Of all the authors present at the 2013 PNWA writing conference, Tanya Chernov’s memoir A Real Emotional Girl is the only book I purchased. She spoke at a panel with her agent and editor regarding the process involved in publishing her memoir. Tanya’s personality immediately struck me as down-to-earth, and her infectious laugh further drew me in. I just knew I had to read her book.
A Real Emotional Girl: Rendering the Truth
A Real Emotional Girl is certainly an emotional read. Tanya Chernov’s memoir recallsthe experience of losing her father to cancer. Much of the story takes place in the Wisconsin summer camp owned by her mother and father. Right away, it becomes clear that Richard Chernov cares deeply for all the people in his life, and Tanya does an excellent job of exploring the emotions surrounding sharing her father with the many campers who adore him.
This book is not an easy read. From age sixteen to twenty, Tanya bears witness as her father struggles against the spreading cancer and its associated medical complications. The author’s honesty is the book’s greatest asset. Not once does she sugar-coat her or her family’s reactions.
Despite all that is working in this memoir, in the end, it left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, Chernov explores cancer’s impact in clear prose that draws readers in with its emotional balance. On the other hand, a good deal of material in the book struck me as being a bit repetitious.
It can be an especially hard call in what to condense when writing a story based on real life. My preference as a reader and writer is to combine recurring thoughts such as how the author often felt the need to get away from the situation for a few days, rather than retelling her reaction each time it happened. I don’t like to feel like I’m reading something over and over.
The first half of A Real Emotional Girl struck me as being stronger than the last half. Much of the author’s recollections read like a novel, which is no small feat in the memoir genre which can often feel overly introspective. However, a good portion of the book falls prey to telling the reader about situations rather than showing the reader what happened between people in fully developed scenes.
The recollection of the author’s post graduate trip to Europe really bogged the pace and purpose of the book down for me. It either needed to be cut completely, or more fully developed. It reads as a bit of an afterthought, but also allows the author to show how her grieving process comes full circle.
So many choices go into how to render the truth in book form. In a way, I suppose I feel like a monster for not giving this powerful story at least four stars, but in the end, I came away merely liking it. The subject matter is powerful, but the writing could be tighter. However, I would still recommend A Real Emotional Girl to anyone. At some point or another, a family member’s terminal illness will cause us to grieve. Memoirs such as this really do help.
Are you drawn to memoirs such as this one? Why or why not?
You can connect with Tanya Chernov on her author website.
For more insight, read my Book Review Criteria. Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2013.
Thanks for another insightful review. I’m sure writing a memoir is tough, but I couldn’t imagine writing about a loved one’s fight against cancer. That alone is commendable.
I wish Tanya Chernov the best with her novel.
Denise, memoir writing is among the most difficult types of writing in my opinion. The writer has to grapple with how to render the truth in ways that do not constrict a writer of fiction.
My view is that if you do not like it, Jeri, then I will give it a pass. Nothing but 5 stars from you before I will consider adding it to my must read list. 🙂
Cheryl, since I’m quite the five-star miser, I do hope you’ll consider my four-star reviews as well. Even this book was well done. To me, an average rating is perfectly fine when it comes to liking a book.
I’m not a big fan of memoirs. I think there is something essentially voyeuristic about them that doesn’t appeal to me. The fact that the author is inviting me in, doesn’t help.
I always wonder if I went through a particularly life altering experience if I wouldn’t change my mind. I think the experience might prompt me to seek out the perspectives of others to see if they had the same emotions as a result of a similar experience. Fortunately, my life has not held any challenges that I couldn’t get through without that external perspective.
Debra, I probably love memoirs precisely because of the way the writer has to invite the reader in. Although it can be difficult to find just the right balance. I know I have at least two if not three memoirs I could write, but I’m just not sure if I’m ready to go there. All the better to use real-life inspiration for the fiction I write.
Nice review… i am not sure if i do or don’t have preferences about memoirs but recently, i read a very heavy to read book about tragedy and family, inter-people relations and all. It was not a memoir, it was fictional (i think) but it was VERY heavy… and from the matter you describe this memoir is based upon, i suppose this one would be heavy, too. Would pass.
