By Ekta R. Garg
March 7, 2012
Rated: Bookmark it!
“No one comes to my house. No one. Ever. It’s a rule. It’s a law. It’s survival, at least for me…because my parents drink. A lot.” So begins first-time author Kat Kirst’s book, Surviving My Family, a young-adult novel told from the point of view of thirteen-year-old Sharon Mason. In her dedication Kirst thanks her parents for sheltering her from this kind of life, but a lack of firsthand experience certainly doesn’t prevent Kirst’s book from providing readers with a compelling tale.
As long as Sharon Mason can remember, her parents have spent every day drinking. Thanks to residual checks from the hard work of a previous generation, Sharon’s parents aren’t required to present themselves at an actual job every day, which, Sharon says, is just as well. Her parents are barely capable of walking across the living room without running into something and injuring themselves. Driving to a job and trying to function in that job would be downright disastrous.
Sharon is the middle sibling of three. Her younger sister, Trish, is in fifth grade and depends on Sharon to keep situations under control. Their older brother, James, walked out on the family after reaching his absolute limit and not being able to take the drinking anymore. James reassures the girls he will return for them one day, but for the moment he has joined the army. Although Sharon understands James’ intense desire to “blow this popsicle stand” (a saying she learned from her grandfather,) she misses James deeply. Her only mission in life now, she knows, is to protect Trish from their parents until she gets old enough to get both of them out of their home.
Things seem to progress smoothly until a new girl, Becca, joins Sharon’s school and quickly becomes Sharon’s new best friend. Sharon goes from functioning like a mini adult—cleaning up as much of the house as she can, taking care of her parents when they fall and injure themselves, feeding herself and Trish—to wanting to do things normal thirteen-year-olds do. Having a good friend live in the same neighborhood distracts Sharon from the burdens of her life, although Sharon remains careful never to reveal to Becca or anyone else just what goes on at home—until one day the situation spins so far out of Sharon’s control that she no longer has a choice. She can’t hide anymore.
As aforementioned author Kat Kirst has not lived through the experiences Sharon describes, but as a teacher for almost three decades she’s built several close friendships with students who have. Kirst wrote Surviving My Family based on the experiences described to her by those students, and combined with her firsthand knowledge of junior high students and their vernacular she has a powerful story on her hands. She doesn’t mince words, instead providing readers with enough information to convey the truly life-altering reality of having an alcoholic for a parent. Minor subplots help move the story along and offer respite at just the right moments from Sharon’s predicament, and the story overall makes readers feel like surely they knew someone like this or knew someone who knew someone who must have undergone this daily tragedy.
Surviving My Family is a must read for adults and its targeted audience alike. Young people living this life will find the book a comforting alternative to their own challenges; people fortunate enough not to have family members fall prey to this disease will gain an appreciation for the far-reaching effects of alcoholism.
What the ratings mean:
Bookmark it!–Read this book and then buy it and add it to to your own collection. It’s definitely worth it!
Borrow it–Check this one out from the library; it’s a worthy read, but think twice before spending your hard-earned money on it.
Bypass it–Free time is precious. Don’t spend it on this book!