3 out of 4 stars
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I'm always extra picky when it comes to autobiographies and memoirs. Many come off as self-centered bragging, and others can pretty much be summed up as "this is why none of the bad stuff that happened in my life is my fault". So it was a heck of a surprise when I finished reading Angels Always with Me: A Memoir of Faith, Love and Great Courage and didn't get a single whiff of the negative aspects of memoirs.
Angels Always with Me by Thom Barrett is a brief memoir of his life and the events that befell his multihandicapped children and wife. The 130-page book is broken up into 46 chapters, each of which is bite-sized and easy to read. In fact, aside from remembering the names of Thom's family members and a handful of friends and doctors, there's basically no information readers have to hold onto between chapters. For people with terrible memories (like me!), that's terrific news.
The chapters mostly focus on one event regarding Thom or his family. After a sad look at Ty's death (one of his sons) and eulogy, the book dives into Thom's own life. He does a terrific job of skipping from event to event, showing readers little snippets of interesting bits of his life through his marriage to Lynda and their growing family. Like any other family, they face plenty of ups and downs, but what I really appreciated about Angels Always with Me is that the ups are highlighted and the downs aren't overplayed.
Beginning the book with Ty's death - a death that was brought about by an accidental broken bone, no less - was a perfect way to link the book's concept with the next third of the book. I was surprised that so much of the book was about the author himself, but the stories were mostly light, humorous, insightful, and concise. This created a connection to Thom and made me care about the challenges he and Lynda faced, both with having children and raising them, and made the occasional darker chapter easier to read. The writing throughout was smooth and well edited (except the last chapter), and the pages flew by with every chance I had to read it.
With 46 total chapters, it's hard to pick a handful of favorites. The funniest is almost certainly the "welcome to the South" Thom and Lynda received when they moved to Asheville for a job. The company was kind enough to help set their new home up, and because they already had their bed set up they decided to unpack a bit. In the process of unpacking, they discovered a cassette recorder under their bed. They assumed it was there to record them overnight, and it was so disturbing that they almost left immediately. Thom decided to confront his new boss in the morning, but then at 3am it suddenly started playing Flatt and Scruggs music! There are also some terrific chapters that are more serious, such as the brilliant ideas people came up with to help Ty and Andy (their other son) with their treatment. Scattering change around for Ty to pick up on his walks in rehab so he could buy something from the vending machine was brilliant as it encouraged him to go on increasingly longer walks while rewarding him in the process. Thom also included the eulogies for Ty, Andy, and Lynda, and all three were terrific.
I really liked that the book showed the "good old days" when companies cared about their employees and customers more than their bottom line. Thom points this out in various ways, including the insurance company and numerous healthcare professionals that they were blessed with. I also loved the way Thom reveals how difficult even the simplest things can be with two multihandicapped kids. For example, they required special babysitters, and even a special summer camp was something that made Thom and Lynda so nervous they stuck by the phone the first year. One of the toughest decisions they made was sending Ty away to Stewart School. He learned to do lots of things he wouldn't have been able to otherwise, and it gave them more time with Andy at home. The decision wasn't one that Lynda's parents agreed with, and they made that fact very obvious.
Like life, Angels Always with Me wasn't perfect. With so many chapters in the book, I really would've loved a table of contents. Also, there's a bit of repetition in some of the chapters. Some facts are brought up two or three times, particularly things that are included in one of the eulogies and the information about aspirin not being linked to Reye's syndrome. Finally, while I only found two errors within the first 116 pages, I found at least 8 more on pages 117-118 alone. It felt like the last chapter wasn't edited at all, and almost all of those errors were spacing errors, such as "regular basis .She told".
I really enjoyed Angels Always with Me. It's an easy recommendation for anyone who's Christian, enjoys memoirs, likes uplifting books that blend touching moments, humorous moments, and insight, or who knows someone with handicapped children. Thom is quick to highlight people who he calls "angels" - people who are especially giving, kind, or go out of their way to do good things. There are some aspects that are nearly miraculous, and seeing just how good these people were made me want to be a better person myself! I can also recommend the book, oddly enough, for those who are authors. The last several chapters are focused on Thom's unique methods for selling the book and the (positive) reactions people have about it. These chapters are just like the others in that the author doesn't brag or come off as self-centered, but there ARE some terrific ideas. Just like the "angels" made me want to be a better person, these last chapters made me want to create something of my own and use these unique tactics.
Unfortunately, any book with at least ten errors cannot be given a score of 4 stars. If the last chapter was edited as well as the rest of this book, I would've had a really hard time choosing between 3 or 4 stars. As it is, the choice is made for me; Angels Always with Me is definitely worthy of 3 out of 4 stars.
angels always with me
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