A Speical Event With Poet
JOAN CUSACK HANDLER
Joan Cusack Handler gives us a powerful memoir written in the voice of a twelve year old Irish Catholic girl living in the Bronx in 1954, Confessions recounts one year in the life of Joan, a very tall, religious, funny, self-conscious, emotionally imprisoned, lovable girl whose journey takes her from innocence, isolation, and inhibition to the beginnings of freedom and awakening. Fiercely committed to seeing only the good, the Joan who greets us is flush with the beauty of life and the Lord. Gradually, howe…ver, she sinks into the devastation of adolescent self-consciousness over her many problems including her unusual height, unbridled guilt, and conflicted, often painful, relationships with family.
Confused by her Catholic commitment to confess all one’s wrongs on the one hand and her mothers’ dictate to say nothing of what happens inside the family ‘four walls’, Joan struggles to find a place where she can reveal all that torments her—this relief she finds in her notebook. In this ‘place’ of solace and grace–the format, a kind of Confession–Joan is freed to know and reveal herself in all her flaws and frailties.
Recommended reading for all ages—preteen to adult, Confessions is the product of Handler’s dual professions, writer and psychologist, which place her in a unique position to explore the psychological truth of such a complicated character and family.
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Confessions of Joan the Tallis a truly remarkable book. It captures both the complex emotions of an adolescent in an ethnic, working-class neighborhood, and the unwritten social and spiritual rules of 1950s American Catholicism. Somehow, though told in the voice of a young girl, the story has about it a psychological and emotional subtlety and complexity that is fully mature. It’s impossible not to like Joan, impossible not to feel for her in the depths of her coming of age struggles, and impossible for anyone raised in a devout Catholic family to keep from smiling and nodding at the author’s insights into the Roman Catholic mindset. It’s a book that can be enjoyed by anyone between the ages of ten and a hundred—Catholics and non-Catholics alike– a real literary achievement that I both enjoyed and admired. I wanted it to go on and on. —Roland Merullo
Confessions of Joan the Tall is a splendid book, and Joan the Tall is a splendid girl—brave, effervescent and vulnerable. She flubs the rules of the Catholic church, she flubs the rules of family life, and amidst the quandaries, sins, punishments, and totally divine greedy moments in this story of her Irish American family, she grows into what tallness can mean—the ability to see from a mountaintop. From her devout father to her feisty mother, from her well-groomed sister to her brothers–both bullies and allies–and from her big shoes to her fabulous white bathing suit, Joan grows, showing us (and herself) what it means to be larger than life. —Molly Peacock
In this memoir, Handler creates a vivid portrait of a particular place and time, a Catholic neighborhood in the Bronx in the early 1950s. The author writes in the voice of a younger self, recording daily adolescent life in a diary, where she struggles with issues of physical image, popularity, family loyalty, right and wrong, and all in the context of a community bound together by a common faith. We ache for Joan as she stands alone at a local dance, pretending to read the notices on the bulletin board. And we feel tremendous pleasure as she begins to grow beyond the confines of her world and to glimpse the alluring promise of future happiness. —Michelle Blake
An unflinching evocation of a Catholic girlhood. In short chapters that touch on nodes of great feeling, she summons up both torment and tenderness. The reader is ushered into a world which reaches from the rooms of her Irish immigrant house in the Bronx to the mysteries of religious feeling. The narrator is beautifully alive to the endless hazards, complications and indignities of growing up. So much of the wisdom of childhood lies in the strange blend of endurance and enchantment. Joan Handler has a sure feeling for both. —Baron Wormser
We are engrossed by the often painful story of a child trapped in an obedience-based working class Catholic family, a demanding and usually unforgiving Church, and an environment seeming devoid of gentleness and pleasure. Unforgettable. —Mickey Pearlman
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