Review: Modern Loss by Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner

Review: Modern Loss by Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle BirknerModern Loss: Candid Conversation About Grief. Beginners Welcome. by Rebecca Soffer, Gabrielle Birkner
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audioboook
Pages: 384
Published by Harper Wave on January 23rd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Inspired by the website that the New York Times hailed as "redefining mourning," this book is a fresh and irreverent examination into navigating grief and resilience in the age of social media, offering comfort and community for coping with the mess of loss through candid original essays from a variety of voices, accompanied by gorgeous two-color illustrations and wry infographics.

At a time when we mourn public figures and national tragedies with hashtags, where intimate posts about loss go viral and we receive automated birthday reminders for dead friends, it’s clear we are navigating new terrain without a road map.

Let’s face it: most of us have always had a difficult time talking about death and sharing our grief. We’re awkward and uncertain; we avoid, ignore, or even deny feelings of sadness; we offer platitudes; we send sympathy bouquets whittled out of fruit.

Enter Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner, who can help us do better. Each having lost parents as young adults, they co-founded Modern Loss, responding to a need to change the dialogue around the messy experience of grief. Now, in this wise and often funny book, they offer the insights of the Modern Loss community to help us cry, laugh, grieve, identify, and—above all—empathize.

Soffer and Birkner, along with forty guest contributors including Lucy Kalanithi, singer Amanda Palmer, and CNN’s Brian Stelter, reveal their own stories on a wide range of topics including triggers, sex, secrets, and inheritance. Accompanied by beautiful hand-drawn illustrations and witty "how to" cartoons, each contribution provides a unique perspective on loss as well as a remarkable life-affirming message.

Brutally honest and inspiring, Modern Loss invites us to talk intimately and humorously about grief, helping us confront the humanity (and mortality) we all share. Beginners welcome.

My Review:

I picked this book for a very specific reason. My mother died on December 25, 2017 and this is a book about dealing with grief and loss. Since I’m not quite sure how well I’m dealing with everything, it felt like a good time to see how other people do. Or don’t, as the case may be.

The authors met each other, founded their website, and wrote this book after both of them lost one or both of their parents at a relatively young age. Not necessarily the parents’ age, although that too. But their own. They both were “orphaned” in their 20s, at a time when most people’s parents are not just still living, but still thriving and still working.

Their personal stories resonated with me, but not so much in the present tense. My dad passed away at 63, when I was 34.We were both too young for that particular trauma, and in some ways I never got over it. I still dream that he’s alive and we’re talking about something or doing something together. It’s always a shock to wake up and remember that he’s gone, and that he died long before I met my husband. I think they’d have liked each other. I’m certain that they would have had some epic chess games.

And every time I have one of those dreams I wake up with a migraine. My dad died suddenly and unexpectedly. I think we still have unfinished business, business that will never be finished. I keep trying to dream it better, and can’t.

The book is a collection of stories and essays by people who have experienced the death of someone close to them. Not just parents, but also spouses, children, parental figures, and anyone else whose loss brought them profound grief. Or anger. Or all the stages of grief at once.

For someone grieving a loss, or who has ever grieved a loss, reading the book is cathartic. I was looking for answers because my reaction to my mother’s death has been so very different from my reaction to my dad’s, and I was looking for a kind of validation. I wanted to see if my reaction was, if not normal, at least somewhere within the normal range.

And now I know I’m not alone. My mom was 89 when she died. We did not always get along, but we did keep in touch. Her passing was not unexpected, and there was time to, if not finish all the business, at least resolve in my own head and heart that all the business was finished that was ever going to get finished. We were who we were, and there were topics that were just never going to get discussed and arguments that were never going to be resolved.

It is what it is. Or as my mom so often said, “what will be will be”. And so it is.

Reality Rating B: I found this book helpful, but difficult to review. In the end, what I’ve written above is personal, and in a way is similar to some of the personal narratives told in the book.

The individual essays are a very mixed bag. Some spoke to me, whether their situation resembled my own or not. Others did not. This is definitely a case where one’s mileage varies. And I’ll also say that I can’t imagine reading this book unless one had experienced this type of loss and was looking for something, whether that be validation, shared experience or just catharsis. Or even just to feel all the feels.

Everyone’s experience of loss is different, and as my own issues show, every loss, even experienced by the same person, is different. We change, and so do our relationships.

If you or someone you know is grieving and is the type of person who looks for answers in books, reading this one may prove cathartic, or at least affirming. There is no one true answer. Just a true answer for each of us alone.

