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Hamster Island
by Joan Heartwell

Published: 2014-05-15
Perfect Paperback : 228 pages
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1 member has read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 2 of 3 members
Hamster Island is Heartwell's story of growing up ordinary in family that embodied dysfunction. Her childlike shame for her special needs siblings is balanced by a fierce love that, occasionally, enabled her to shed her diffidence and perform extraordinary feats of pluck and valor. Funny ...
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Introduction

Hamster Island is Heartwell's story of growing up ordinary in family that embodied dysfunction. Her childlike shame for her special needs siblings is balanced by a fierce love that, occasionally, enabled her to shed her diffidence and perform extraordinary feats of pluck and valor. Funny and heartbreaking simultaneously, Hamster Island is a coming-of-age in the tradition of such darkly comic memoirs as Mary Karr's The Liars Club and Augusten Burroughs' Running with Scissors; it delights while exploring issues of identity, transformation, and responsibility.

What people are saying:

"Bittersweet, engagingly written, and populated by a household of strong-willed, idiosyncratic characters, Hamster Island has, at its core, a conflict familiar to us all: How can we be good to others while also being good to ourselves? ...This tale of caregiving and self-actualization is unique, but it abounds with insights for us all."
~ Rachel Simon, New York Times bestselling author of Riding The Bus With My Sister and The Story of Beautiful Girl

"Joan Heartwell invites us into her life on Hamster Island with great honesty and humor and warmth. This memoir will resonate deeply with anyone who ever longed for a 'normal' family, anyone who ever escaped the chaos of their childhood home, anyone who was ever bound by love to return."
~ Gayle Brandeis, novelist, winner of Barbara Kingsolver s Bellwether Prize for Fiction in Support of Literature of Social Change

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.

Excerpt

Chapter One

Miracle Climb

Grandma doesn’t give a hoot about shrines, but if visiting some means getting out of the house for a few days, she is all for it. She hates the house—especially on weekends when my father is home. She hates my father. He is loud and dirty and he pisses like a racehorse. The bathroom is centrally located, right between the room I share with my brother and my parents’ room, right at the end of short hall that joins both bedrooms with the living and dining rooms. We can easily hear him pissing, and grandma is right: it does sound like something big—as big as a horse—is in there. A worse offense, in her mind, is that he takes the long-sleeved shirts she feels obligated to buy him every Christmas and on his birthdays and cuts the sleeves off. Since he doesn’t bother to hem them, the edges fray, more and more over time, and she hates him most when she sees him wearing faded shirts with sleeves that have frayed edges. Still, she goes on buying them, and he goes on accepting them without a word of complaint. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

Some of the ways in which the author is able to help her siblings are obvious. Are there less obvious ways in which her siblings are able to help her?

The author chose to divide her book into two parts, one a coming of age narrated by her younger self and the other looking back from the perspective of a seasoned adult to explain what becomes of her siblings after her parents are no longer able to take care of them. Does this shift in tone work in this particular book?

What do you think motivated the author to tell her story? Is it a story you would tell if you had lived it?

Can you relate to the author’s experience of being a caretaker based on any caretaking you may have done yourself in your life? How was your experience the same/different?

Based on what information you have garnered in the book, do you believe there are adequate social services available for the developmentally disabled and the mentally ill?

The devastating effects of mental illness have been well documented. But until recently there has been little said about the sisters and brothers of the mentally ill. Now, researchers are starting to look at what they're calling “well sibling syndrome.” In what ways is the author shaped by her experience of being a “well sibling”?

Some readers describe Hamster Island as a “darkly comic” memoir. Do you agree? What moments did you find particularly funny?

What role do parking lots play in the story? What might they represent for the author?

Does this book in any way modify your convictions regarding abortion?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
by Wfanthony (see profile) 09/18/14

 
  "Hamster Island"by Ktc24 (see profile) 09/16/14

This book raised so many questions of a social concern with our group. The hardest thing to deal with was the filth described. Everyone felt the writing was very good and the book was compared on more... (read more)

 
  "Hamster Island"by alyssa (see profile) 08/23/14

This memoir captured me from the beginning. It is a fascinating story told from the authors perspective as she grows and comes to terms with her unique world. It covers a variety of themes including religion,... (read more)

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