Hamster Island is Heartwell's story of growing up ordinary in family that embodied dysfunction. Her childlike shame for her special needs siblings is balanced by a fierce love that, occasionally, enabled her to shed her diffidence and perform extraordinary feats of pluck and valor. Funny and heartbreaking simultaneously,
Hamster Island is a coming-of-age in the tradition of such darkly comic memoirs as Mary Karr's The Liars Club and Augusten Burroughs' Running with Scissors; it delights while exploring issues of identity, transformation, and responsibility.
My Thoughts: How do you live your own life when your family depends on you ninety-percent of the time? Reading this book has given me a glance as to the type a life one lives through with family that has special needs. It also gave me an understanding as to the type of person the author was.
The story that Joan told us was engaging and heartbreaking. Joan's attention to detail was superb. She relived her memories in a way that the reader was able to recreate it easily through the mind. There were moments in Joan's childhood that were quite fun and silly, while there were other moments that were simply sad and shocking. Reading how Joan survived the craziness of her family and not leaving them in the dust really showed what a strong person she was. I can't begin to imagine what it would be like to be in her shoes.
I would admit though that it was a bit tough reading this book. Not only because of the subject matter, but also because it felt a little too long. There were some events that did not need to be included in this book. I found myself skimming through some of these because the pace was too slow. Luckily, the rest of the book kept me engaged and had me wanting to know more about Joan and her family.
This book had me thinking a lot about people with special needs. I work in an elementary school with students who have special needs. It is a challenge to work with them but it must be even more tough working with them at home. As I continued to read this book, I began to wonder how adult life is for people with disabilities. Reading the last few pages of the book were cringing since it gave that example.
As a whole, this book was an eye opener. Yes, I had a hard time sometimes reading this book because of the pace but I found it interesting enough to read until the end. I rate this:
What people are saying:
“Bittersweet, engagingly written, and populated by a household of strong-willed, idiosyncratic characters, Hamster Island has, at its core, a conflict familiar to us all: How can we be good to others while also being good to ourselves? ...This tale of caregiving and self-actualization is unique, but it abounds with insights for us all.”
—Rachel Simon, New York Times bestselling author of Riding The Bus With My Sister
and The Story of Beautiful Girl
About the Author:
Joan Heartwell makes her living as a pen for hire, writing, editing and ghostwriting for a variety of private and corporate clients. She has had four novels published under another name and has a fifth one due out later in 2014.