Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review: I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl by Kelle Groom

Title:I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl
Author:Kelle Groom
Publisher:Simon & Schuster
Imprint:Free Press
Pub. Date:06/07/2011
ISBN:1451616686 (ISBN13: 9781451616682)

At the age of fifteen, Kelle Groom found that alcohol allowed her to connect with people and explore intimacy in ways she’d never been able to experience before. She began drinking before class, often blacked out at bars, and fell into destructive relationships. At nineteen, already an out-of-control alcoholic, she was pregnant. Accepting the heartbreaking fact that she was incapable of taking care of her son herself, she gave him up for adoption to her aunt and uncle. They named him Tommy and took him home with them to Massachusetts. When he was nine months old, the boy was diagnosed with leukemia—but Kelle’s parents, wanting the best for her, kept her mostly in the dark about his health. When Tommy died he was only fourteen months old. Having lost him irretrievably, Kelle went into an accelerating downward spiral of self-destruction. She emerged from this free fall only when her desire to stop drinking connected her with those who helped her to get sober.

In stirring, hypnotic prose, I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl explores the most painful aspects of Kelle’s addiction and loss with unflinching honesty and bold determination. Urgent and vital, exquisite and raw, her story is as much about maternal love as it is about survival, as much about acceptance as it is about forgiveness. Kelle’s longing for her son remains twenty-five years after his death. It is an ache intensified, as she lost him twice—first to adoption and then to cancer. In this inspiring portrait of redemption, Kelle charts the journey that led her to accept her addiction and grief and to learn how to live in the world.

Through her family’s history and the story of her son’s cancer, Kelle traces with clarity and breathtaking grace the forces that shape a life, a death, and a literary voice.

(Summary and cover via Goodreads)


This book is a memoir. It was written by a poet, and it's easy to see that in the writing. This was not an easy read by any means. The narrative flows from point in time to point in time with regularity. The book tells the story of an alcoholic, through her treatment and relapse(s). However, most the narrative involves the son she gave up for adoption to her aunt and uncle. Her son dies very young of leukemia, and her desire to reconnect with this missing part of her self directs her actions throughout her life.

Honestly, I don't really feel qualified to review this book. I'm not even sure I got it. This book felt so dark through most of it, as if she could never chase away her demons. I almost want to talk to her now, and see if she has found any peace. Despite all this, I found myself in tears at the end, and not necessarily sad ones. It's not a clear cut happy ending, but I did find some comfort.

The writing is very stylized. Although I find the subject matter difficult to read, the world themselves were beautiful. It's easy to see the poet coming through. While this isn't going to be a fun read necessarily, I do think it is worth reading. There is some satisfaction at seeing her work past her alcoholism and learning more about her son. So while it's not a breezy read, I did enjoy it.

Galley provided by publisher for review.

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