My comment i guess has a bit different purpose though – your post got me thinking, why do we read and write heavy to read books? Life can be tough enough – why do we (people in general) take pleasure in reliving other people’s tragedies, even if they are fictional?
Diana, that is such a great question. I know I am drawn to heavy books because I always seem to be looking for ways to understand the sometimes not-so-happy circumstances I had to deal with when growing up. To read about another’s person’s struggle’s can be oddly uplifting since it makes us aware of the common threads that bind us. I rarely read light stories. I much prefer serious, darker fiction and nonfiction. When people ask, I often proudly proclaim, “I don’t do sunshine and rainbows!”
Not me, at least – not any more. I still like watching dramas and sad movies but not books; too much. I definitely prefer adventures, or something that makes me laugh. Something that makes me think, too – but not something that makes me cry 😀
Diana, for some reason I’m such a sucker for books and movies and make me cry. I guess I like the cathartic appeal of a work that can affect me in such away.
I think it would be extraordinaryly hard to write about that kind of experience. Partly because of the depth of personal emotions and then reliving the experience. It does sound Interesting but in light of ALL the books I have pIled up on my bedside table, desk and coffe table I think I’ll need to pass. 🙂
Susan, yes you do have quite the pile of books if the shelves in your office are any indication of what the rest of your house contains 🙂
I’m not big on memoirs. I prefer biographies because of the unbiased feel. It might be something akin to not liking too talk about myself so much. It just sounds more true coming frm someone else.
Jon, I equally love memoirs and biographies. I know a lot of writers don’t like talking about themselves, but I seem to have the opposite issue. I don’t divulge too much in blog posts, but I do have files and files of essays where I explore all of my good and bad facets.
I really appreciate your honest review, Jeri. Having lost a mother to cancer, I can well imagine what the author went through. No need to read someone’s else’s experience about it, especially because this one doesn’t sound like it adds a unique perspective. The author sounds like a lovely person and isn’t it good to add another writer you like to your community?
Jagoda, I’m definitely glad I now know of Tanya’s work. I will be looking forward to reading more from her in the future. I truly appreciated her book, and hope that shows in my review. I really try to be even-handed. I’m sorry to hear about losing your mother to cancer.
I do enjoy biographies and memoirs.I just finished a book by a Shon Hopwood who spent 10 years in prison for robbing 5 banks. It was fascinating. While incarcerated, Shon discovered he had an aptitude for law and became a jailhouse lawyer, but not just an ordinary one. He filed a brief for another inmate with the Supreme Court which they amazingly accepted (the S.C. turns down 99% of those it receives). This caught the attention of Seth Waxman, former solicitor general, who argued the case pro bono and won a 9-0 decision. Fast forward, Hopgood was released from prison, married, had two children and is entering his third year of law school.
Incredibly, he just won a coveted clerkship for a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which is generally considered the second most important court in the nation, after the Supreme Court. Here is the link to his blog http://bit.ly/15fjh4p. Book is a great read.
Jeannette, you make the book wound fascinating. I’m heading over now to add it to my wishlist. Thanks for sharing.
I don’t mind memoirs, but if I find repetition as you mentioned in this book I do not enjoy it so I would give this one a miss. Also I am not really a reader of this type of memoir. I do like the honesty of your reviews Jeri.
Susan, honesty is always my goal as you know. That doesn’t mean it makes it any easier to be critical of good books 😉
I like memoirs very much simply because I think they are more emotionally honest that a straight-out biography. Particularly if the journey is heart based. I don’t mind difficult reading. In fact, I think in some ways it spurs growth. All of us can imagine what we may or may not do in any circumstance. But the choices we make when actually confronted can be vastly different. And I like that dichotomy…it makes me think. Though I’m not sure this would be one for me, having lived through similar times with 3 family members already. Great review and I do hope she does well with it.
