Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Review: What We Have by Amy Boesky

It's a funny thing fear. How it follows you, changes shape, adapts to each new place and situation. Like furniture, which you carry around and set up in one house after another. It may look a little different in its new place, but it's still the same stuff. [pg 143]

What We Have: One Family's Inspiring Story About Love, Loss, and Survival by Amy Boesky
Gotham Books, 2010
Nonfiction; 327 pgs

Have you ever plucked a book off your shelf to read, not really expecting more than a good story; only, you find so much more than you anticipated? I am sure we all have to some degree. Whether it be an even richer reading experience, a connection made with a character, a lesson learned, or something else entirely. It was that way for me and Amy Boesky's memoir, What We Have.

It is difficult for me to be objective about this book because it spoke to me on a personal level. And when Lisa of TLC Book Tours pitched the book to me, I think she knew it would, although perhaps not in quite the way she thought. I hadn't been so sure. I didn't think I was in the right place for a book like this, but I couldn't have been more wrong.

Ovarian cancer runs in Amy's family, cutting short the life of many of the women in her family. With their their history of cancer always looming over them, Amy and her sisters knew they didn't have much time and so tried to pack a lifetime in as soon as they could. Getting married and having children were among the priorities. The memoir covers a short span in Amy's life, but definitely a life changing one. It is full of happy moments as well as intensely sad ones.

Certain aspects of Amy Boesky's life are similar to my own--some of what she writes about I am going through right now. And I think that's part of why I connected so well with What We Have. At times it felt like I was looking into a mirror. I devoured the chapters about Amy's first pregnancy and when she brought the baby home. I could feel her and her husband's frustration at selling one house and searching for another. And I know what it's like to live with a family history of cancer (breast cancer in my case).

There were also other moments, such as my own mother's diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer; how frightening a time that was, especially given our family history, and my own fear of the disease. And then of the spreading of Amy's mother's breast cancer to her bones and the various treatments and side effects that followed--much like my friend, Melyssa's experience. She lost her battle with the disease a couple of years ago, and it was quite a blow to all of us who loved her. As a result, that was an especially difficult part of the book to get through.

Like Amy, I am a bit obsessed with time and planning. Her interest in the history of time (clocks, calendars, etc) resonated with me, although I am not sure I attach my own interest so tightly to thoughts of mortality--at least not on the surface. With the birth of Amy's children to the death of her mother, the theme was reinforced, reminding me of the cycle of life.

I was also drawn to the strong relationship between Amy, her sisters and her mother. I only met my own sister in adulthood and we live so far away from one another that we haven't really had a chance to develop much of a relationship. So while the author's experiences are different than my own, I do know the love of family and the significance that it can play in a life. Seeing my parents grow older, I feel the weight of time even more, especially at this stage in my life. As much as I struggled to get away and be my own person, there are still times when I need my parents, when I long for my mother. Just as Amy does.

Amy Boesky's memoir is written in a casual and thoughtful style which I found warm and welcoming. I easily connected with the author and found we share a lot in common both in beliefs and worries. But there were differences as well and that made the book all the more interesting. When I finished reading What We Have, I could only think how fitting the title is. It can be seen in several different ways. What We Have is about a family history of cancer and loss. But more so, as I prefer to see it, What We Have is a story about life and love and survival.

Rating: * (Very Good)

You can learn more about Amy Boesky, and her book on the author's website. Be sure and check the TLC Book Tours website for other tour stops as well!

Many thanks to the TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour. Book for review provided by the publisher.

© 2010, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. This sounds like an unbelievable book -- I'm not sure if I could read some of it, though. I can be really sensitive and cry a ton during books, but I might have to pick this one up. Great review!

  2. Wendy, I enjoyed reading your review of this book. It has drawn me in and makes me want to seach out this book. Having experienced a ovarian cancer diagnosis myself, I think I'm always intrigued by that topic. Happily my story has turned out well, but not so for many women. Thanks for sharing it with us!

  3. This sounds like an incredible book. I'm glad you were able to feel such a powerful connection to it. The best books are always the ones that speak to us.

  4. Generally, I am a little tired of reading about family trauma. I can get really overdosed on it. But when I started reading your review, I said "oh yeah, I remember hearing about this one" and knew it was different than most. It has to be awful to have that fate hanging over your head all the time, and would never judge a person for taking even drastic measures to prevent it from being fulfilled. Excellent review Wendy!

