Everything That Makes You … Dauntless

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.


  1. This made me cry. I love this. I am going to read “Divergent.” And you win the award, which I am just now making up, for Best and Most Unexpected Book Mashup Review.

    Can’t wait to see what you come up with in part 2.

  2. This really took my breath away, Megan.

    I have not seen or read Divergent. I guess I need to put that on my list.

  3. Amazing, Megan. I’ve had NO interest in any of these dystopian films or books, but this right here? Makes it a big ole maybe. Beautifully done. And I love the word Dauntless.

  4. This made me cry too — and I haven’t seen or read Divergent either — now I want to.

    I love what you said about your mother/our mothers. They are strong when we see them as weak. They are loyal when we see them as weak. And, above all, they are loving, even when we see them as weak.

    I owe my mother an apology, or two, or three, or 100.

    I’ve seen her through the eyes of judgement for far too long. Thank you for reminding me to always choose Love.

  5. Wow. Just – wow. And I love the books. They did a good job with the movie – sort of like the Harry Potter movies, details had to be kept out for time reasons but they kept the spirit of the story.

    There’s no doubt my mom is dauntless…I’m trying to find that in myself.

  6. I never thought about that scene in that way…..i read your may 7 post first and then this one, i love both.

  7. I have been so *dang* mad at my mom who is struggling to control heart disease…while I try to take care of my dad who being treated with every poison in the pharmacy for multiple myeloma. They aren’t married and haven’t been since I was twelve, thirty-eight years ago. I want to her to be Dauntless but she isn’t, not yet…

    Got Laura’s book and plan to work through it with my twin. I need her to help me jog my memory. I’m waiting for the book to tell me when it’s the right time. Today isn’t it, but I keep it on the table where I can see it. Hopeful.

  8. Megan, The timing of my reading this is perfect—as I prepare to enter into an experience different from anything I have ever done. It is all good stuff but requires me to dig deep within myself and unlock some personal chains. I want to find Dauntless throughout and after this project. Have to read Divergent!

  9. I am so grateful Megan for you and your words today — 1) Because I have seen the Divergent series — and forgotten much of it — but the Dauntless moment in the hallway — I remember it now! YES!
    2) My mother at 94 is in hospital after a nasty fall. My sister and I had to clear out her old apartment as she will require a greater level of care once she leaves the hospital — I was given the task of sorting through all my mothers files and papers and photos — she kept everything! So many things I did not know in all those papers — and now, my eldest daughter is here to write her story — part fiction/part memoir.
    3) You remind me that my mother too was ‘stronger than I think’. Or remember.
    4) The stories I know of my mother are mostly through my frame of reference — and that’s pretty narrow!

    So… thank you! YOu have widened my view and I like the wide and long view so much better, especially when framed through compassion, acceptance and Love.