10-pages-in book review: Come Back

by DaniGirl on May 1, 2006 · 12 comments

in 10-pages-in, Books

Today’s review is being written not at the 10-pages-in point, but after I have read the whole book. I’m glad I finished the book before I posted my review, too, because had I written it before I finished the book, it would likely have been a much less favourable review.

Today’s book is Come Back: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey Through Hell and Back. It is the shared memoir of Claire Fontaine and her 15 year-old-daughter Mia Fontaine, told in alternating first-person narrative. It follows Mia as she tumbles from seemingly happy, successful prep-school student to a drug-abusing, self-hating homeless teen on the run, and then follows her difficult recovery at boot camp-type schools in the Czech Republic and in rural Montana. It is a harrowing, painful, but ultimately redeeming story of a mother and daughter whose bond is stretched beyond capacity, but never breaks.

Claire Fontaine herself sent me an e-mail offering me this book to review, and I had a strong sense of obligation to keep reading it because of that. It was, especially at the beginning, a difficult book to read. Early in the book, Claire describes the abuse she and Mia suffered at the hands of her ex-husband. I found it nearly unbearable to consider the sexual abuse three-year-old Mia endured, and still can’t quite understand the denial and obliviousness that Claire claims upon realizing that it has had a traumatic and life-long impact on Mia.

It took me a while to invest in Claire and Mia emotionally, too. Mia’s early passages are full of contempt for her mother, her surroundings, herself – and it is difficult to reconcile this angry, troubled young woman with Claire’s insistence that Mia was a loving daughter who, at fifteen, still liked her mother to sing lullabies to her over the phone when her mother was working late – right up to the night Mia runs away from home. It’s hard to believe they are experiencing the same reality.

As Mia works through her recovery in a ‘school’ that has rules that require students to be locked down, be silent unless spoken to by staff, and line up heel-to-toe every time they move from one room to another (they are even forbidden from looking out the window), Claire is forced to face her own demons in a parallel recovery program for parents. I found Mia’s burgeoning self-awareness fascinating and redeeming, her mother’s slightly less so.

In the end, I’m glad I kept reading. Claire’s story of a mother’s determination to save her daughter is compelling, written with passion, hard-won insight and humour. It’s Mia’s story, though, that makes this book worth reading. Reflecting on her long journey, Mia writes:

It’s funny how things come full circle. Morova and Spring Creek’s philosophy is based primarily on accountability, of being aware of your choices so you don’t wake up miserable one morning and wonder how you got there. But, it’s ironic that the most powerful lesson I learned, the awareness that you alone create your reality, is one that children instinctively know. It never occurs to them that there’s anything that they can’t do or be. And it shouldn’t occur to adults, either; we’ve just grown accustomed to living with limitations.

I even learned a little bit about myself from this book. Claire, like someone we know who shall remain nameless, has control issues, and her insight into that through the parallel program for parents gave me insight into myself. And Mia’s examination of how it was her mother’s intense love that both impelled her to hide from that love in the dark world of drugs and worse also helped bring her back into the light gave me greater understanding of my own issues about needing parental affirmation.

I liked this book enough to share it, so I’m stealing an idea from Wonder Mom. I’ll pass this book along to a randomly selected commenter at the end of next week. If you’d like me to enter you into the draw, drop me a note in the comment box. To make it interesting, tell me something you did as a teenager that you hope your kids never do.

Edited to add: if you’d like more information about Claire and Mia Fontaine and some of the projects they are working on, or some resources for families dealing with abuse, you can visit their Web site at http://www.claireandmia.com.


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 suze May 1, 2006 at 2:53 pm

oh god, I was so good as a teenager it’s sickening. It was only in my 20s that I finally found my rebellion and my voice. So for my kids, I hope they never get so caught up in how they SHOULD behave and so afraid of disappointing people that they forget to live. Because, yeah. I wasted many years when I could have been getting into adventures because I was afraid of what might happen…

2 mom101 May 1, 2006 at 4:29 pm

Wow, you need to be writing real (aka published) book reviews if you aren’t already. Nicely done.

