Sarah Thebarge grew up in a fundamentalist household, which later caused her severe anxiety issues, and a personal crisis of faith when she was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer in her late 20s. After several years of cancer treatments and recurrences, she moved to Portland, and encountered a Somali refugee with five young girls. The family was barely surviving, and Thebarge stepped in to help. This memoir weaves together Thebarge’s personal history and her time with the family in Portland, telling how they saved each other.
I loved this book. Normally, I’m not big into religious memoirs. They usually come off as either preachy or angry (particularly in the case of people who have left religion behind). I’m not used to encountering religion in modern-day books (fiction or nonfiction) that approach it matter-of-factly and related only to that individual. That was the case here – Thebarge never discussed religion in a way that reflected on the reader, just on herself and her own personal relationship to it. She never expressed her views in a way that told you that you had to or should believe them as well. It was the same as if she discussed a relationship with running or home improvement, and the same as she discussed her experiences with cancer. Unique, individual, and personal.
Her time with the Somali family was equally compelling. Not every experience was good, and Thebarge struggled to find the balance between overstepping and helping. She didn’t approach it as I’ve seen other people, as “the Christian who saves people” or “the white person who saves people.” She was aware of her privileges and tried to learn about the family’s needs, culture, and history. Again, it was not preachy, and Thebarge genuinely seemed to love each of the family members, as they seemed to love her. As I said above, not every experience was ideal or good – there is no veneer of happy-golden here – but overall the partnership was a positive experience.
The book was well-written and nicely paced, with a good balance between the different narratives. My only complaint is actually not about the book, but about memoirs in general. Memoirs don’t really have endings. You never know what happens afterwards. At the end of this book, the Somali family are still out there, and still (as far as I could tell from the end of the book) in some contact with Thebarge. But after that, the reader knows nothing. Memoirs always feel incomplete for me, and a bit unsatisfying for it. But again, that has nothing to do with this book itself, which as I said was a very-written book. I just want more.
Performance: This audiobook was read by Kirsten Potter, who did a very good job. The accents she gave to different characters were subtle, which I appreciated. The way she read the book lent itself to the practical and matter-of-fact tone of the writing. It was a good pairing.