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Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite
Just as I was about to write this review, I came across this statement in a writing article: “The best characters are those you think about long after finishing a story.” How true that is, and it is how I felt about Leslie Ferguson and her mother after I finished reading her memoir When I Was Her Daughter. The title itself was puzzling: I felt compelled to find out just what Leslie meant by it. By the time I finished her harrowing tale of childhood abuse, like Leslie, I was relieved that she was no longer the daughter of Roberta, one of the strangest mothers I’ve ever met in any story.
Though Leslie’s early years were vastly different from my own, as a victim of childhood abuse, I immediately related to her ambiguous feelings toward her abusive mother, as will other survivors of abuse. But for those who have been lucky enough to be raised by kind, loving parents, Leslie’s memoir will be an eye-opening read. Leslie’s mother, Roberta, heard voices, and her compulsion to heed the warnings and messages delivered by those voices nearly cost her children's and her life on more than one occasion. She was constantly on the run to protect her children. She sensed predators everywhere: the government, transport trucks, communists…you name it…were all coming for them. She even believed her children had been programmed in school and tried to keep them from attending.
With Leslie and her little brother starving most of the time as they slept in parks, bit by bit, Leslie too was becoming paranoid. She was afraid to trust her own thoughts and feelings, simultaneously loving and hating Roberta, wanting to be with her but terrified when she was. Leslie didn’t know what to believe. Was her mother right or crazy? Did her mother love them or hate them? What a horrible way to grow up! Leslie Ferguson delivers her memoir in short narrative chapters focused primarily on how she felt about what she and her brother were experiencing. Like so many true stories of childhood abuse, the devil is in the details so this is a memoir best experienced by readers themselves. As that opening quote states, the best characters are those who keep you thinking about them after you finish reading. You will certainly find yourself doing that with When I Was Her Daughter for, like any well-written memoir, these characters aren’t figments of the author’s imagination.