Thursday, December 13, 2012

Confessions of Joan the Tall by Joan Cusack Handler ~review

  • Paperback: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Cavankerry (November 13, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933880333
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933880334

This book is also available as an e-book

Publisher: CavanKerry (November 13, 2012)
A coming of age memoir written in the voice of a twelve year old Irish Catholic girl living in the Bronx in 1954, Confessions recounts one year in the life of Joan, a very tall, religious, funny, self-conscious, obsessive, resilient, guilt ridden, emotionally imprisoned, lovable girl whose journey takes her from innocence, isolation, and inhibition to the beginnings of freedom and awakening. Fiercely committed to seeing only the good –be it in her family or the world, the Joan who greets us is flush with the beauty and pleasure of family and the Lord.
Gradually however, she sinks into the devastation of adolescent self consciousness over her many physical problems including her height, her weak bladder and her body’s eruption with boils and colitis all of which set her off from the boys and girls her age and open her up to ridicule of the most vicious kind. Her battles are also spiritual: her unbridled guilt and view of herself as a sinner far from the girl Jesus and her father want and deserve and her abject terror of “having to be a nun”; and familial as well: her ambivalent relationships with her parents and siblings which deteriorate into extremely painful interactions and betrayals. Of particular importance are her relationships with her parents–while her father is the adored saintly ideal she struggles to model and please, her possessive often angry and withholding mother demands complete obedience of the very malleable Joan as she conducts her battle to control the family.
Confused by her Catholic commitment to confess all one’s wrongs on the one hand and her mothers’ dictate to say nothing of what happens inside the family ‘four walls’, Joan struggles to find a place where she can reveal all that torments her—this relief she finds in her notebook. And it is her compulsion to write her pain along with her resilience, maturity, her growing awareness of her parents’ imperfections, her sustained love affair with the beach and her emerging sexuality and attractiveness that ultimately save her and prepare her for life in the world outside her family and small community.
Confessions of Joan the Tall is a splendid book, and Joan the Tall is a splendid girl—brave, effervescent and vulnerable.  She flubs the rules of the Catholic church, she flubs the rules of family life, and amidst the quandaries, sins, punishments, and totally divine greedy moments in this story of her Irish American family, she grows into what tallness can mean—the ability to see from a mountaintop.  From her devout father to her feisty mother, from her well-groomed sister to her brothers–both bullies and allies–and from her big shoes to her fabulous white bathing suit, Joan grows, showing us (and herself) what it means to be larger than life.— Molly Peacock, poet & author of  Paradise Piece by Piece 
Confessions of Joan the Tall is a remarkable book.  It’s impossible not to like Joan, impossible not to feel for her in the depths of her coming of age struggles, and impossible for anyone raised in a devout Catholic family to keep from smiling and nodding at the author’s insights into the Roman Catholic mindset.  It’s a book that can be enjoyed by anyone between the ages of ten and a hundred—Catholics and non-Catholics alike– a real literary achievement that I both enjoyed and admired.  I wanted it to go on and on. Roland Merullo, author of Breakfast with Buddha and The Talk-Funny Girl 

My take on this book:
I have become a fan of reading coming of age stories, and "Confessions of Joan the Tall" is a memoir that I won't soon forget.The author allows us to see things thru the eyes of Joan a Catholic girl growing up in the Bronx during the fifties. Thing is Joan isn't happy with her height, and also struggles with other health issues that causes her to feel like she doesn't fit in. 
I really enjoyed reading Joan's story. Even though I am not Catholic,the story was still one I could connect with, I could understand how her upbringing in the church would propel her to want to be a "good" Catholic girl. Vivid descriptions allowed me to envision the setting. I could just imagine the "Crazy" lady or the lot where her brother would often scare her. I felt empathy for her as a young girl who had bladder issues. Overall an interesting memoir that would resonate with anyone who grew up Catholic, but will also connect with anyone who didn't fit in during school, and struggled with self image.

About Joan Cusack


Publisher and senior editor of CavanKerry Press, Ltd., a not-for-profit literary press that serves both art and community, Joan has two published poetry collections–Glorious and The Red Canoe: Love in Its Making Her poems have appeared in Agni, Boston Review, Poetry East and The New York Times among others.  She’s received five Pushcart nominations and awards from The Boston Review and the Chester H. Jones Foundation.  She has also served as resident faculty at the Frost Place annual poetry festival. In her other life, she’s a psychologist in clinical practice.
Connect with Joan at her website,, or on her blog.

Why not follow along on the TLC blog tour to see what other reviewers are saying about this book.

Monday, November 26th:  Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, November 27th:  Pingwing’s Bookshelf
Wednesday, November 28th:  Fiction Addict
Thursday, November 29th:  A Catholic Mom Climbing the Pillars
Friday, November 30th:  Bookchickdi
Monday, December 3rd:  Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Tuesday, December 4th:  She Treads Softly
Friday, December 7th:  Confessions from a Rambling Mind
Monday, December 10th:  Speaking of Books
Wednesday, December 12th:  Bibliosue
Thursday, December 13th:  WV Stitcher
Friday, December 14th:  Luxury Reading
Monday, December 17th:  Day by Day in Our World
Tuesday, December 18th:  Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday, December 19th:  Reading Between the Lines
Date TBD:  Simply Stacie


1 comment:

  1. "anyone who didn't fit in during school, and struggled with self image" - I imagine that this would be MOST people. Sounds like this book has a wide audience!

    Thanks for being on the tour!


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