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Searching for Spenser
When Margaret gives birth to a child who suffers from developmental delay, she is devastated. Her husband cannot reconcile his disappointment. After the divorce, Margaret struggles as a single mother, but becomes Spenser's most ardent cheerleader. He transcends the limits of his disability, but then dies of lymphoma at age ten. After his death, Margaret questions whether she ever really knew her child, and embarks on a journey to find him. Written in starkly honest prose, Searching for Spenser chronicles the costs and joys of loving a child.
Plot/Idea: 9 out of 10
Originality: 9 out of 10
Prose: 10 out of 10
Character/Execution: 10 out of 10
Overall: 9.50 out of 10

Assessment:

Idea/Concept: Kramar's memoir movingly recounts her experience raising a developmentally delayed child and grappling with his death as a result of T-cell lym-phoblastic lymphoma. This work is a powerful and honest reflection on the challenges inherent in supporting a child with unique needs.

Prose: Kramar writes with vivid and lyrical prose about the experience of parenting a child who was not the one she might have expected. Her reflections and observations are poetic, rich, and arresting. More expository sections do not always show the same care, but Kramar's talents as an author are apparent throughout.

Originality: Memoirs of parenthood and loss are not uncommon. Kramar's work stands apart from others in its rawness and emotional complexity. Kramar vividly discusses the pain and suffering that can arise when caring for a child with her son's challenges--including the impact on her own quest for contentment and security. She balances this candor with tender reflections on motherhood and the ache of loss.

Execution: In her honesty and eloquence, Kramar is never sentimental and doesn't reach for catharsis. She acknowledges and struggles through her pain, seeking meaning while acknowledging the untidiness of parenting, relationships, and grief.

 

Date Submitted: January 15, 2020

Reviews
In this exceptional debut memoir, journalist and editor Kramar invites readers fully into her experiences of raising a disabled child, grieving his death, and gradually moving on. In early 1991, Kramar and her aggressive, immature husband, Stan, were expecting a robust, healthy newborn. Instead, little Spenser had a large head perched on a thin body. He was soon diagnosed with Sotos syndrome, a genetic disorder causing physical and cognitive disabilities. While Kramar cared for him and precocious toddler Brendan, Stan withdrew, eventually moving out when Spenser was five. As Spenser grew, he flourished, exceeding doctors’ expectations (but not his mother’s) until his sudden death from undetected lymphoma at age 10, just after Kramar remarried.

Kramar’s initial optimistic outlook on life, including in her work as a civil rights investigator, contrasts with her insecurities and frustrations about raising two boys as a suddenly single working mother. (Her account of Stan’s calculated plan for a divorce—emptying the bank accounts and moving out furniture before presenting his stunned wife with a prepared document to sign—is shocking.) She’s bluntly honest about her mingled feelings of love and despair as she adjusts to raising a disabled child with little support, and later adjusts again to life without him. When a medium tells her Spenser’s spirit wants her to be happy, she resists, writing, “Grief is quiet and peaceful; living is noisy, complicated, and tiring.” But her new husband, her stepchildren, and Brendan help her find a path forward.

Everyone, including Kramar, is shown warts and all. Kramar conducted extensive interviews with Stan, Brendan, and others who knew Spenser, an unusual approach that creates a nuanced portrait. Spenser is never oversimplified into an object of pity or inspirational legend. Readers will close the book feeling fortunate to have gotten to know a gregarious, theater-loving boy who “simply did things his way” and a mother who did the very best she could for a child she deeply loved.

Takeaway: This heartbreaking yet uplifting memoir of parental love and loss will touch the heart of any reader.

Great for fans of Marie Killilea’s Karen: A True Story Told by Her Mother, Paul Daugherty’s An Uncomplicated Life.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: -
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

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