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Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite
Debbie Russell's Crossing Fifty-One: Not Quite a Memoir is a touching reflection on familial history that doubles as a personal exploration of the author's own identity. The book follows Russell's journey as she faces her father's terminal illness, exploring her ancestry as a means of coming to terms with her grief. Through her research, Russell uncovers a volume written by her great-grandfather, a man of ego and destiny, whose characteristics mirror her own. Russell goes on to examine the scientific basis of her genetic traits, a concept that she believes is informed by both the men and women in her family. Her grandfather, a medical doctor, passed down a wealth of knowledge to her father who, in turn, passed on his loving nature to Russell. Ultimately, Crossing Fifty-One serves as a reminder that our familial histories are often deeply ingrained within us, shaping who we are and who we will become.
I am a person who deeply believes that there is more to ourselves from a scientific perspective than we allow a less informed world to lead us to believe. If you ask some members of my family what their religion is, they will tell you it is academia. While that is only half of my stance, coming across the unique idea behind Debbie Russell's Crossing Fifty-One wasn't a tough sell to me. Here is an author who had done some serious homework and all I had to do was pick a comfortable chair and let her tell me how it went. The writing is exceptional, and the delicate balancing act between the tangible science and the emotional journey is really, really well done. I found myself choked up multiple times and had difficulty putting the book down even though it was past my bedtime. For me, Russell shines as an author when she is up to her elbows in the history of her grandparents. Memoirs are tricky when their subject isn't a famous person or someone we know. Russell simplifies this because, truly, she doesn't know them either. We know how the part with Dad will end, although I admit I almost had to take a day off work after the business with Muffin, but I can't blame Russell for that. As she says, “It’s much harder to dig inside ourselves and try to figure out how we contribute to our own problems. It’s my current struggle. Every. Single. Day.” Very highly recommended.