Writing with clarity and insight, Miller acknowledges how circumstances like hers can foster despair and poverty, but her story becomes a showcase of resilience, courage, the drive to succeed–and ultimately, in the touching final pages, of empathy, as she strives to understand her mother. After landing musical scholarships, she married young and moved to California, where her daughter Bennett was born. It wasn’t all sunshine—Miller’s first marriage ended, followed by other heartbreaks—but she made the most of her musical gifts, performing standards and her own compositions, gaining famous fans such as Clint Eastwood and singer Frederica Von Stade.
Ultimately, Miller triumphed, founding a multi-million-dollar events firm and a record label, while befriending and recording with singer/songwriter Bobby Sharp. After winning Entrepreneur Magazine accolades, she participated in programs at MIT and Harvard. She reports these accolades with humility, and presents her journey as a coach might, reminding readers that it’s not victories that matter most–it’s “struggle and fight, the lessons we take from our scars.” Eventually, as she works “to break the chain of torment and abuse,” Miller even meets again with her mother. Readers eager for inspiration will be moved by Miller’s rise over adversity, a true testament to the resilience of the human spirit.
Takeaway: Miller’s inner strength and grit will stir hope in readers of inspirational memoirs.
Great for fans of: Dave Pelzer’s A Child Called It, Lu Li’s Dear Female Founder.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: B+
A girl leaves home at 16 and eventually becomes an acclaimed singer and owner of a thriving business in this memoir.
Miller opens her debut book with a terrifying sequence in 1987, when she was a teenager: On Christmas Day, she writes, her mother brandished a 12-inch knife and threatened to kill her. Miller’s vivid writing makes the scene feel real and engaging: “She chases me from the kitchen to the living room, waving the blade and cursing as a hundred tiny lights twinkle from our tree.” That mix of frightening and beautiful imagery is on display throughout this book,which follows Miller from her days of struggling in Des Moines, Iowa, to her later success in San Francisco. After the Christmas incident, Miller was briefly homeless; she got a restaurant job but continued to keep up her schoolwork and study the violin. A music scholarship led her to Iowa State University in 1989, she writes, where she met her future husband, an architect; she dropped out but later enrolled at Des Moines’ Drake University. There, Miller began to find her voice as a singer. She moved to San Francisco, had a daughter at age 23, went to work as a graphic designer at an ad agency, and developed impressive management skills along the way. She and her husband divorced, but by then, her singing—she performed at weddings and other events in the Bay Area—had caught the attention of the likes of singer Frederica von Stade and songwriter Bobby Sharp (writer of the Ray Charles hit “Unchain My Heart”). Eventually, she recorded Sharp’s songs on her own record label and received good reviews in major newspapers. Overall, this is a memoir that begins bleakly and ends triumphantly, with Miller the head of a thriving music and special events company and making beautiful music on the side. The author takes readers along with her for the entire ride, and while she’s doing it, she not only bares her soul, but also shares useful life lessons that readers may take to heart.
A harrowing but ultimately inspiring remembrance with skillful prose.