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My Mother's Keeper: A Daughter's Memoir Of Growing Up In The Shadow Of Schizophrenia

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Dawn Elgin was destined to be a 1940s big-band star. From the time she was fourteen, she took her place at the microphone in Houston's elite Empire Room and sang with the voice of a jazz angel. Vibrant and glamorous, she boldly pursued her love of performing to New Orleans, Hollywood, and New York, where she gave birth to her daughter, Tara, when she was twenty-one. Then D Dawn Elgin was destined to be a 1940s big-band star. From the time she was fourteen, she took her place at the microphone in Houston's elite Empire Room and sang with the voice of a jazz angel. Vibrant and glamorous, she boldly pursued her love of performing to New Orleans, Hollywood, and New York, where she gave birth to her daughter, Tara, when she was twenty-one. Then Dawn began to suffer persistent visions of a deathly specter at her bedside. She was diagnosed with acute paranoid schizophrenia and began a lifetime spent in and out of institutions. My Mother's Keeper is Tara's deeply moving story of growing up in the shadow of her mother's tragic illness. As Dawn's state worsened, Tara lived in the care of her imperious great-great-aunt Elsa - the family's elderly matriarch, who drew her into a rich world of old-fashioned treasures and Houston history - while her mother drifted in and out of Tara's life like a fading fairy princess. Though Tara yearned for her mother during her childhood, Dawn's condition was usually kept from her, the subject of secretive family discussion and neighborhood gossip. By the time Tara was seventeen she had become Dawn's guardian, bent on rescuing the shambling street person her mother had become and transforming her back into the beautiful, lively woman she remembered. Above all, it is a deeply moving exploration of the mother-daughter bond - of how Tara learned to balance her mother's needs with her own, and how she finally came to terms with Dawn's legacy when she became a mother herself. Emotionally compelling and powerfully rendered, My Mother's Keeper offers indelible proof of love's power to transcend a devastating illness.


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Dawn Elgin was destined to be a 1940s big-band star. From the time she was fourteen, she took her place at the microphone in Houston's elite Empire Room and sang with the voice of a jazz angel. Vibrant and glamorous, she boldly pursued her love of performing to New Orleans, Hollywood, and New York, where she gave birth to her daughter, Tara, when she was twenty-one. Then D Dawn Elgin was destined to be a 1940s big-band star. From the time she was fourteen, she took her place at the microphone in Houston's elite Empire Room and sang with the voice of a jazz angel. Vibrant and glamorous, she boldly pursued her love of performing to New Orleans, Hollywood, and New York, where she gave birth to her daughter, Tara, when she was twenty-one. Then Dawn began to suffer persistent visions of a deathly specter at her bedside. She was diagnosed with acute paranoid schizophrenia and began a lifetime spent in and out of institutions. My Mother's Keeper is Tara's deeply moving story of growing up in the shadow of her mother's tragic illness. As Dawn's state worsened, Tara lived in the care of her imperious great-great-aunt Elsa - the family's elderly matriarch, who drew her into a rich world of old-fashioned treasures and Houston history - while her mother drifted in and out of Tara's life like a fading fairy princess. Though Tara yearned for her mother during her childhood, Dawn's condition was usually kept from her, the subject of secretive family discussion and neighborhood gossip. By the time Tara was seventeen she had become Dawn's guardian, bent on rescuing the shambling street person her mother had become and transforming her back into the beautiful, lively woman she remembered. Above all, it is a deeply moving exploration of the mother-daughter bond - of how Tara learned to balance her mother's needs with her own, and how she finally came to terms with Dawn's legacy when she became a mother herself. Emotionally compelling and powerfully rendered, My Mother's Keeper offers indelible proof of love's power to transcend a devastating illness.

30 review for My Mother's Keeper: A Daughter's Memoir Of Growing Up In The Shadow Of Schizophrenia

  1. 5 out of 5

    Michele

    This poignant memoir casts light into the tangle of misinformation and misunderstanding about schizophrenia. Dawn Elgin was a promising jazz vocalist in 1940s Hollywood, but mental illness destroyed her career as well as her capacity to care for her tiny daughter. Raised by maternal relatives, Tara Elgin took over as her mother's legal guardian at age 16. By 1980, when single-parent journalist Holley met singer and bookstore salesperson Tara (now development director of Austin's art museum), Daw This poignant memoir casts light into the tangle of misinformation and misunderstanding about schizophrenia. Dawn Elgin was a promising jazz vocalist in 1940s Hollywood, but mental illness destroyed her career as well as her capacity to care for her tiny daughter. Raised by maternal relatives, Tara Elgin took over as her mother's legal guardian at age 16. By 1980, when single-parent journalist Holley met singer and bookstore salesperson Tara (now development director of Austin's art museum), Dawn was a street person familiar to hundreds of residents of the Texas capital. The Holleys' study blends the trajectories of Dawn's illness, Tara's childhood and her efforts to improve the quality of her mother's life, changes in scientific and social prescriptions for schizophrenia, and the authors' romance, marriage, and family life. Especially helpful for readers dealing with a family member's schizophrenia; also enlightening for those observing this devastating illness, for now, from the outside.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jess