Jacqueline, I’ve always felt that way when it comes to reading emotional subject matter. Fiction is limitless, whereas memoirs require the writer to work on crafting the choices they made into a story. While I’ve yet to write a memoir, I’ve taken a lot of classes in nonfiction writing, and good memoirs really do require a certain skill set that novels do not.
I happened upon this wonderful, insightful review tonight and couldn’t resist joining in the conversation! Jeri, thank you so much for buying my book at the PNWA conference and posting the critique here–I think you’ve done an amazing job fielding all these questions, as well! From one writer to another, I absolutely welcome the advice to keep things nice and tight when it comes to the repetition in future work–I remember revising that Europe section a million times over. Oy.
As an author, there’s no greater thrill than eavesdropping on a conversation about your work, as I’ve been able to do here 😉 It’s true that my memoir, A Real Emotional Girl, is about some pretty sorrowful grief and loss, but it’s also about growing up and finding my way in the world. There are some tough moments, and a few really funny ones, too. I promise–it’s truly not all doom and gloom.
When I first began to write my memoir, I set out to write the book I needed but couldn’t find in the wake of losing my father. I felt sad, scared, and completely alone in my grief. I wanted to tell the truth about what had happened to me, to my father, and to our whole family during the course of his illness and afterward. So much had changed, so much was continuing to change. Someone had to be honest about what loss really felt like, and dammit—that someone was going to be me.
In the end, I realized that all my dad ever wanted for me was to be happy. That’s all any parent wants for their child, isn’t it? So that’s what I went out and sought.
Over a decade later, the book exists, and it tells the truth. I worked my ass off to make sure of it. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s got heart. I hope that maybe some of you might give it a shot.
Either way, I sure did like listening in on all your thoughts here because any friends of Jeri’s are definitely friends of mine.
Author of A Real Emotional Girl
Tanya, thanks for stopping by. Let me also extend my thanks for your gracious comment. Sometimes it can be so nerve-racking to post these critical reviews… so thanks for not coming at me with a baseball bat 😉 Your book does indeed have heart, and the world is a better place for having your memoir in it.
OMG, I just watched the vid for this and I can see why you picked it up. I knew something sad was going to happen but wow. I’m not sure I can handle the emotions of this book. 🙂
I found it interesting that you said the first half of the book is strong. It is strange that authors seem to have only half of their book where you can’t put it down. Either it great in the beginning then the author seems to just drop it at the end or everyone tells you to keep reading it because it gets better at the end. I suppose the really successful books are the ones that keep you page turning from beginning to end.
Joanne, I only wish I knew the trick to creating page-turners from end-to-end. Now that I’ve been working on my first novel, I think it really does have something to do with how quickly the initial draft was written. It’s not that warp-speed writing is always better, I just think the initial rush of ideas and the excitement transfers to the page when the writer can draft at a decent clip. Oh how I wish I could do that… My writing speed is like pouring molasses from a jar.
Losing your father to cancer would be awful. I can’t even imagine the pain. Bless her heart.
Krystle, she really has been through a lot, but what most impressed me when I heard her speak at the writing conference is the measure of resilience that comes through loud and clear.
Hm. Hard to say if I would like the book or not. I have read some wonderful memoirs. I do like the little video, but that’s because I’m fond of simple animations.
I lost my mother to cancer, and much more recently, my father to his illnesses. I can’t imagine reading a book about those experiences. I really would not want to do so. But I do get attracted to stories of people who led very difficult lives, just very different than my own.
Leora, the animated book trailer for Tanya’s book is excellent in its simplicity, not just in the drawings, but in how its subdued overall. So many add in background music that gets distracting.
I’m not really a fan of books that make me confront horrible situations. I think I have had enough sadness through out my life and I would rather read something uplifting.
With that said, you never know, I may well write my own memoir and then hope there are people out there that will want to read it.
Becc, I do hope you want to write a memoir someday. You have much insight worth sharing, and think of all the material you can pull from your blog for re-shaping. Personally, I find books that confront difficult situations to be the most uplifting ones. I admire any writer who can expose themselves as a way of self-healing and helping others heal as well.