“Some books can just be summed up in a few words. The words for this one: Honest. Brave. Beautiful.
“I’ve been working on this review for two days now, and I am still at a loss how to adequately sum up this book. It’s a story of a mother learning to accept her newborn son’s diagnosis of Down Syndrome. It’s a story of a woman who’s dealing with depression. It’s a story of a person who has been dealt an unexpected set of cards trying to come to terms with her faith and her community.
“It’s not the story that makes this book compelling, though it’s a compelling story. What drew me in, and kept me there even though I thought I couldn’t relate, was the writing. There’s always a self-indulgent aspect to memoirs: one has to think they’re unique or important enough to write a memoir in the first place. But Soper takes an incredibly unflinching, honest tone, and uses spare, beautiful writing. Both of these combine to give the book an emotional wallop, making Soper’s journey not only captivating, but accessible and understandable to those who haven’t had the same journey. We come to care about Soper and her family. We become emotionally invested in them and their lives.
“It’s also an unexpected story, which gives it a raw edge. Soper doesn’t take everything just fine. There are ups and downs, both emotionally and medically. It’s a hopeful ending — I almost wished for an epilogue; how is her son, Thomas now? — but it’s not a pat ending. There will be bumps down the road; Thomas will have medical problems, there will be discrimination, there will be trials. But, by the end, Soper (and the reader) have come to a new enlightened state, where everything is, if not happy, then at peace.
“I do have one more word: remarkable.”
“Soper’s memoir is heart-stopping, revealing and stunningly written. I laughed aloud in places. I sobbed in others. Maybe it’s because I recently had two premature babies of my own and the NICU period was fresh for me. Maybe it’s because my babies are boys and I too have dreams for their future. Maybe it is because I’m a mother and any mother can relate somehow to Soper’s experience.
“Soper is a gifted author. The beauty of her writing comes not only in her story-telling and word choice but in the deep honesty of what she has to share. She says it like it is. Her wrestle with despair, self-doubt, and personal bias. Her struggle with depression. The challenge of mothering six other children while trying to keep her marriage intact. Learning to meet Thomas’ changing needs. It’s all there. Raw and undiluted like balm for the battered spirit of a mother who aches to know she isn’t alone.
“Soper’s candor, subtle humor and uncommon depth will engage any reader. The book is a page-turner. One of the best memoirs I have read. Her story is one that needs to be told. One we have longed to hear. A story that leaves you burned in the bones, broken, transformed.
“Although Soper is LDS, she writes for readers everywhere, giving just enough background for a non-LDS audience to understand her story. She takes nothing for granted while gracefully explaining Mormon culture in concise and simple ways.
“The book is about discovery. About having courage to confront our own ignorance, fear, and prejudice. It is also about love, acceptance, and gratitude.
“W. B. Yeats wrote, “nothing can sole or whole that has not been rent.” Sometimes the very thing we worry will tear us apart becomes what we cannot live without. The source of our most abundant joy. So it was for Kathryn with Thomas.”
“After a difficult pregnancy with complications requiring hospitalization, Soper delivers her seventh child, Thomas, more than two months early, and is stunned to discover he has Down syndrome. More than anything else–especially the daunting and nebulous future of her son–Soper worries about how she will mother this child. How can she live up to the expectation inherent in parenting this child that some see as preternaturally blessed? . . . Soper believes she’s failing at “the only thing that matters” and finally hits rock bottom when she finds herself yelling at her own mother, the woman she tried so hard to emulate, and wishing that either her baby would die, or she, herself, would. . . .
“However, it’s not just the presence of the controversial issues that make Soper’s book powerful, nor is it the emotional upheaval of her baby’s birth and first year. What makes Soper’s story relatable and important is her willingness to write about the good (Thomas’s baby blessing is electrifying) and the bad (the way Thomas flinches every time he sees hands because he’s had so many medical procedures) and her unwillingness to rely on platitudes. . . . Soper’s choice to accept her weaknesses opens the door to true spiritual growth.
