Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Confessions of Joan the Tall

Confessions of Joan the Tall by Joan Cusack Handler
CavanKerry Press, 11/13/2012
Trade Paperback, 260 pages
ISBN-13: 9781933880334

A memoir written in the voice of a twelve year old Irish Catholic girl living in the Bronx in 1954, Confessions recounts one year in the life of Joan, a very tall, religious, funny, self-conscious, emotionally imprisoned, lovable girl whose journey takes her from innocence, isolation, and inhibition to the beginnings of freedom and awakening. Fiercely committed to seeing only the good, the Joan who greets us is flush with the beauty of life and the Lord. Gradually, however, she sinks into the devastation of adolescent self-consciousness over her many problems including her unusual height, unbridled guilt, and conflicted, often painful, relationships with family.

Confused by her Catholic commitment to confess all one’s wrongs on the one hand and her mothers’ dictate to say nothing of what happens inside the family ‘four walls’, Joan struggles to find a place where she can reveal all that torments her—this relief she finds in her notebook. In this ‘place’ of solace and grace--the format, a kind of Confession--Joan is freed to know and reveal herself in all her flaws and frailties.

My Thoughts:
Confessions of Joan the Tall is an extraordinary memoir that recounts a year in the life of author Joan Cusack Handler. In a seemingly simple style, Joan Cusack Handler manages to capture the anxiety she felt over her perceived lack of piety and her way above average height. Set in the mid-50's in the Bronx, eleven (but almost twelve)year-old, Joan is the third child in an Irish Catholic family of four. Written as a series of short journal entries, Joan confesses her concerns over her devotion to God, her sins (including hating her brother Sonny), and her anxiety caused by having a small bladder and tall height (almost 6 feet tall).
Confessions of Joan the Tall is an honest, surprisingly poignant memoir that explores the thoughts of an 11 year old girl dealing with the pressures of her life. Chiefly among these pressures is her Catholicism, which burdens her with concerns over not being good enough or disappointing Jesus, her church, and family. While I was not raised Catholic, I can certainly understand that expectations from anyone can burden you with anxiety if you chose to try to live up to those standards. I think growing up Catholic might give you an even greater, deeper understanding of some of Joan's concerns.
When compared to young almost 12 year old girls today, Joan's thoughts may seem immature, but for those of us who are a little older, it is very easy to empathize with young Joan. Some things, like Joan's anxiety over the day everyone's height is measured at her parochial school, certainly bring back to mind the days when everyone in my public school was measured and weighed all together and comments were made without any regard to the feelings of the children being herded through the line.
Confessions of Joan the Tall is written in the voice of eleven-and-a-half-year-old year old Joan. I felt that Joan Cusack Handler was quite successful writing in capturing the angst young people feel. Even while Joan is in the throes of anxiety, there are witty, humorous sections right alongside touching, painful passages. As you progress through this year in Joan's life, you will see personal growth as she begins to recognize alternate ways to view her family and their actions, as well as her height. This is such a tumulus time in any adolescence life... as my adult daughter would say, "Damn you, puberty."

I would Very Highly Recommend Confessions of Joan the Tall, especially for anyone who grew up Catholic and went to parochial school.
Let me also mention that the cover of Confessions of Joan the Tall  is gorgeous and the book itself is of superior quality. It would make a wonderful gift.
This is the first book in a new library of books being offered by CavanKerry Press.  In their own words: “In keeping with our thematic emphasis for all of our books on Lives Brought to Life, CavanKerry Press is proud to announce the addition of Memoir to our publishing program. Confessions of Joan the Tall is the inaugural volume on Cavan Kerry’s Memoir List.”
Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the CavanKerry Press and TLC for review purposes. 

Bronx native, JOAN CUSACK HANDLER has two published poetry collections—GlOrious and The Red Canoe: Love in Its Making, and two anthologies that she’s edited: The Waiting Room Reader: Stories to Keep You Company, Vol.1 and The Breath of Parted Lips: Voices from The Robert Frost Place, Vol.1. Confessions is her first full length prose book. Recipient of five Pushcart nominations and a Sampler Award from The Boston Review, her poems have appeared in Agni, Boston Review, Poetry East and The New York Times and her prose, including chapters from Confessions of Joan the Tall, in Indiana Review, Tampa Review, and Southern Humanities Review. In all of her literary work, Handler’s aesthetic project is the exploration of voice—its evolution and recreation on the page. In her other lives, she is the founder/publisher of CavanKerry Press Ltd. and a psychologist in clinical practice.

(The giveaway has ended and a winner has been notified.)


Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this one. I'm interested in your description of the physical book - I love it when a book both looks AND feels beautiful.

Thanks for being on the tour.

Jane said...

I remember how awful I felt at that age!