I still have dreams about my dad, but not, at least so far, my mom. And that is what it is, too.

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Review: Carry On by Lisa Fenn

Review: Carry On by Lisa FennCarry On: a Story of Resilience, Redemption, and an Unlikely Family by Lisa Fenn
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 256
Published by Harper Wave on August 16th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

In the spirit of The Blind Side and Friday Night Lights comes a tender and profoundly moving memoir about an ESPN producer’s unexpected relationship with two disabled African-American wrestlers from inner-city Cleveland, and how these bonds—blossoming, ultimately, into a most unorthodox family—would transform their lives.
When award-winning ESPN producer Lisa Fenn returned to her hometown for a story about two wrestlers at one of Cleveland’s toughest public high schools, she had no idea that the trip would change her life. Both young men were disadvantaged students with significant physical disabilities. Dartanyon Crockett, the team’s best wrestler, was legally blind as a result of Leber’s disease; Leroy Sutton lost both his legs at eleven, when he was run over by a train. Brought together by wrestling, they had developed a brother-like bond as they worked to overcome their disabilities.
In their time developing the segment together, Fenn formed a profound connection with Dartanyon and Leroy. After earning their trust and their love, she realized she couldn’t just walk away when filming ended. These boys had had to overcome the odds too many times. Instead, Fenn dedicated herself to ensuring their success long after the reporting wqs finished and the story aired—and an unlikely family of three was formed.
The years ahead would be fraught with complex challenges, but Fenn stayed with the boys every step of the way—teaching them essential life skills, helping them heal old wounds and traumatic pasts, and providing the first steady and consistent support system they’d ever had.
This powerful memoir is one of love, hope, faith, and strength—a story about an unusual family and the courage to carry on, even in the most extraordinary circumstances.

My Review:

This isn’t the kind of book I usually read. But I heard the author speak at the American Library Association Annual Conference this year, and something about her story grabbed me. I picked up an ARC, and when the opportunity to join this tour came up, I remembered her speech, and her passion, and decided it was time to find out what she was talking about.

I didn’t watch the original video until just before writing this review. I think it is even more poignant now than it would have been earlier, knowing what I know about the story behind the story. It is a captivating film, and well worth watching. But it is only the beginning of the story, and not the end.

We see a brief portrait like the one that Lisa Fenn did of Dartanyon Crockett and Leroy Sutton back in 2009 and think that it tells us enough to find a way to solve the problem. In some ways, it’s like seeing footage of a natural disaster, and being moved to donate money to help the survivors.

Because that’s what Dartanyon and Leroy both are, survivors. But the often disastrous circumstances that made up their lives were not so easily solved. As Lisa Fenn discovered.

There are two stories in this book. One is the history that led up to Lisa going back home to Cleveland with her ESPN camera crew to film this amazing story of friendship and turn it into an award winning documentary. In order to tell the story of who the two young men had come to be, she had to dive back into all the circumstances that made them who they are. Not just Leroy’s tragic accident and Dartanyon’s congenital blindness, but the circumstances that made life so often precarious in poverty. A cycle that, even with the best will in the world, and all the resources made available by people touched by the video, proved incredibly resistant to cracking. And that’s the second story.

Lisa was supposed to remain distant and unattached. That’s what journalists do. She was supposed to tell the story, not become the story. They touched her heart in ways that she never expected, and she broke all the rules to help give them a chance to succeed beyond their wildest expectations.

It wasn’t easy for any of them, and it was often a journey of two steps forward and one step back, and sometimes the other way around. But it is a journey that compels the reader to follow, every step of the way.

Escape Rating A-: I didn’t expect to like this as much as I did. Instead of picking it up and putting it down for a couple of days, instead I picked it up and never put it down until I reached the end of the story. Which isn’t really an end. All of the principals in Carry On live on, in lives that have changed dramatically because of the events told here.

Having heard the author speak, I knew the trajectory of her account before I read it, and I still found it completely absorbing. This is not an easy story, and it is a story that will make you think, but it will draw you in and spit you out at the end, wrung out with emotion.

There was one thing that put this reader off. It is something that many readers will probably feel for, or believe more. Belief being the key. There is an evangelical tone to some of the story. The author commits herself to this cause at some points because she believes it is what she is called to do. Her faith is tangible to her, and a significant part of her story. But while I accept that this is what she believes, it is so far out of my own worldview that I find these points a bit jarring. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

If you are looking for a heartbreaking, heartwarming and uplifting story, Carry On is a great one.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.