January 8th, 2016
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My wonderful son and I share a love of reading all kinds of books.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, or biography.

A good story always grabs us and we like to share books that we discover and enjoy so much that we can’t put them down until we arrive at the last word.

As a Christmas present, he gave me a memoir titled, Mermaid, a book that neither of us had read but still his instincts told him that this would probably be a book I would enjoy.

He was right!  I loved it and whipped right through it because it’s a powerful story written in an honest yet sensitive manner.

Mermaid by Eileen Cronin addresses a subject I had never read about: what it feels like to be born without legs and how this disability shaped Cronin’s amazing life.

Cronin’s resilient drive to survive and live a full life fascinated me.  Her story is unusual on so many levels.  I just have to say without giving too much of the book away that Mermaid is a beautiful and even healing story that at times made me laugh out loud.  You may wonder how this subject could possibly be funny.

It’s all in the magic of Cronin’s writing.

As the sixth child in a large boisterous Catholic family of eleven children, Eileen Cronin had to do a lot of emotional jostling and adjusting to stake out her rightful place.  Add her physical disability to the usual roller coaster, topsy turvy growing up process and you get an idea of the family dynamics.  Coming from a large Catholic family with six children, I recognized the humor in Cronin’s storytelling of what it’s like to come of age in the 1960’s and 1970’s with so many siblings and to learn the give and take of relationships that can sometimes be brutal but ends up serving you well when you fly the family coop and are finally on your own.

Cronin calls her story a memoir of resilience and that’s exactly what it is.  From sitting in her fifth grade classroom as teacher Sister Luke coldly announces to all of her classmates that Eileen is a victim of thalidomide poisoning (a drug developed in Germany that was prescribed to expecting mothers in the late 1950s and early 60s to resolve insomnia and morning sickness) , to learning how to walk and endure the pain of prosthetic legs to dealing with her mother’s mental illness and her father’s departure from the family, Eileen’s resolve is deeply tested many times but still she never gives up on herself.

Eileen Cronin is tenacious about pursuing personal growth.  She questions, she searches for answers and sometimes tortures herself with internal debates while trying to figure out her place and purpose in life.  She candidly explains her choices and her mistakes and even her loves, always challenging herself to become better.

In Mermaid, Eileen Cronin confronts her disability, often making fun of it, in order to make peace with it.  She is one incredibly brave and beautiful lady who forges her own path towards the life she dreamed of having.

Reading Mermaid is like hanging out with a new friend, a friend who tells you her secrets, makes you crack up with laughter but also gives you the resolve to face your struggles and stays with you as you work to overcome them.

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