Author Peggy Kennedy grew up in a family with four siblings whose members seem to be constantly engulfed in extreme drama.
The book opens onto a scene of Kennedy’s mother, Barbara, falling into one of her manic states, a condition that will cause her to be hospitalized throughout Kennedy’s life. Her father, who appears to be the penultimate fireman hero, ultimately loses his job over a mistake and his rock-steady persona is chipped away. Her mother is impregnated by a man other than her father; her sister is murdered in a crime scene out of Criminal Minds; two family members come out long before same sex love was part of the new normal. And throughout it all, Kennedy relays the feeling of a family that hangs onto each other come what may.
When Barbara’s episodes take over, she thinks she’s an Indian and can take her children to a better place – Neverland. Even though she tries to accomplish this by turning on the gas, the Kennedy group never wavers in their love and support for her.
Although engaging, at times the story loses its narrative quality as the author tries to chronicle each event rather than giving broad strokes. This quality can make all events occur at the same pitch rather than some being more dramatic than others. Still, Kennedy keeps readers turning the pages, making us care about every member of her family.
Ultimately, her memoir brings to mind The Glass Castle and The Memory Palace, two titles that shed light on the chaos of families coping with a mentally unstable parent. When such memoirs work, as these do, they take readers out of themselves, making them understand that the grass is not really greener elsewhere. At the end of Approaching Neverland, we are grateful for sharing the Kennedys’ joys and sorrows. And more than happy to return to our own families.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.