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My Mother’s Keeper—A Daughter’s Memoir of Growing Up in the Shadow of Schizophrenia
by Tara Elgin HolleyTara Elgin Holley’s My Mother’s Keeper—A Daughter’s Memoir of Growing Up in the Shadow of Schizophrenia is an exceptionally readable book. Although the book’s central focus is on the schizophrenia of the author’s mother, Dawn Elgin, it also tells of the beginnings of an extraordinary and celebrated life. Similarly, Tara’s life, particularly as a child, was like a novel. Together they epitomized the bond between a mother and daughter, even though their lives were often separate and far from traditional.
Dawn began a professional singing career at age 15, but her illness struck at about age 20. Tara was born at this time in New York City, both of them far away from family in California and Texas. They returned to California to live with Dawn’s parents, and Tara began a long struggle to reunite with her mother and win her back from the illness. Tara did not live with her mother much during her early childhood and adolescence. She continually reached for a familial connection, even though at times she struggled with shame over the untreated illness her mother exhibited around town. Into adulthood Tara continued trying to both help her mother directly and obtain medical assistance. This book is the story of the lives of Tara and Dawn, the story of a person with schizophrenia and a family member’s struggles. Dawn’s illness led her to fight against hospitalization. She frequently was noncompliant with her medications, and she spent many years homeless, much of the time living in a world of delusions and hallucinations. Tara fought the familiar fights: self-recrimination; trying to get Dawn the care she needed; and trying to ensure that Dawn took her medication, had housing, and had money for food, shelter, and clothing. And, she did all this while trying to grow as a person, earn a living, and go to school.
At the end of the book, Dawn is receiving the care she needs. There is no cure, but her and Tara’s life struggle has brought them to a point where the illness is not winning so often anymore. Those with schizophrenia and their families will strongly connect with Dawn and Tara. They will nod with acknowledgment at the struggles and rejoice in the resolution (whether tentative or not). Joe Holley, Tara’s husband, is the writer of the prologue and epilogue, which are very useful additions to the book. But on the whole, the book very much has the sound of being Tara’s voice.
NAMI RDS No. 157. My Mother’s Keeper—A Daughter’s Memoir of Growing Up in the Shadow of Schizophrenia by Tara Elgin Holley with Joe Holley. William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1997. 381 pp. $21.85.