3 out of 4 stars
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Behind Closed Doors by Daniella DeChristopher is a book that falls into the Non-Fiction genre. It is a combination of both a memoir and biography. The memoir component of the book details Daniella’s personal memories of her life growing up, and the unusual relationship she had with her mother, Josie. This has been cleverly combined with a biographical account of Josie’s life, as conveyed to Daniella by her Aunt Toni, following Josie’s death. The latter, while penned by Daniella, has been written in the first-person perspective through Toni’s eyes. Consolidating these stories has enabled Daniella to provide a chronological sequence of events, spanning from before her conception to the present era.
Behind Closed Doors opens with Daniella, aged 25, sitting in a jail cell, awaiting her attorney’s arrival. As she waits, she reflects on certain aspects of her life, and tries to make sense of the events leading up to her current predicament. The second chapter starts by explaining how, following Josie’s death, Daniella asked her Aunt Toni for any information she could give about her mother’s life. The story then changes to Toni’s perspective, as she begins to recall past events. Toni’s account spans from 1892, when her own parents were teenagers, through to the time when Daniella starts having her own recollection of events, around the age of six.
Toni tells how Josie was the youngest of 13 children, born to affluent Italian, Catholic parents. In the year 1949, at the tender age of 16, Josie fell pregnant out of wedlock. This was a time when abortion was not only a moral and ethical issue, but also a legal one. Disowned by her family, and with no means of financial support, Josie was forced into a loveless marriage in order to survive. She was 17 when she gave birth to Daniella. What follows is an account of the struggles Josie faced, and the lengths she went to, in an effort to protect both Daniella and herself. These challenges continued until, one day, when Daniella was five and a quarter, her mother took her to stay at someone’s house, promising to pick her up in a few days. Daniella was still there when she turned six. From here on, the narration changes to Daniella’s recollection of events, as she details how her mother’s actions impacted on her life, and the various coping mechanisms she developed over time. Finally, as Daniella reaches adulthood, she sets out to find some answers about her past.
This tale of survival touched on many important life issues including personal growth, understanding, acceptance and forgiveness. For me, personally, there was two particularly powerful messages. The first was how, when searching for truth, we do not always find what we hoped for. The second was that, while we cannot change our past, we can always choose to take control of our future.
I really enjoyed the way this story was compiled. By incorporating both Josie’s and Daniella’s stories, it ensured the reader did not receive a biased view of events. From early on, the reader was given ample opportunity to establish a bond with Josie and gain some insight into her personal circumstances before, during and after her pregnancy. When the account changed to Daniella’s perspective, Josie’s story stopped. This allowed the reader to share Daniella’s personal journey from childhood to adulthood, focusing on her thoughts, feelings and actions, while only having minimal knowledge of what was happening concurrently in Josie’s life. This was an effective way of enabling the reader to experience the same confusion, hurt and sadness Daniella felt. From this point onward, the reader maintained the same level of awareness and understanding of events as Daniella did and, as Daniella uncovered answers about her past, the reader simultaneously gained this knowledge.
The layout of the book was visually appealing, with each chapter number written in an attractive cursive font and adorned with the image of a tree. The writing flowed smoothly, and the descriptions were engaging. Unfortunately, while the spelling was practically faultless, there were several unnecessary or misplaced commas throughout the book, e.g. ‘Could they want to ask me, about Nickie?’ While these did not overly disrupt the flow of the story, they could easily be addressed with further editing. Another issue I found was that the transition from memoir to biography was not immediately clear. This was made more confusing by the fact it occurred mid-chapter. This issue may have been overcome by starting the biography with a new chapter and/or utilising a subtitle to show that the viewpoint had altered. The transition back from biography to memoir was smoother, due to starting from a fresh chapter, however, I still feel the use of a subtitle would have made the reader immediately aware that the perspective was about to change.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was an easy read and contained some valuable lessons to ponder. There were several incidents that occurred that I would never have predicted, but then again, life is unpredictable! I would like to congratulate the author for sharing her story, and for not glossing over the things she did that were not always right. It showed an honesty that I really admire. I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. I was unable to give 4 stars due to the presence of punctuation errors, and the unclear transition between perspectives, however, with further editing, this score would be higher.
I would recommend this book to people who enjoy narratives about the personal challenges others face, and the growth they experience as a result. Readers who like a story that offers some words of wisdom to contemplate further would also find it worthwhile. There is an element of unpredictability to this book, which I found refreshing, as not every aspect of this story has a happy, fairy-tale ending. This fact should particularly appeal to those who appreciate an honest account of details. I would, however, recommend caution to readers who are sensitive to the issue of domestic violence; they may struggle with certain aspects of this book.
Behind Closed Doors
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