My friend Laura Lynn Brown published “Everything That Makes You Mom” last year, but I didn’t read it until this year. What follows — this Wednesday and next — is a review (albeit a strange one). Laura’s book is part memoir, part writing exercise. She offers memories of her mother, interspersed with questions for you to answer about yours, such as, “Does she have a nickname for any of her gadgets?”
Tis the season when I really miss my mom — the run-up to Mother’s Day. She’s been gone for four years now. So, who knew that the worst possible/best possible choice for reading was “Divergent” by Veronica Roth.
“Go see the movie first and then read the book,” my daughter said, “because they change lots of things in the movie, but you’ll never read the book if you don’t see the movie.”
My daughter was right.
Here’s the dedication: “To my mother, who gave me the moment when Beatrice realizes how strong her mother is and wonders how she missed it for so long.”
I think I stopped breathing when I read that sentence. The point in the movie when Beatrice comes to this realization was my favorite part, and in the book, the realization about her mother is actually in two different parts. So, spoiler alert.
Quickie summary: When Beatrice, age 16, gets to chose what faction she will belong to for the rest of her days in this dystopian society, she chooses to leave her family’s faction, which is Abnegation (the selfless), and join Dauntless (the bad-ass fighters). I certainly would never have chosen Dauntless as my faction, but at 16, I would have chosen any faction other than the one my mother belonged to.
It wasn’t until Mom’s cancer returned after I had my own children that I began to see her struggle with the perspective that only adulthood brings. In some ways, it took her death for me to see her clearly.
One of Laura’s questions is, “What is something about your mother that you know only through someone else’s storytelling?”
Since my mother died, my dad has told me more of the story of her 29 years with cancer. I’m realizing that my parents told me the truth but not the whole truth, and that was appropriate because she first got cancer when I was 10. They never told me, for example, that when the radiologist got the results of the metastisis to her vertebrae, he dropped to his knees and said, “Oh, my God.” And that when her oncologist said to the radiologist that he thought he could buy her up to 18 months with a hysterectomy, the radiologist thought he was crazy. Her oncologist bought her 23 years of remission.
In the “Divergent” book, there’s a scene when Beatrice, now called Tris, and her mother talk in a dark hallway of the Dauntless compound on Visiting Day. Her mother gives Tris some unexpected advice, revealing that she knows a whole lot more about what’s going on than her daughter does. And the truth dawns on Tris:
“She has been to the compound before. She remembered this hallway. She knows about the initiation process. My mother was Dauntless.”
Squee! I think I actually squealed when I read that. Of course! Her mother was born into the bad-ass fighting faction and gave it all up for a life of service in Abnegation! Hallelujah!
When my mother had cancer all those years while I was growing up, I didn’t realize she was Dauntless. How did I miss it for so long?
I’m sure my daughter doesn’t see me as Dauntless either, and maybe I’m not. But Laura knows what Tris did not know and I did not know for a long time — that our mothers are strong. It just takes awhile for us to notice.