Category Archives: memoir

The Power of Determination


A memoir led to the movie, “This Boy’s Life.” The movie came out,

to much critical acclaim, in 1993. It is well worth seeing all

over again, just to see how Leonardo DiCaprio began his career,

with such finesse and quality acting.

The movie tells the true life story of Tobias Wolff. The screenplay

was written by Robert Getchell. The movie was directed by Michael


It all begins in the year, 1957, where a boy who is known to be

a troublemaker has been moved around a lot with a mother who has

her own issues. Toby is around the age of 13 years old. I could

relate to some of the subject matters, although I would have

only been two years old when the story begins.

Ellen Barkin plays a scattered woman with low self esteem, who

desperately loves her son, trying to always figure out ways

where they can be together. Her intent is for them to have a

good life. You can see how sincerely loving she is towards

her son, although you will probably wonder about her choices.

Their life has included a father who took off once Toby was

born, a boyfriend who is very controlling and then, an escape

from this bad situation.

They land in Seattle, Washington, with only a few suitcases

and even, despite Toby’s inquiring before leaving,

“Don’t you want to take the canned goods?”

His being accustomed to the packing and leaving sequence is

evident in that simple question.

A seemingly ‘perfect man’ comes along, playing a proper suitor.

The mother’s excited and so are her waitress friends. He is a


The ‘new guy’ displays some suave and sophisticated airs, like

lighting a woman’s cigarette, with a sweep of his arm and flash

of the lighter. Later on, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Toby,

imitates the ‘new guy’s’ tone of voice and flashy behaviors,

“to a T.”

While wooing the mother, played by Ellen Barkin, he is very

boastful of the town he is from called, “Concrete.”

I won’t tell you too many details, but Robert De Niro plays

the new stepfather who is jealous of his stepson. It becomes

apparent, when he marries her before taking her to his home,

to meet the three children, that he needed her in the role

of being a mother.

the mother to be there to take care of his own three children.

Once there, they find themselves in an attractive and well

kept house in the ‘boondocks.’ There is a moment where the

older son, Toby’s stepbrother, mentions that it is 40 miles

to get to school from their house in the country. His father,

who is argumentative and tyrannical in his behavior, argues

about this fact.

The true story is narrated by Tobias, Toby or as he wishes

people would call him, “Jack.” He gets in with the ‘wrong’

crowd, soon enough. There are moments where you cringe,

others where you feel the lyrical beauty in a story that

you just hope will turn out okay. It is a hauntingly and

painful story that unwinds until the credits roll, telling

you where each member of the family is (in 1993, when the

movie was released).

The carefully choreographed, spinning tale slowly unfolds

of a ‘punk’ or a rebel who realizes his only way out of

Concrete is to make it into Prep School. He takes his older

stepbrother’s advice, taking the admission test, fudging on

his ‘resume’ and actually getting a blank transcript where

he has the ability of using the old typewriter to fill in

the blanks.

This much you may have known from your first viewing of the

movie. I barely touched on the details that had faded in my

memory bank. This is a fascinating memoir which led to a

great movie of triumphing over obstacles. It is more than

any boy’s life, it is one of someone who had a rather horrific

childhood and overcame all the odds. I don’t think I grasped

the potential for death or realize that the harrowing escape

meant everything, when I saw, “This Boy’s Life,” for the first


I highly recommend seeing this movie, if you haven’t seen it

in awhile! Or if you haven’t, If you would like to try an

engrossing and in the end, uplifting book or movie, borrow

“This Boy’s Life” from the library!

Let me know how you liked this, if you have seen it…

Book Review: “Pioneer Girl”


A woman who wrote a memoir, titled, “Stealing Buddha’s

Dinner,” (2007) has used what is called the ‘working

title’ from “Little House in the Prairie.” Originally,

Laura Ingalls Wilder had written “Pioneer Girl,” on

her rough draft of her first book to be published.

There is a former Purdue professor, Bich Minh Nguyen,

born in Viet Nam and who immigrated to Grand Rapids,

Michigan who has written her second book, this time

a novel inspired by the life of Rose Wilder Lane.

When Ms. Nguyen discovered that Rose had traveled to

Viet Nam on an assignment for a magazine to put a

feminine perspective on the Viet Nam war, she felt

a common bond with Rose. Ms. Nguyen was compelled to

write about a fictionalized part of Rose Wilder Lane’s

life. She incorporated some details, by having the main

character and narrator, named Lee Lien, discover the

common ties between the real journalist named Rose and

the fictional character named Lee.

I found that this book has a fascinating way of drawing

you into Lee’s life. She has completed her education,

but comes home to live with her mother and grandfather.

For the time being, Lee Lien has decided to help run

the fictional Lotus Leaf Café.

This restaurant is an Asian, mixed with fusion, place

in a strip mall in Chicago, Illinois. Lee’s mother is

portrayed as a pushy and domineering woman, while her

grandfather is given a gentle, sympathetic personality.

In an interview, Ms.Nguyen, the author, says that it

was quite a challenge to mesh the real life character

with “an alternative reality.”

I have found myself drawn to immigrants’ stories. I

have shared that my own mother’s parents met in NYC,

one a Swedish immigrant and the other a German one.

The way Ms. Nguyen shares that she never felt very

comfortable in Michigan and always wondered why her

parents stayed there, since they could have sought a

different part of the country. She did finish her own

education in Indiana, part of the Midwest, but has

moved in the past year to the San Francisco Bay area.

Here is a quotation from Ms. Nguyen,

“I’m a Midwesterner. We sort of believe you should

grow where you’re planted. So it was hard to leave.

It took me and my husband a long time to make this

decision.” (She, her husband and two children, ages

two and four years old moved in July, 2013.)

She feels that moving to the West coast is like a

dream and it is more home to her now, too.

I felt that this book would be a great one to share

with people who don’t feel like they belong, if they

were Asian descent, if they were adopted and to help

come to terms with becoming part of American culture.

A great part of researching Rose Wilder Lane, beloved

character and daughter of the “Little House” books

series, was to discover that she became such a

renowned journalist and novelist that her numerous

publications have become enshrined in the Herbert Hoover

Presidential Library!

What a fantastic legacy, as the daughter of Laura Ingalls

Wilder, to become a famous journalist and author, in her

‘own right.’

I think this meant a lot to me, having been such a fan of

L. W. Ingalls’ books, to know what happened to her daughter,

Rose Wilder Lane.

As a last explanation for combining her own roots with the

life of R. W. Lane, author, Bich Minh Nguyen states:

“I was interested in the idea of mythmaking and the idea

of trying to find one’s story.”

As writers, we all try different ways to combine our own

lives, weaving them into our stories, along with wishing

to create ones that are mythical and meaningful.

You may find your “muse” in another person’s life story.

Hope this book will inspire you.