Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Review: Signs of Life

Summary: “I know. I know. No one says it but I know…” —from Signs of Life
Twenty-four-year-old Natalie Taylor was leading a charmed life. At the age of twenty four, she had a fulfilling job as a high school English teacher, a wonderful husband, a new house and a baby on the way.  Then, while visiting her sister, she gets the news that Josh has died in a freak accident.  Four months before the birth of her son, Natalie is leveled by loss. 

What follows is an incredibly powerful emotional journey, as Natalie calls upon resources she didn’t even know she had in order to re-imagine and re-build a life for her and her son. In vivid and immediate detail, Natalie documents her life from the day of Josh’s death through the birth their son, Kai, as she struggles in her role as a new mother where everyone is watching her for signs of impending collapse.  With honesty, raw pain, and most surprising, a wicked sense of humor, Natalie recounts the agonies and unexpected joys of her new life.  There is the frustration of holidays, navigating the relationship with her in-laws, the comfort she finds and unlikely friendship she forges in support groups and the utterly breathtaking, but often overwhelming new motherhood.   When she returns to the classroom, she finds that little is more healing than the honesty and egocentricity of teenagers. 

Drawing on lessons from beloved books like
The Color Purple and The Catcher in the Rye and the talk shows she suddenly can’t get enough of, from the strength of her family and friends, and from a rich fantasy life—including a saucy fairy godmother who guides her grieving—Natalie embarks on the ultimate journey of self-discovery and realizes you can sometimes find the best in yourself during the worst life has to offer.  And she delivers these lessons, in way that feels like she’s right beside you in her bathrobe and with a glass of wine--the cool, funny girlfriend you love to stay up all night with. 

Unforgettable and utterly absorbing,
Signs of Life features a powerful, wholly original debut voice that will have you crying and laughing to the very last page. -- Broadway

This is going to sound awful, but as I was reading the memoir SIGNS OF LIFE by Natalie Taylor, I almost wondered why I even picked it up. Ms. Taylor's story hit me like a punch in the gut! While she was away vacationing with some friends, she receives a phone call to immediately come home. Her husband had had an accident and it was "bad." Now if that's not enough to make me tear up, here's the kicker. Ms. Taylor was 24 years old and about halfway through the pregnancy of their first child... and suddenly, she's a widow.

I imagine this scene would make anyone sad; however, as a mother, this was always one of my worst nightmares. I can hardly bear to think about losing my husband, but to lose him while pregnant with our son? I can't even begin to imagine bringing up a child on my own while also trying to cope with the loss of my soul mate. I probably don't have to tell you that I was a basket case reading Ms. Taylor's story, and at times, I wasn't even sure that SIGNS OF LIFE was a book for me.

However, the publicist on this book told me to stick with it; and I'm very glad that I listened to him because ultimately, SIGNS OF LIFE was a story about the strength and resilience of one very amazing woman. I'm not going to say that reading this book was an easy journey for me, but I do think it was a worthwhile reading experience. Not only did I appreciate how Ms. Taylor presented her story, but this book made me grateful for my life and reminded me that I should take nothing for granted.

One of my favorite things about SIGNS OF LIFE was Ms. Taylor's honesty. She was extremely open about just how difficult it was to accept what was going on in her life. Of course, she had some extremely dark times, but she was a mother-in-the-making and knew she had to do what's right for her unborn child. She was very open about how fortunate she was to have such a great support system of friends and family, and she even mentioned how some of them drove her crazy. I loved that about Ms. Taylor -- she just put it all out there.

I've read a few very sad memoirs lately, but SIGNS OF LIFE really resonated with me. I'm sure it had something to do with the whole "mom" angle. However, there was another part of this book that made it extra-special to me. Ms. Taylor was a high school English teacher and she went back to work very shortly after her husband's death. She writes about her students and the books they read, including the classics THE COLOR PURPLE, CATCHER IN THE RYE, THE GREAT GATSBY, and many more. Ms. Taylor discusses how she approached these novels in a different way and how her perspective changed after the death of her husband. She also reminded me of many of the lessons that these books offer to readers. I loved learning how she related these books to her life, and it actually made me want to revisit many of these classics.

SIGNS OF LIFE might be an interesting pick for your next book club if you are looking for an original memoir. I can definitely see it working for my group especially since we are made up of a bunch of moms. I also think because Ms. Taylor discusses so many literary classics in this book that opportunities exist to discuss some of these books. It might be interesting to explore how our views have changed as we got older and experienced more that life has to offer. Some of the additional things you might want to talk about include parenting, friendships, grief, loss, strength, and resilience.

Despite being very worried that I couldn't get through SIGNS OF LIFE, I am so glad that I stuck with it. This book was a wonderful story about a woman who is a true survivor, and I found it very inspirational.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.


Serena said...

I cannot imagine not having my husband here to help raise our daughter...that would be a total nightmare. This would be a hard read indeed. I applaud you for sticking with it.

bermudaonion said...

Wow, what a story. Natalie Taylor has to be an incredibly strong woman. I cannot imagine having to go through something like that.

Laura Fabiani said...

I would be a basket case too if I read this story! You're courageous to have finished the book.

Beth Hoffman said...

My heart broke reading your review (which is terrific), I don't know if I'd have the strength to read the book!

Beth F said...

I can totally understand why you'd be so affected by this story. I think the worst part is the suddenness. Death from an illness gives you time to prepare; but an accident? And pregnant? Wow.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Well, I would much rather read a story like this knowing that it really did happen. Not that I would want this to happen to anyone, but that the stories, the resilience, the strength is REAL. But after having read The Orchard, I'll have to space out these memoirs that just level you. They take a lot out of me.

reviewsbylola said...

I just read this one and I wondered too why I picked it up, especially since I am five months pregnant myself! So difficult to read, let alone live through

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I love when I am ready to quit a book but someone tells me to stick with it and the someone turns out to be right! :--)

bookdout said...

Sounds like a great if intense read

Thanks for sharing

Shelleyrae @ Book'd out