take my mind off my ails and reconnect me with my inner teenager.
Reading the rambling thoughts of young Joan, I found myself remembering having some of the same feelings expressed in the pages. I wasn’t nearly 6 foot tall at 12 (I’m a mere 5’ 6”.) However, I was basically this height by the time I turned 10 (in 5th grade) and was the only girl that I knew with ‘her friend’ at that age. I distinctly recall being taunted in middle school about being BIG, even with teachers in earshot of the incidents. So, I get being the oddball for physical traits that you have no control over and suffering (often in silence) from the teasing and feelings of not belonging. And, I most definitely understand why she’d relish positive attention from males when her body morphs towards womanhood.
Of course, being a cradle Catholic, I can also understand much of the quandaries she explores as someone coming into their own right and wondering if she is living in a way that honors both her dad and God. Granted, this title is reflecting upon a time pre-Vatican II with some definitely differences in how children were catechized and some differences in how the Church taught about sin. (Most children today have never even heard the terms venial and mortal in regard to sins. Personally, I do not think it a bad thing to pull out a Baltimore Catechism to help in catechesis.) Some of the sins (or perceived sins) that are fretted over in detail by Joan are things that many young adults today would not even have on their radar as being sinful. Regardless of someone’s personal perception on sin, it is refreshing to read a title where the protagonist is striving to live a holy life. I also love the inclusion of JMJ at the top of every page, just like my work at Catholic grade school always included.
Beyond the Catholicism and the struggles of a young girl who feels like a social outcast, there is also the thread of family life throughout the pages of the book. And, it is NOT a perfect family by any stretch of the imagination. While my own family background is a bit mixed with a predominance of Italian (so think food and lots of hugging!), I can definitely see the Irish propensity of keeping things within the 4 walls of the house being bared out in my husband’s Irish upbringing. While I can understand not airing all your dirty laundry for the world to see, I was a bit sad reading sections of the book where Joan feels that talking to a parent about troubles within the family would only make things worse. However, I recognize that no family is perfect and sibling problems are often not solved by involving a parent.
Confessions of Joan the Tall Giveaway
One lucky blog reader will win their own copy of this title. Entries are accepted via the Giveaway Tools form below through December 28, 2012. Open to US and Canada mailing addresses.
Disclaimer ~ We were sent a copy of the book to facilitate a review as part of a TLC Book Tour. No other compensation occurred and all opinions are our own. You can see what other reviewers thought of this title by visiting the Confessions of Joan the Tall Tour page.