“If I had the money I would buy every single one of [my friends] a copy. This is a must-own for every mother. In the story of her baby with Down Syndrome and her struggle to love him and herself, Soper has embedded the story of every mother and the divinity that motherhood can cultivate within us. Soper is writing from a beautifully transcendent (although perhaps fleeting) place. And because of that the book is never preachy but still guides and uplifts. It is honest and gritty but never depressing.”
“Soper doesn’t flinch from sharing a full range of emotions, including loneliness, despair and deep depression, as she works through her grief and doubts. She writes of her fears — leaving Thomas at the hospital; bringing him home with various mechanical attachments (oxygen, apnea monitor); trying to meet the needs of children without losing herself; what it means to have a child with a disability in a culture that is not very comfortable with disabilities; knowing how and when to ask for and accept help. Soper also writes of the great sense of freedom, relief and joy that comes from facing your fears. I cried (a lot) and laughed (pretty hard) and recommended this book to three people within a week.”
–Julie Anderson for the National Down Syndrome Congress
“Soper describes challenges that made my head spin. She does this with gorgeous, graceful writing (and if you’ve read her blog posts you know what I mean), shining wit, playfulness and with breathtaking honesty. It’s the honesty that struck me most. She is devastated to find out her son Thomas has Down Syndrome. She does not pull any punches in describing the nuances of what she goes through and the upheaval she experiences in facing a lifetime of changed expectations and hopes. Kathryn has to rewrite much of the script she had penned for her life. This readjustment is hard work and she faces it with confusion, dismay and depression. That’s why this book is so important. She [“should”] be facing it with courage, determination, and faith that all is according to God’s plan. But that is not how it plays out in the book. And that is why this book is so important. She takes us to the trenches of how it feels to face this sort of life’s rewriting without suggesting that it all turns out OK in the end or that she has figured it all out. . . . She is a stunningly refreshing realist. And as such she torpedoed several stereotypes I had about Downs—and in doing so, does not sentimentalize their place in the world.
“I’ve never read a book like this that took me into the mind of a woman expressing herself so honestly and completely. . . . I suppose I did not see before the emotional depth of what it means to be a mother. The self-doubt. The confusion of multiple expectations. The constant demands. And demands. And demands. I learned things I never quite got. So this is not just a woman’s book (as I expect the target audience will be), for me it was a window into the female side of things. Deep and wise existential stuff here.”
“With rare transparency, [Soper] confronts a lifetime of ingrained cultural expectations of perfection. Through heart rendering experiences, she finds little Thomas to be perfect. But, her initial expectations of what it means to be the mother of a child with special needs makes her not always like what she sees in the mirror. . . .
“Told with unsentimental honesty and humor, Soper’s moving journey of self-discovery through Thomas’ first year of life takes her through a re-examination of her Mormon faith, her own (now distasteful) view of people with disabilities when she was growing up, as well as her own expectations of herself as a wife and mother.
“For those of us that have spent time in the NICU after a traumatic birth — or ever expected ourselves to be superhuman, the beautifully written transformation that unfolds in the book will be hard to put down.”
“This book moved me on many levels. Kathy didn’t sugar coat a thing as she shares intimately her emotions–negative and positive—and the roller coaster ride she is taking as she cares for and loves the gift that is Thomas.
“She has given us a gift in the process.
“No matter what I’m experiencing in my life, it is my tendency—actually, maybe a compulsion—to look for the stories of others who are experiencing the same thing, for validation and guidance. I know this book will bless the lives of countless families who deal with Down Syndrome and other difficulties with their babies.
“But it’s also a story of a marriage, of a mother-daughter relationship, of friendships, and of the uniquely complicated exchanges that occur in a [religious community] as people try to support, advise, empathize—and sometimes, criticize. Sometimes, I think, people just want to be a part of something important and so they say and do stupid things.
“For me, the message in Kathy’s book is ‘we are all human.'”