    This was an interesting read about a daughters journey as she struggles to connect and care for her mother with a debilitating mental illness. I was touched by the story, but I felt that the author missed an opportunity to discuss the realities of and problems that exisit in the mental healthcare system. She touches on the problems, but never really delves into the issue. Instead she refers to it in the abstract, and places blame on the "system". Occasionally she mentions legislation changes, bu This was an interesting read about a daughters journey as she struggles to connect and care for her mother with a debilitating mental illness. I was touched by the story, but I felt that the author missed an opportunity to discuss the realities of and problems that exisit in the mental healthcare system. She touches on the problems, but never really delves into the issue. Instead she refers to it in the abstract, and places blame on the "system". Occasionally she mentions legislation changes, but never in any detail. Leaving the reader wanting more first hand accounts of what it means to navigate the tricky and complex mental healthcare system. Though I could not put this book down, I felt as though the author failed to really connect with the readers. It seemed to me she was a little too guarded in her account- leaving holes here and there.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Marlyn

    Contrary to other reviews, I believe the author did an amazing job in capturing my attention and letting me in her life. This is a memoir, so it is told through Tara's point of view. Despite the focus on her mother who suffers from schizophrenia, Tara really goes into details of her life growing up "in her mother's shadow" (Hence the second part of the book's title). So as much as readers want to know more about the details of her mother, we must remember that Tara is taking us through her life Contrary to other reviews, I believe the author did an amazing job in capturing my attention and letting me in her life. This is a memoir, so it is told through Tara's point of view. Despite the focus on her mother who suffers from schizophrenia, Tara really goes into details of her life growing up "in her mother's shadow" (Hence the second part of the book's title). So as much as readers want to know more about the details of her mother, we must remember that Tara is taking us through her life growing up with mostly an absent mother. She captures how mental illness in her family can impact many factors of her life. I was able to read this book through the lens of being a social worker as it casts importance to mental health in society and how far treatment has come and yet how much work there is left to do. I was able to read this book through the lens of a family member who is also affected by mental illness and trauma as I felt dearly for Tara and was able to understand her thoughts both positive and negative. I definitely recommend this book and believe that it is a great way to expand your view on how mental health and schizophrenia can affect loved ones.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    This was a good memoir that really focused on the author's life and the experience of having a mostly absent mother that was mentally ill for most of her childhood. The author is to be commended for writing about it honestly, including her desire for her mother to give her love in a way she was unable to, and then for all the care and love she gave to her mother when she was grown. I agree with some other comments that sometimes there were details from the author's life that made the story drag This was a good memoir that really focused on the author's life and the experience of having a mostly absent mother that was mentally ill for most of her childhood. The author is to be commended for writing about it honestly, including her desire for her mother to give her love in a way she was unable to, and then for all the care and love she gave to her mother when she was grown. I agree with some other comments that sometimes there were details from the author's life that made the story drag a little, but not by much. It is really Tara's story.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tanya Arterburn

    I'm giving it 4 stars mainly because it is a rare book that I can directly relate to, having grown up with my schizophrenic mother until going into foster care at age 13. It is a look inside of what it means to function outside in the world and maintain your own sanity while dealing intimately with mental illness. Thank you Tara for sharing your candid, sometimes raw and insightful story. I'm giving it 4 stars mainly because it is a rare book that I can directly relate to, having grown up with my schizophrenic mother until going into foster care at age 13. It is a look inside of what it means to function outside in the world and maintain your own sanity while dealing intimately with mental illness. Thank you Tara for sharing your candid, sometimes raw and insightful story.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Emily Mergenthaler

    I loved this book. It was so poignant and eye-opening. I’ll never look at someone on the streets the same.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Trina F

    This book was amazing. I cried at the end. Tara is very well spoken, I actually found myself googling quite a few words while reading this. Just when you think you know everything 🤪🤷‍♀️

  8. 4 out of 5

    Love

    WOW I love you Jeannie for sending this to me. I cried up a storm with this one. What a sad story such a tragic story..To be going places and then your life just struck down. To have children you do not really even get to mother. I just felt helpless reading this, wanted to just give the poor woman a hug. To let her know there were people whi did care and understand what she was going through. I have had some of the same feelings tward my mother so I could identify with Tara. Being angry with ho WOW I love you Jeannie for sending this to me. I cried up a storm with this one. What a sad story such a tragic story..To be going places and then your life just struck down. To have children you do not really even get to mother. I just felt helpless reading this, wanted to just give the poor woman a hug. To let her know there were people whi did care and understand what she was going through. I have had some of the same feelings tward my mother so I could identify with Tara. Being angry with how she lived her life, even when you try to help them come out of some of it and feeling like they are sucking you in to their world instead of you helping them out of the craziness of how they are living. I am so glad Tara tried to be part of her mothers life and some what accepting to her mothers faults.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Beth Lequeuvre

