Published July 2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review
For Maureen Stanton’s proper Catholic mother, the town’s maximum security prison was a way to keep her seven children in line (“If you don’t behave, I’ll put you in Walpole Prison!”). But as the 1970s brought upheaval to America, and the lines between good and bad blurred, Stanton’s once-solid family lost its way. A promising young girl with a smart mouth, Stanton turns watchful as her parents separate and her now-single mother descends into shoplifting, then grand larceny, anything to keep a toehold in the middle class for her children. No longer scared by threats of Walpole Prison, Stanton too slips into delinquency—vandalism, breaking and entering—all while nearly erasing herself through addiction to angel dust, a homemade form of PCP that swept through her hometown in the wake of Nixon’s “total war” on drugs.
Body Leaping Backward is the haunting and beautifully drawn story of a self-destructive girlhood, of a town and a nation overwhelmed in a time of change, and of how life-altering a glimpse of a world bigger than the one we come from can be.
Because just before I started typing this review, I deleted the email Trish, of TLC Book Tours, had sent me asking me about being on the tour, I can't tell you what it was about this book that made her think it was something that would appeal to me. She almost certainly could not have guessed how close to home this book would hit.
Maureen Stanton and I are the same age and, while we grew up in very different parts of the country and very different families, as she talked about growing up, there was a lot that I could relate to. We both grew up in towns that housed the state's penitentiary. She references Malcolm Little (later known as Malcolm X), who was imprisoned nearby the town she grew up in; Malcolm Little was born in Omaha. Like me, she went to see the movie "Oliver" when it was in theaters and read Sacco and Vanzetti from Scholastic (a book I picked out only because I had an aunt with the last name Sacco and which introduced me to true crime books). Later she writes about her mother making a roast every Sunday and how her mother was always happy to put her husband and children first. Ditto my mom (although, to be fair, I'm not sure that either Stanton or I can be sure that our mothers were happy to do that so much as they felt it was their duty as mothers and wives). And like me, Stanton was a daddy's girl who enjoyed family outings, music, and books and who was close to her siblings.
And, like me, Stanton began experimenting with drugs and drinking while she was in her teens. But Stanton began much younger than I did and got much more heavily into drugs than I did. And just what made the difference? Stanton's parents divorced when she was still in middle school and it damaged Stanton much more deeply than she understood until she was much older. She was never sure, in her teens, if either of them was even paying attention to what was happening with her. On the other hand, my parents are still together and I never doubted for an instant that they were paying attention and cared. The other difference between Stanton and me? She grew up in an area where PCP (angel dust) became an epidemic; inexpensive and easy to get her hands on, Stanton was using dust several times a day at her peak, losing herself entirely. I was certainly aware of PCP but I really don't remember that being any one's drug of choice. But then, maybe that was just because I wasn't hanging around the kinds of people that were heavily into drugs (again, because I always knew I needed to keep up my grades and stay out of trouble).
And here is where the story crosses over into a different place where it hits close to home. While I never remotely reached the level of drug use that Stanton did, my daughter did. My daughter lived in a home where her parents were together, where they were watching her and trying to hold her to certain standards. And it didn't matter. In the end, we were just as clueless as Stanton's parents. She and I have talked a lot about what she went through but there are some things a mom just doesn't want to hear. And then a book like this comes along and makes me wake up to how close we came to losing our daughter. Stanton was lucky. The right people came into her life at the right moments, she finally began to understand that her mother cared, and she became determined to find herself again. Just like my daughter. But Stanton talks at length about the toll drugs took on the people she grew up with in Walpole, the ones who ended up in prison and the ones who died.
So you weren't born in 1960 and can't relate in any way to Stanton's experiences? You will still find this a book worth reading. Stanton draws on her own life experiences to talk about the prison systems in the U. S., the way the war on drugs changed the prison system and targeted minorities, and divorce. I was expecting a memoir so was happy to find that Stanton had things to teach me as well.
I was also really impressed with Stanton's writing, with her style and with her ability to make me see things in a way I hadn't seen them before. Like this explanation of how divorce impacts children:
"The separation was an end to intimacy with my father, an end to seeing him in his pajamas day after day, seeing him as ordinary and vulnerable and human - sleepy, crusty-eyed, unkempt, knowing him in all his moods, watching him in his morning rituals, sit-ups, shaving, coffee, newspaper or Time. I'd hover near him, close enough to smell his coffee-scented breath when I asked for a sip, black and bitter."check out the full tour.
Maureen Stanton is an award-winning nonfiction writer, and author of “Body Leaping Backward: Memoir of a Delinquent Girlhood,” a People Magazine “Best New Books” pick, and “Killer Stuff and Tons of Money,” winner of the 2012 Massachusetts Book Award in nonfiction. Her essays and memoirs have been published in many literary journals, including Creative Nonfiction, Fourth Genre, The Florida Review, New England Review, and River Teeth, among others. She has received the Iowa Review Prize, the American Literary Review Prize, Pushcart Prizes, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and Maine Arts Commission Individual Artist Fellowships. She has an M.F.A. from Ohio State University, and teaches at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Find out more about Maureen at her website, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.