Invisible Girl by Mariel Hemingway; Regan Arts, 132 pages ($19.95) Ages 12 and up.
“What makes a family sad?” Thus begins this absorbing and helpful memoir for young readers from Mariel Hemingway, written as a very personal diary of her childhood growing up in the shadow of alcoholism, celebrity, mental illness and suicide. From the first chapter the reader is hooked as Hemingway notes her earliest memories (or memories of family repeating the stories) of her jealous older sister Margot taking her from her bassinet and dropping her on her head; of her second birthday and her first experience of cake and candles the night of JFK’s assassination. Home was “just uncomfortable,” with her parents’ drinking and quarreling, her unhappy sisters fighting. (Young Mariel was even enlisted as bartender: “Weird drinks my parents taught me to make with brown bitter liquid that I poured two fingers of over ice.”) Mariel remembers Margot cutting off her eyelashes, hitting her in the face with a baseball bat and knocking out her two front teeth. There are happy moments: The family moves from California to Idaho and her father allows Mariel to skip repeating kindergarten by learning to ski instead. She loves the outdoors, riding her bike, riding horses, movie nights at the local theater. She also recalls being acutely uncomfortable around her classmates (her school picture showing her as a “weird giant boy hulking in the background”) remembering that she was only able to climb the rope for the President’s Physical Fitness Test when nobody was watching.
More family traumas were to come, as her father had a heart attack, her mother was diagnosed with cancer and Mariel became her caretaker as a young adolescent. Her sister Muffet was diagnosed with schizophrenia and hospitalized. Hemingway includes a guide at the end where kids can go for help in families dealing with alcohol or drug abuse, mental health issues, illness, domestic violence and eating disorders.
– Jean Westmoore