    This is the story of a daughter struggling with her mother's schizophrenia. I think trying to get the whole story down the author missed the chance to really give people a window into what it is like because there was more detail about what the daughter was doing with her life while her mother was in and out of treatment facilities and homeless. I think more examples of what it was like when they were together would have captured the story better. The way the story was told though really felt mo This is the story of a daughter struggling with her mother's schizophrenia. I think trying to get the whole story down the author missed the chance to really give people a window into what it is like because there was more detail about what the daughter was doing with her life while her mother was in and out of treatment facilities and homeless. I think more examples of what it was like when they were together would have captured the story better. The way the story was told though really felt more like someone who really didn't have anything to do with the person in question, like they were looking through a window and feeling guilty and somehow I don't think that is really what she went through.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Amy Baker

    This is a deeply moving story of a little girl who yearns for her mother to be healthy and able to take care of her when she is not. Tara's mother was unattainable, unreachable, and mysterious to her young daughter. As a teenager, Tara becomes convinced that only she could rescue her mother, a wish that did not -- could not -- come true. Her mother remained forever locked in her mental illness while Tara struggled to accept that reality. In the end she learned to balance her mother's needs with This is a deeply moving story of a little girl who yearns for her mother to be healthy and able to take care of her when she is not. Tara's mother was unattainable, unreachable, and mysterious to her young daughter. As a teenager, Tara becomes convinced that only she could rescue her mother, a wish that did not -- could not -- come true. Her mother remained forever locked in her mental illness while Tara struggled to accept that reality. In the end she learned to balance her mother's needs with her own need for self-care, not an easy lesson for her to learn but one that was essential. Writing this beautiful memoir was obviously an important part of her work.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mariah

    This can be a valuable book for many people who want to know what it's like to have a family member with a debilitating mental illness. With that said, this was a difficult book to read for someone who has had this experience. Many times memoirs are simply journals, written more for the benefit of the author somehow than the readers. While a good book usually becomes a part of the reader's personal schema, affecting different readers in different ways but achieving the same overall effect, I don This can be a valuable book for many people who want to know what it's like to have a family member with a debilitating mental illness. With that said, this was a difficult book to read for someone who has had this experience. Many times memoirs are simply journals, written more for the benefit of the author somehow than the readers. While a good book usually becomes a part of the reader's personal schema, affecting different readers in different ways but achieving the same overall effect, I don't think this book was written with the readers in mind, so it falls short.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Elisabeth

    This book was an emotional read for me,especially toward the end. I could relate so well with many of the feelings. I know all too well the guilt that comes with trying to have your own life, while your mom is rotting somewhere. You give and give, and try to scrape what's left to take care of yourself. I would love to read more books like this, it cements my experiences. It's hard to read, and sad, but in the end I feel connected. The negatives: A lot of the details bored me. I don't really care This book was an emotional read for me,especially toward the end. I could relate so well with many of the feelings. I know all too well the guilt that comes with trying to have your own life, while your mom is rotting somewhere. You give and give, and try to scrape what's left to take care of yourself. I would love to read more books like this, it cements my experiences. It's hard to read, and sad, but in the end I feel connected. The negatives: A lot of the details bored me. I don't really care about Houston, and some of the stuff felt like a family history archive.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Fernea

    This book was so good it felt like I was reading a work of fiction. To have an insight into the life of a family member(s) of a mentally ill individual is so eye opening. I am a nurse, but only get a glimpse of what is truly endured by family and the patient and it just tore at my heart. Please read to help understand more of this truly life-altering disease. Thank you Tara and Joe for undertaking this book and sharing Tara's and Dawn's lives. This book was so good it felt like I was reading a work of fiction. To have an insight into the life of a family member(s) of a mentally ill individual is so eye opening. I am a nurse, but only get a glimpse of what is truly endured by family and the patient and it just tore at my heart. Please read to help understand more of this truly life-altering disease. Thank you Tara and Joe for undertaking this book and sharing Tara's and Dawn's lives.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lee Ann

    I had a slightly hard time getting through this book. The details were very involved and I found myself skimming over the non-important in-depth things like color of setting. BUT the story was so intriguing that it was well worth the read. The ending was very satisfying for me.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jess

    I read this book quite a few years ago, while I was living in Boston, but for whatever reason it keeps popping into my head recently. I really enjoyed it. It was heartbreaking and inspiring all at once.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jeannie

    Loved it! Her childhood was fascinating and she tells it in such detail. Heartbreaking story.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Txclark

    A very informative book about mental illness and how it affects others.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Chrystle Mercer

    Very interesting...better understanding of schizophrenia current and in history, great look at caregiving dynamics, written really well.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Candice

    What an amazing story about women, and a disease we all shy away from knowing more about. i loved learning about their lives and would like to know more. fan-TASTIC read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sherry

    Interesting view of what it must be like for a daughter with a schizophrenic mother. Sad story, but interesting.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    I love this book!!!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Simeon Berry

  23. 5 out of 5

    Justin Freedman

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sheri

  25. 4 out of 5

    Elena

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

  27. 5 out of 5

    Becky S Fairfield

  28. 5 out of 5

    Michele

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

  30. 4 out of 5

    Christine

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