Monday, September 28, 2009

Review #14: The Water Giver by Joan Ryan

Title: The Water Giver: The Story of a Mother, a Son and Their Second Chance

Author: Joan Ryan
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Format: Review copy
Genre: Memoir

Rating: 5/5

In giving feedback to the publisher, I simply wrote, "This book hit me like a punch to the gut."
It told a story of a mother and son with a bond so strong, I shed tears as a read. Being a mother to a son, I hoped for the bond but not the tragic event that helped create it.

My description:
The author and her husband adopt an infant boy from a young couple in Hawaii. Successful, well off, and enthusiastic to be parents, they do not anticipate parenting to be a difficult ride.
Their son, Ryan, turns out to be anything but easy. From an early age he is aggressive, anxious, and hyper plagued with misunderstood and misdiagnosed learning disabilities. After many attempts to "fix" her son, the author settles into the feeling that she has some how failed him and is in turn a bad mother.

Then comes the day like any other Ryan hops on his skateboard and takes a spin around the neighborhood, only to fall and hit his head. A trip to the hospital is in order for a quick check, just to be safe, says the mother. But what occurs is the beginning of months and months of pain, recovery, worry, heartbreak, love and miracles. That bump to his head caused such damage that he required surgery after surgery and months of rehabilitation.

These months after the accident is the heart of this book.

My Review:
One line that haunted me throughout and was repeated was "His clothes were still in the back of the car waiting for him."


As a mother, you are always planning; for the worst, for rain, for hunger, for a scrape, for a tantrum, or for fun. Whatever it is, a mother will be prepared. The author, on the way to the hospital, thinking it won't be too long brings her son a new pair of clean clothes. Always prepared.
Of course, as soon as she gets to the hospital, the news becomes so bad that the ordinary gets forgotten.

By reading the description of the book and the author profile, you do know ahead of time that her son does end of surviving and pulling through but you don't plan on the heavy hearted account of what he had to go through, what the family had to go through to get there. This book was written with such emotional honesty that I really felt like I was there with her as a friend holding her hand. Sounds cheesy I know but, chalk it up to being a mom, but I GOT it. I just GOT what she was feeling, what she wanted to do, and the fierceness in her protection and advocacy of her son's healthcare.

This was an absolutely powerful account of a mother's love for her son. During his recovery and rehabilitation, she becomes the mother she wanted to be and he needs her in the way she always wanted him to. It's no longer about putting him in a box and figuring him out. It's about finally understanding that he is her son, no matter what and she will stop at nothing to protect him.

I am a fan of memoirs. I enjoy reading stories of other's lives especially if I can identify or gather a bit of wisdom. This book brought me back to my own childhood when I had open heart surgery at the age of five. I have vivid memories of the support and love of not only my mother and father but a whole cast of doctors, nurses and therapists which this book is full of;
a dedicated crew from various healthcare facilities along the way.

I highly recommend this book to a reader who enjoys a powerful story. It is worthy of a 5 rating. It is due out in September 2009 in stores. Here is a short author profile straight from the back of the book for your reference:

Joan Ryan is an award winning journalist and author. She was a pioneer in sports journalism, becoming one of the first female sports columnists in the country. Her first book, Little Girls in Pretty Boxes: the Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters, was named one of the Top 100 Sports Books of All Time by Sports Illustrated. Joan lives in Marin County, north of San Francisco, with her husband, Fox sportscaster Barry Tompkins, their 18 yr old son, Ryan, and their dog, Bill.

Happy Reading and as always, thanks for stopping by!

* red headed book child


Jenny said...

Wow, great review! I saw this at BN and wasn't sure how it would be but sounds great.

Amo said...

Ooooohhh, sounds good! Can't wait to read it!

Lisa said...

Well, it's going to sound trite to say it after you did, but "wow!" As the mother of two boys, this sounds like something I must read.

Amy J said...

I saw this online somewhere the other day and I wanted to read it! This looks like a great book! Great review and I got my book in the mail! Thanks for the card also!

Ryan said...

What a wonderful review. I'm going to have to check this out.

I have an award for you:

Michelle Stockard Miller said...

Thanks for this Michelle. I'm going to have to read it, if I can stand it. My eldest son is very much like the boy you described...aggressive, hyper, anxious...he has ADHD and takes meds for that and for anxiety. It is a constant struggle with him. He was suspended 4 times in KINDERGARTEN! 1st grade was great, but this year (2nd grade) has had a bad start because we tried to take him off the ADHD medicine. Didn't work...he's been off focus & getting Fs. Anyway, I didn't mean to ramble on here, but I was just trying to relate to you why I was nearly in tears as I read about the book and your review. I can totally relate! Thanks again...I'll let you know when I read it =o)

joan ryan said...

This is Joan Ryan, the author of the book. I want to thank you, Michelle, for your review. You so understood what I was trying to capture -- you got everything -- the pain, the humor, the regret, the redemption -- the messy grappling that is parenthood. Thank you so much. BTW, we're still grappling. Ryan has left college. You can check out my blog, Brain Trust, at my web site ( It picks up sort of where the book leaves off . .