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.