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Leslie Ferguson
When I Was Her Daughter: A Memoir

Adult; Memoir; (Market)

Seven-year-old Leslie has a serious problem. Someone is trying to kill her. She and her little brother must confront the stark reality of living with their mother’s raging psychosis. Other family members try to help, but they are no match for the violence and unpredictability that comes with mental illness. Once in foster care, Leslie learns that life doesn't improve just because she's free of her mom. All seems lost . . . until one simple and unexpected question changes Leslie's world forever. When I Was Her Daughter is a found-family story of compassion and forgiveness. With raw honesty, Ferguson depicts her journey through madness, loss, and a broken child-welfare system where only the lucky and most resilient succeed.
Plot/Idea: 9 out of 10
Originality: 9 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 9 out of 10
Overall: 9.00 out of 10


Idea: The author's story is captivating, and readily draws the reader into the circumstances of Leslie's heartbreaking and tumultuous childhood.

Prose: This memoir is descriptive and poetic without overwhelming the pacing of the story.

Originality: When I Was Her Daughter: A Memoir is the story of many children who experience homelessness and the foster care system in America, but the author's story is personal and uniquely told.

Character/Execution: The narrator's voice is immersive and distinct, reading like a diary. The voice of 10-year-old Leslie is authentic and reflects the chaotic childhood she endures. The author's reflections on her complex relationship with her mother, and on her mother's condition, are moving.

Date Submitted: January 10, 2022

In this debut memoir of resilience and survival, Ferguson details her traumatic childhood spent with her mentally ill mother. Roberta, mother to Leslie and William, lives with schizophrenia, and Leslie’s younger years are spent running from a government that her mother increasingly believes is out to get them. The family is perennially on the move to escape perceived threats—everything from TV antennae, dollar bills, and vehicles they pass on the highway—and often spend days on the road and nights in parks that Roberta deems safe. Ferguson’s language is lyrical and evocative as she effectively narrates a little girl’s feelings of confusion and abandonment, her desire for safety and normalcy, and her determination to succeed.

Painful family dynamics make up the core of this story: William readily obeys his mother, but little Leslie is torn between obedience, which she knows might prove lethal, and rebellion, which she thinks of as a sign of disloyalty and lack of love for her mother. With skill and power, Ferguson portrays several heart-rending choices she was forced to make as a young child, including electing to stay behind at her aunt’s home for safety instead of accompanying her mother, in a desperate attempt to stop her family’s deterioration.

Ferguson tells this story in chronological order, starting with events from age six to the present with sensitivity and an eye for arresting detail. Especially striking here is her success at sketching an affecting and persuasive portrait of her mother, that comes across as elegant, intelligent, warm, and loving even through the fog of her illness. The narrative is simple and honest, avoiding sentimentality, and readers will easily relate to Ferguson’s descriptions of her fractured childhood–and find themselves wondering at the complexities of mother-child bonding. This multilayered and nuanced memoir is a stunning account of family love and sacrifice.

Takeaway: A moving, well-written memoir of childhood trauma and a mother’s schizophrenia.

Great for fans of: Marlayna Glynn’s Overlay, Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle .

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

Firebird Book Award Winner!

I am thrilled to announce that When I Was Her Daughter is the first-place winner of the Firebird Book Awards in three categories: Coming of Age, Psychiatry/Psychology, and Parenting & Family. Thank you to Pat Rullo and the judges, and congratulations to all of the winners!

Memoir Prize for Books Winner

I'm happy to announce that When I Was Her Daughter is a category winner of the Memoir Prize for Books in the category of RESILIENCE! 

Thank you to the judges and congrats to all the winners!