Don’t You Ever: My Mothers and Her Secret Son by Mary Carter Bishop
Published by Harper on July 3, 2018
Genres: memoir, non fiction
Rating: 2.5 stars
Recommend to fans of: unique memoirs, stories about unfair childhoods
Read with food: fried chicken and ice cream … perfect for siblings catching up after years apart
From a prizewinning journalist, Mary Carter Bishop, a moving and beautifully rendered memoir about the half-brother she didn’t know existed that hauntingly explores family, class, secrets, and fate.
Applying for a passport as an adult, Mary Carter Bishop made a shocking discovery. She had a secret half-brother. Her mother, a farm manager’s wife on a country estate, told Mary Carter the abandoned boy was a youthful “mistake” from an encounter with a married man. There’d been a home for unwed mothers; foster parents; an orphanage.
Nine years later, Mary Carter tracked Ronnie down at the barbershop where he worked, and found a near-broken man—someone kind, and happy to meet her, but someone also deeply and irreversibly damaged by a life of neglect and abuse at the hands of an uncaring system. He was also disfigured because of a rare medical condition that would eventually kill him, three years after their reunion. During that window, Mary Carter grew close to Ronnie, and as she learned more about him she became consumed by his story. How had Ronnie’s life gone so wrong when hers had gone so well? How could she reconcile the doting, generous mother she knew with a woman who could not bring herself to acknowledge her own son?
Digging deep into her family’s lives for understanding, Mary Carter unfolds a sweeping story of religious intolerance, poverty, fear, ambition, class, and social expectations. Don’t You Ever is a modern Dickensian tale about a child seemingly cursed from birth; a woman shattered by guilt; a husband plagued by self-doubt; a prodigal daughter whose innocence was cruelly snatched away—all living in genteel central Virginia, a world defined by extremes of rural poverty and fabulous wealth.
A riveting memoir about a family haunted by a shameful secret, Don’t You Ever is a powerful story of a woman’s search for her long-hidden sibling, and the factors that profoundly impact our individual destinies.
I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways. As always, an honest review.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about Don’t You Ever, but overall I finished the book feeling quite neutral and unengaged about it all. The author tells the story of her simple but well loved life compared to her brother’s much more difficult upbringing. He was treated much differently by his parents and society. Mary Carter was even told that he was her cousin, not brother, which is incredibly telling.
Eventually the author learns of her brother and reunites with him. He’s had a difficult adulthood as well, with multiple health problems. Mary Carter and Ronnie learn about each other. During this process she uncovers many of the reasons for her family’s actions. Emotions such as fear, guilty, shame and self doubt drove their actions.
Don’t You Ever speaks to the time and place in which these people grew up. Through her family we learn a lot, but I still didn’t connect with them. I felt myself reading the pages just to finish the book. It’s not a bad book, but I mainly felt indifferent to the story.
Maybe other readers will connect more to the characters and story.