A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Invisible Girl, by actress, author, and mental health advocate Mariel Hemingway and Ben Greenman, is a harrowing yet hopeful memoir of growing up in a troubled family with a legacy of suicide, alcoholism, and mental illness. Hemingway offers a kid's-eye view of a chaotic, angry family wherein "nobody's happy," charting her journey from infancy through early high school, trying to make sense of the behavior of those around her, from her hard-partying, always fighting alcoholic parents to her older sisters to the mean kids at school. Hemingway briefly mentions the suicide by gunshot of her famous grandfather Ernest Hemingway, her oldest sister's stay in a mental institution, eating disorders (one scene of binge eating followed by purging), obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, the death of a pet, her father's heart attack and survival, and her mother's cancer diagnosis and treatment. Her sister Margot hits her in the mouth with a baseball bat, knocking out her two front teeth. Mentions of drug-taking and lots of scenes of adults drinking, with young Mariel fixing her parents' drinks. One kiss as part of a planned third-grade stunt. Invisible Girl is being published at the same time as Hemingway's memoir for adults, Out Came the Sun: Overcoming the Legacy of Mental Illness, Addiction, and Suicide in My Family.
What's the story?
Actress-author and mental health advocate Mariel Hemingway recalls her childhood growing up in a famous family with a legacy of suicide, alcoholism, and mental illness. From infancy, Mariel recounts feeling like an INVISIBLE GIRL, desperate for her parents' attention and her two older sisters' affection. Her alcoholic parents are always partying and arguing, and family members escape by various means -- oldest sister Muffet through drugs and flights of fancy (it turns out she's a schizophrenic and at one point does a stint in a mental institution), Dad through fishing in addition to drinking, and middle sister Margot through an eating disorder, drugs, and eventually a career as a model and actress, for which she changes the spelling of her name to "Margaux." When Mariel's 4 (in 1965), the family moves from California to Idaho, where her famous author grandfather, Ernest Hemingway, shot himself to death four months before she was born. Mariel feels awkward and isolated in school -- and is teased for being a rich kid whose name is actually on the school building. But she finds solace in nature, hiking with her dog, skiing, and riding horses. (Of nature she notes: "No one can make you feel stupid when you're outside in nature by yourself.") Her life changes when her father has a heart attack (but survives) and again when her mother gets cancer (a disease she lives with for 20 years), and Mariel cares for them in ways beyond what she'd already been doing all her young life. The story goes through her first movie role -- a break thanks to Margaux -- while she's still in high school.
Is it any good?
Invisible Girl covers territory common to many young-adult novels -- alcoholism, mental illness, suicide -- but it's all the more harrowing knowing this was the author's actual experience. Mariel Hemingway begins the narration in the baffled voice of a very young kid, and she basically maintains that voice throughout, puzzled by the bizarre behavior of the surrounding adults (she often seems like the only sane person in the family) and confusing, sometimes hurtful situations she mostly navigates on her own.
Kids will relate to the typical growing-up dilemmas and incidents, such as being the target of sibling or classmate rivalry, having a crush, and holding hands with a boy for the first time. And readers from troubled families can find hope in the fact that Hemingway survived hers and didn't repeat the familial pattern of substance abuse. The author not only offers a raft of "Where to Go for Help" resources at the back with website addresses and phone numbers (such as Alanon, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the International OCD Foundation, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and so on) but also introduces each topic area in the context of her own experience. She advises kids that if they're going through something like she did or feeing the same way not to keep it to themselves; there are adults and organizations that can help.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about alcoholism and depression. Why do they seem to run in families? How can a person break a family pattern?
How does suicide hang over the Hemingway family? Have you read any books by Ernest Hemingway?
Does being part of a famous family seem to help or hurt Mariel when she's growing up?
- Authors: Mariel Hemingway, Ben Greenman
- Genre: Autobiography
- Topics: Arts and Dance, Brothers and Sisters, Cats, Dogs, and Mice, Great Girl Role Models, Horses and Farm Animals, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Non-Fiction
- Publisher: Regan Arts.
- Publication date: April 7, 2015
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 147
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 4, 2020
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