Saturday, April 20, 2013

Bloom - A Review

I was asked by TLC  to write a review for Kelle Hampton's book, Bloom. I was told to be honest and that they didn't object if my review was negative, which is the only reason I agreed. 

I had read a negative review of this book previously, here, so my expectations were pretty low. 

Not low enough, apparently. 

Kelle and I share something in common. We both received a
birth diagnosis of Down syndrome for a child. That alone should have fostered some kind of understanding. I expected to read her story with a kind of knowing empathy. 

I tried. I really did.

But, should you have to try to relate to the author of a book about "finding beauty in the unexpected?" Especially when you, yourself, have already done so?

I found her telling of her experience to be over the top and inauthentic. Her whole life seems to be one of extremes. The entire first half of the book is about her grief over having this, "normal, perfect, healthy baby" (according to her pediatrician.) Nella doesn't have any real health challenges and nursed like a champ, but Kelle "writhed in bed" with gut-wrenching grief, needing shifts of friends to hold her hand and bring her beer and make her laugh for FIVE days while she was allowed to room-in with her baby who was undergoing photo-therapy for jaundice.

I kept wanting to say, "Get over yourself, already!" (and may have actually done so on more than one occasion.)

I can't help but think that Kelle set herself up for some of that grief with her wild expectations that this birth, and the subsequent response of the people in her world, was going to be every bit as amazing and special as the birth of her first, complete with hand designed favors "ready to pass out the moment the room flooded with visitors." (emphasis mine.)

"....I had the anticipation of this utopian experience ahead of me."

Clearly, her first child, two-year-old at the time Lainey, was her whole world. That I understand as it was my experience with my first, as well. Unfortunately, the births of later children, while huge for the parents, are rarely as earth shattering as the first. 

I've no doubt that, even without Down syndrome, the birth of Nella would not have lived up to the utopian experience her mother anticipated. 

Indeed, little Nella is barely mentioned and certainly not the focus of Bloom. This book is all about Kelle.

One chapter in and I told my husband, "I don't know what I'm going to say in this review, but I'm pretty sure the words, 'narcissistic' and 'drivel' will be used."

Obviously, she holds a pretty high opinion of herself:
"But it was in this beautiful mess of my former self that true potential dwelled--potential to be molded and shaped by a grand defining moment. And when there is potential...there is greatness." (p. 148)

Other than the over the top, staged nature of her experience, I admit that it really bugged me that she never once even considers that she is not the only person on the planet who has faced a similar situation until the one hundred thirty-sixth page, and then only vaguely writes, "...it brought humility and the recognition that I am one of millions of human beings who experience pain and ultimately grow because of it." 

In fact, the only time she mentions the amazing Down syndrome community is negatively, when talking about spending time on the forums as "disturbing hours of torture like some sort of emotional cutting ritual," or as imparting some sort of wisdom to the rest of us through her blog or speaking engagements. 

The book is a strange mix of little nuggets of (mostly contrived) wisdom and crass language and anecdotes including a bizarre story of getting drunk and skinny dipping with the neighbors which seemed to serve no purpose in the retelling. It also has pictures...lots and lots of glossy pictures, most of which showcase Kelle, herself (thankfully, not skinny dipping.)

Kelle's disillusionment with the church rings loud in chapter two when she recounts the end of her parents' marriage. She claims the church thoroughly screwed her up and espouses some weak, feel good theology because of it and ends up patronizing people who still choose to be part of the church with a backhanded compliment:
I think there are people who find hope in Church - amazing people who love and give and work hard to bring good to the world - and perhaps don't understand that there is something bigger, something better, something that cannot be confined to four walls and a steeple or to a book or a sermon or a pastor. People seek comfort in rules and find security in establishments, but through every pain and joy in my life, I have drawn closer to the grander amazement that God is big and accessible and, like any parent who loves a child, he wants us to find joy and good in life. (p. 50, bolded mine)
Yeah, 'cause the rest of us are just hanging onto the crutch of unenlightenment. I've no doubt that people in the church failed her in some way. We, being human, don't always meet expectations and do sometimes screw up and fail people, but her generalization of "the Church" as a whole based on her singular experience is unfair and annoyed me. 

There was one thing that she shared in the second half to which I could finally relate. Her first experience in public (Target) with Nella in which she blurted to the clerk admiring the baby, "...we found out when she was born that she has Down syndrome." And her dad's response, "Kelle, why don't you just get her chromosome studies laminated on cards and pass them out to anyone who happens to glance our way," cracked me up. I remember blurting it to anyone and everyone, too. 

But, beyond that, her perception of her life is just too different from my reality.

I remember reading the book, Gifts, when Eon was still a baby. It is a collaborative book in which every chapter is a mother's story of her child with Down syndrome. Every single story resonated with me, no matter how different the experience from my own.

I really wanted to like this book. I really wanted to relate to the author, like I have with every other mother of a child with Down syndrome that I have encountered.

I just couldn't do it.

(While I wasn't paid for this review, I was given a copy of the book....which they probably now regret.)

8 comments:

  1. Not a glowing review, but having read the book... I would say it is a pretty accurate one.

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  2. Spot on. Though I would add that her blog writing has changed a bit since birthing her third child, a son.

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  3. Oh, I am SO glad I chose not to do a review of the book last year!!! When Kelle's Nella was born, her photography blog when instantly famous. I read her birth story and from that moment couldn't stomach the blog anymore. She cannot seem to go through any experience in life without taking 1000 pictures of it -perfect pictures - which makes me wonder if she ever just PARTICIPATES in her children's lives instead of just playing photographer. Her child couldn't even have a normal birthday part. It had to be insanely over the top. I know a lot of people loved her book (and her blog) I guess her style just isn't for me.

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    1. Yeah, Leah, I think you and I are just too "normal" to get it.;)

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  4. Thank you for this honest review. This book was on my list of books I wanted to read but having read your review it doesn't really sound my style so I don't think I'll bother.

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  5. I agree with your review, and love your disclaimer at the bottom of the post! :)

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  6. I'm sorry that this book didn't work for you, but thank you for your honest review for the tour.

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