Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Review of 'How to Cook Your Daughter' by Jessica Hendra

 "How does a little girl find her way in a world where nothing is sacred? In 2004, Tony Hendra's memoir Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul, spent thirteen weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. The book detailed his life as a comedian who helped launch the careers of John Belushi and Chevy Chase, wrote for and edited The National Lampoon, and performed in such cult classics as This Is Spinal Tap, even as he overindulged in alcohol and drugs. But there was a glaring omission in his supposed tell-all confessional: the sexual abuse of his daughter Jessica. After more than thirty years of silence, Jessica faced a harrowing choice. In this powerful book, she reveals how she came to the decision to publicly confront her father, sacrificing any hope of reconciling with him and setting into motion a New York Times investigation that shocked the literary world when it broke the story of abuse. But Jessica's account is neither a minor footnote nor an angry response to her dad's bestseller. How to Cook Your Daughter -- titled after a satirical piece her father wrote only a few months before the abuse began -- is an unflinching and unsentimental look at a childhood that never was, set in a time and place straight from the pages of the outrageous magazine that her father helped to create. Against the backdrop of the 1970s New York comedy scene, the memoir traces Jessica's journey from a lost and abused child to a young woman struggling with bulimia and anorexia to the mother of two who becomes convinced that challenging her father is the only way to reclaim a life that never seemed her own."

This book (which I read several months, if not years ago) was what caused me to take an interest in memoirs.  It was between this one and 'Without You' which will be reviewed at a later time.  I thought I might as well post a review of it because it was so good that I remember it even after all of this time.  

At times, Jessica Hendra's book was hard to read.  Not because it was poorly written, but because of what she was saying.  There was tension when she spoke of her father.  You could tell that she loved him, but she also resented him for what happened to her.  She tells us, as her audience, exactly what happens and leaves out very few details (but I suppose we'd never know if she did leave anything out, however small.  We weren't there).  She tells us everything from seeing her father's memoir in the book store in the very beginning (and throughout as well) to going into the times when she was sexually abused by her father and the consequences that came with this trauma.

I liked how Jessica Hendra structured her book.  She would go through her past in chronological order and then disperse pieces of the present (also in chronological order) between anecdotes.  It worked really well for this memoir.

She is very articulate with her writing.  Of course, writing is in itself being articulate, but she seems to know just what she's going to say and how she's going to approach different aspects of her life without being too explicit that no one will want to finish reading this book or too flowery so that no one will take her seriously.  She has hit a wonderful balance in telling her side of the story.

I also appreciate how her story isn't outwardly bitter towards her father.  I feel like if she had, her anger would have gotten in the way of telling her story, so really, it only helped her.  While there was a tiny bit of tension, it was nothing that could make a reader uncomfortable.

Jessica Hendra's story is shocking.  As I read, I felt emotionally attached to what she was saying.  Her words moved me in a way that I can't say another book has before.

I give 'How to Cook Your Daughter*':
Thanks for reading!


*The title is based on the title of something her father wrote for the National Lampoon.

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