3 roxanne May 1, 2006 at 5:47 pm

I don’t have too many teenage experiences that I wouldn’t want my kids to do since I was a goody-goody back in the day. BUT there was once instance that I would hope them not to repeat….I was with my best friend, her boyfriend and his best friend (basically a blind date). We drove up to the top of the local dam which was a popular hangout for the local teens. Both guys were drinking vodka while we hung out and then, of course, we headed back down the hill. I knew at the time it wasn’t a good choice, but I couldn’t see too many other options. I consider myself lucky since many a teenager has died from drunk driving down that winding mountain road. Ironically, I almost lost my hubby to a drunk driver 3 years into our marriage. To this day, I always cringe whenever I hear people talking about driving “when I probably shouldn’t have” because of intoxication.
That sounds like an excellent book!
roxanne

4 nancy May 1, 2006 at 7:11 pm

Such a great review, very well written. I think I will read that book. Sign me up for the draw, or I’ll check my library. I am sending you a book – one we previously discussed.

5 Kristina May 1, 2006 at 8:25 pm

Wow, I totally identify with what Suze wrote. I hope my kids never waste years of their lives making every decision (conscious and unconscious) based on someone else’s yardstick.

6 Laura May 1, 2006 at 9:08 pm

Great review. The book sounds interesting though it always breaks my heart to hear about sexual abuse.
Something I did as a teenager that I hope my baby never does? Get involved with an older manipulative boyfriend. I want her to have the self-esteem & confidence to be able to say no when she needs to. Other than that, don’t skip as many classes in high school as I did trying to be cool.

7 JoJo May 2, 2006 at 9:35 pm

Oh Lord, where exactly do I start?
I don’t want my precious baby girl to the things I did like:
Date idiots.
Spend months pining after idiots.
Let other define my body image.
Choose an idiot over a friend.
Date idiots.
Try to fit my body into the media’s ideal.
Date idiots.
Put myself down to, are ya ready, DATE IDIOTS.
Now I hope she does these things I did:
Love your momma to pieces.
Realize your brother is not a total goober.
Invest in a passion.
love your friends but let them go if they drag ya down.
Realize it’s ok to change.
And love your momma to pieces.

8 Amy May 4, 2006 at 7:18 pm

I’m intrigued by your review. I’d love to read it. My circumstances are not the same, but the title speaks volumes to me because my mom and I were not and still aren’t close. The idea that you can come back is a nice one.
Worst thing I ever did? Lied to them plenty, but once when they left me alone over night (I think I was a senior in high school) I had all my friends (and their boyfriends) spend the night. People were not playing board games. Very very bad daughter.

9 Sue May 5, 2006 at 3:00 pm

I was the youngest of four in my family and saw all the trouble my siblings got into and decided early on to avoid the same trouble. By the time I hit my teens, I was insanely boring.
Thanks for this review. While I would like to read this book, I’m also a little gun-shy after reading “A Million Little Pieces.” I’m still trying to figure out the whole embellished autobiography thing. I’m not sure this fits in the same category, but something about your review as well as Phantom’s made me think of Frey’s book.

10 kathy a May 6, 2006 at 5:49 am

i would love to read this book! please please please let me be in the contest.
one of my teens went through a really bad patch at 15-16, but is ok now. it really blindsided us, and we struggled a great deal with what was wrong, what would help.
a book i really like is called “hold me close, let me go,” by adair lara. it recounts — mainly from her point of view — her daughter’s flameout as a teen, and how her daughter and she recovered, and eventually got along again. that one is not anonymous, and the characters are not composites.

11 Rachel Harriman July 19, 2006 at 8:39 pm

I went to spring creek.
That place was a JOKE. BULLSHIT.
..but i’d still like to read this book. Maybe I wont find the place so bad..

12 goggles June 5, 2007 at 1:49 am

Does anyone wonder if poor Mia was able to meet her paternal grandparents before they passed away, or has she met her sisters? Her siblings are probably lovely. At what expense does one shield reality, a teenage lullabye-get real!

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