  5. I am not sure if I could read this book, as I am sure it would inspire a lot of anxiety in me, but your review was wonderful and I am glad that the book was not too hard for you to handle. I have trouble with books about disease and illness because sometimes they are just too bleak for me, and knowing a few people who have battled cancer, it might just be too much for me.

  6. I'd already put this book on my wishlist thanks to another review I read for this tour, but yours seals the deal. It sounds like you connected with this book on so many levels it could have been too much at times, but I'm really glad you shared your experience with it! (And I may be reading between the lines and inferring why you haven't been around too much this summer...)

  7. As sad as the subject matter seems, it sounds like the author has written a fantastic book that is not as sad as it could be. Fantastic review!

  8. I haven't been reading many memoirs as of late but this one sounds really gripping.

  9. I've heard good things about this one. Great review ;)
    It's a wonderful thing when a book turns out to be more than you anticipated.

  10. This is a memoir I hope to read one day. Great review as always, Wendy. I absolutely love it when I connect with a book. Some made me cry, some made me laugh.

  11. Wow this book sounds amazing. Families with cancer proclivities are so heroic to me. I am so sorry about your friend Melyssa. My heartfelt condolences to you and those who loved her. My mother had breast cancer and beat it. What a time that was!

  12. What an eloquent review. Your words have made me want to read this one!! Thanks for sharing that side of your life with us also!

  13. YAY Wendy...so glad to see you liked this one. It is the first review I've read, and I just got an email saying it was waiting for me at the library. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  14. Wendy, your reviews are always so good but I think this may be your best one ever. It's just so moving and personal. I didn't know what an intense personal connection you'd have with the subject matter but I'm very happy it wasn't upsetting to you. Thank you so much for being on the tour; the book sounds amazing.

  15. Coffee & a Book Chick - I cried quite a bit near the end, I admit. I could probably count the books that don't make me cry on one hand. LOL Okay, so maybe that's a slight exaggeration. But only slight. :-)

    Kay - Thank you. I am glad too that your story turned out well in regards to the cancer. It can be such a scary and debilitating illness.

    Kathleen - I am so glad I read this book. I agree with you--the best books are often the ones that we are able to connect with in such a personal way.

    Sandy - Thanks! I know what you mean. There is such a thing as too much. In this case, I think the author did a good job of making it different.

    It never crossed my mind to go through as drastic measures as Amy and her sisters did in the book--but I do know people who have. It's such a personal choice. And like you, I would never judge a person for the choices she makes--whether it be drastic or to do nothing at all.

    Heather - I had to chuckle at your comment about the book possibly inspiring a lot of anxiety in you--only because I'm really surprised that the book didn't leave me feeling that way. I'm such a worry wart. It was really hard reading the portion of the book about her mother's illness. It dredged up a lot of memories of my friend Melyssa and all she had to go through.

    Florinda - I do hope you get a chance to read this one, Florinda. I'd love to get your take on it. I know what you mean about the risk of a book like this being too much given how much I identified with it. There were a couple of times I did set the book aside because I got too emotional and needed a break. (And no, you aren't reading too much between the lines. :-))

    Kathy - Thanks, Kathy. I do think the author hit the mark with this book.

  16. Stephanie - It'd been a while since I last read a memoir too. I like to dip in them occasionally, but I admit I don't like a steady diet of them. This one is worth reading though.

    Naida - Yes! It is a great thing. This book really moved me.

    Alice - I do hope you get the chance to read it, Alice. It's well worth it. This book made me laugh and cry, which I always count as a good book. :-)

    Jaimie - Thank you, Jaimie. I am so happy for your mother. My mother beat it as well, but, boy, was it stressful in the meantime, wasn't it? We do what we can to get through it.

    Staci - Thanks, Staci! As you can see, this book really touched me. It was hard not to get personal given that fact.

    Diane - Oh wonderful! I do hope you like it, Diane, even if only half as much as I did.

    LisaMM - I'm glad you talked me into reading this one, Lisa.

  17. Sounds like this was the perfect book for you! So glad to hear you liked it.

  18. I was very interested to read your review, Wendy. I know I found the book extremely moving, but I read it only a few months after my own mother's death - and could not stop crying as I read it. It is good to know it works for a reader such as yourself, as well. Maybe some fears are universal, or at least shared by all women.

    Good review!

  19. Kris - It came around at just the right time, that's for sure!

    Clea - It was a very emotional book. I had a hard time stopping the tears too. My friend's death was two years ago, but it really brought everything back like it was yesterday.


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