Mikey and Me: Life with my Exceptional Sister

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Thank You to She Writes Press for providing me with an advance copy of Teresa Sullivan’s memoir, Mikey and Me: Life with my Exceptional Sister, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT – In her memoir, Mikey and Me: Life with my Exceptional Sister, Teresa Sullivan recounts growing up with her older sister, Micky, who is blind, non-verbal, and has brain damage. Although her entire family loves Mikey immensely and they do everything possible to make Mikey’s life better, caring for Mikey takes a toll on everyone. Sullivan’s memoir explores the impact of Mikey and how having a special needs sibling shaped her life.

LIKE – I couldn’t put Sullivan’s memoir down and I read it in one sitting. The specifics of Sullivan’s story and her willingness to share her life in a raw, honest manner, made her memoir a page-turner. I just kept reading, because I had to know if Mikey and the rest of her family were going to be okay. It’s an intense and uncertain read.

Although they try their best to keep Mikey at home, an incident occurs where the courts get involved and Mikey is placed into a facility against her families wishes. They visit her at every opportunity, including visits where she is allowed to come home for the weekend, but Mikey’s placement in a facility forever changes Sullivan’s family. A piece is missing without Mikey and they all feel guilt in their inability to protect her, especially when they discover that she is being abused in the system. Sullivan turns to drugs and wild behavior in her teen years, her mother gambles and has an affair, and her father turns to alcohol. The entire family dynamic breaks down. It’s heartbreaking, especially the horrific abuse Mikey suffers.

Mikey and Me made me feel shattered. I finished it last week and couldn’t manage to write the review until today, because I’m still deeply affected and upset by what I read.

DISLIKE– Nothing. The subject matter is tough to read, but Sullivan has written a beautiful tribute to her sister. There is so much love that she has for Mikey.

RECOMMEND– Yes. Mikey and Me is a devastating memoir, but also an important one. Although, as a society we have come a long way in understanding and integrating people with special needs ( especially during the 60’s/70’s where a bulk of Sullivan’s memoir takes place), there is much more than should be done. Sullivan shares not only her experiences with her sister, but she speaks for other families with loved ones who have special needs. She speaks to a need for not only showing compassion and protecting, but to also inclusion for vulnerable members of our society. She also speaks for siblings, who often transition into a caregiving role as their parent’s age and pass away. This is an important memoir.

A Stitch of Time: The Year a Brain Injury Changed My Language and Life

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Thank You to Simon & Schuster for providing me with an advanced copy of Lauren Marks’ memoir, A Stitch of Time: The Year a Brain Injury Changed My Language and Life, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Lauren Marks is just twenty-seven years old, when she suffers a brain aneurysm while karaoking at a dive bar with friends in Edinburgh. She is rushed to a hospital in Scotland and her parents catch the first flight from California to be with her, unsure if she will survive the emergency operation. Marks does survive, and in A Stitch of Time, she chronicles her recovery. Until her aneurysm, Marks was an actress and writer, her keen ability with language was a huge part of her personality. Post aneurysm, Marks has Aphasia, making it difficult for her to understand or express herself through language. Through rehabilitation, Marks is able to recover her use of language, but her life and dreams are forever altered.

LIKE -Early on in her rehabilitation, Marks had the foresight to keep a journal and document her progress. Some of what she writes is incoherent and it’s rampant with misspellings, however, it  offers a glimpse into the way her brain has been affected by Aphasia, and it’s clear that through hard work, she has regained much of her language abilities.

I was shocked when she mentioned that many doctors think that a patient has six months maximum after their accident, to regain their language, and after that time, they likely won’t have significant progress. Marks is proof that this time marker doesn’t mean much. As she mentions, and I’m inclined to believe, the six months seems to be more in line with money and insurance payments, rather than what is best for the patient. It hurt my heart to read about Marks’ struggle with getting her insurance company to approve her much needed therapy and also that she was left saddled with debt. She doesn’t mention this in great detail, but enough to have that heavy reminder of our broken health care system.

I think this might be the first memoir I’ve read regarding brain aneurysms and Aphasia. I have been the care-taker for family members with dementia, which while not the same thing that Marks experienced, it did leave me interested in the subject of brain injuries and how the brain works. Marks does a wonderful job at explaining scientific and medical terminology in a way that makes it accessible for any reader. She also does a great job at blending the medical world with her personal life, giving her memoir balance.

When she had her aneurysm, Marks had to leave her life in NYC, where she about to start teaching, to move back home with her parents in California. She was essentially stripped of the direction her life was heading, and even when she began to recover enough to resume elements of her former life, her goals had changed. Many of her friends were getting married, having children, and seeing their careers take-off. Late twenties is a pivotal time for many people and Marks was forced to take a step back. I appreciated her calm perspective and the way she took this change in stride, even as she noted what she was missing out on.

DISLIKE– Nothing. A Stitch of Time is fascinating and affecting.

RECOMMEND– Absolutely. I know several people who have family members with brain injuries and I know that, A Stitch of Time, would be an informative read, but really, this is a fascinating topic for anyone. It would also be a good choice for anyone who is experiencing a major life-change or set-back and needs a dose of inspiration. Marks’ story is inspirational.