“I did not know that there are miles between running out of things to say, and running out of the strength to say them.”– Ashley C. Ford, “Somebody’s Daughter”
I wanted to love this book. When I read the synopsis of Somebody’s Daughter on Book of the Month Club, I was immediately drawn in. This was supposed to be a book all about a daughter’s experience with her incarcerated father. I was expecting some very emotional passages with a consistent message about families, or the prison system.
This book does not deliver that. Instead, it is mostly a series of memories that are loosely related and deal mostly with the author’s relationship with her mother. The author’s mother is both abusive and loving in turns. The author does not explore the effects of this back on forth on her own psyche, nor does she truly acknowledge the abuse. She rationalizes it or apologizes for it by empathizing with her mother’s feelings and experiences. I was sometimes horrified by the things her mother would do, but I did not get this same sense that the author realized something was wrong.
About half way though the book we learn what sent the father to prison. This knowledge was kept from the author until she was in her late teens. There is some acknowledgement of how this crime relates to the author’s own experiences, but when the author visits and writes about her father, this is never truly explored. I was waiting on a confrontation or at least an airing of this trauma between father and daughter and it never happened. This contributed to the lopsidedness of this book. Maybe 15% of the story is devoted to Ashley’s father, and the payoff doesn’t feel worth the set up as far as the novel is concerned.
Although it is well written, the lack of a cohesive narrative thread and the failure to meet marketed expectations make this one a two star read for me. I think this is both the fault of the marketing by the publisher and Book of the Month as well as a flaw within the narrative itself. I might recommend this to a very specific person here or there, but on the whole, I can’t recommend this book. I hate that. I really wanted to love it. The writing shows promise and I look forward to seeing what Ashley C. Ford publishes next.
“When you write about you and me? Just tell the truth. Your truth. Don’t worry about nobody’s feelings, especially not mine. You gotta be tough to tell your truth, but it’s the only thing worth doing next to loving somebody.”– Ashley C. Ford, “Somebody’s Daughter”
- writing is full of metaphors and strong imagery
- passages from Ford’s childhood have the realistic voice and mindset of a child
- the author’s intellect shines
- incorrectly marketed by both the publisher and Book of the Month, which sets up for unrealistic expectations
- no narrative thread to tie memories together
- does not explore or reckon with how the author reconciles her father’s crime with her own personal experience
- the mother’s emotional abuse is never described as abuse and is repeatedly excused or explained away by the author
“Ashley, you’re the only person who has to live in your skin, and wake up with the consequences of your choices. That’s why you can’t let other people make the big choices for you. You have to do what it feels right to do, and you can’t let anybody stop you.” I heard the stifled smile again. “Not even me.”– Ashley C. Ford, “Somebody’s Daughter”
- those looking for more memoirs by confident Black women
- those working through complex relationships with family, especially their mothers
Books to Read if You Loved Somebody’s Daughter:
- Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
- Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur
- Ariadne by Jennifer Saint (if you want a similar vibe but with Greek mythology and fantasy elements)
Let’s Discuss! (Pick a question and drop a comment with your reply!)
- What better support systems can we put in place for families of the incarcerated?
- Is it “cruel and unusual punishment” to limit human touch for the incarcerated during family visitation?
- Although this is not explored in the book, take a look at the language of the thirteenth amendment as it relates to incarceration and slave labor. How do you think this relates to the United States having the highest rate of incarcerated citizens per capita?