In her memoir Holes in My Shoes: One Family Survives the Great Depression, author Alice Breon, now in her 80s, looks back fondly on a childhood from another era.
Breon has a remarkable memory and much to offer readers who know little about the struggles of everyday families during the Great Depression. She writes that as a child she really didn’t understand the financial hardships because everyone around her was in the same shape. She gives only hints of the difficulties, such as when she writes about the children in her neighborhood sent away to live with relatives because their parents could not feed them; how her family cut cardboard to cover the holes in the soles of their shoes; or how her mother never failed to give a hot meal to a homeless man knocking on their back door. She also writes about the stuff of everyday life at that time: the 10-cent movie matinees, the radio shows, a splurge for a Shirley Temple dress.
There is a heartbreaking yet fascinating stoicism to the Great Depression – especially when contrasted with the current economic hardships so many face – but sadly that theme is underdeveloped. Perhaps Breon gave little attention to those darker undercurrents because she was trying to recreate the world as seen through a child’s eyes. But readers need, and in this case, want more: they expect a fully developed tale rather than a catalog of reminiscences.
Instead of a crafted narrative, Breon’s tale feels like a printed version of an oral history of her life growing up in the 1930s. Her memories are strung together without any real storyline or context, leaving readers unconnected with someone else’s nostalgia. As a result, her book will be a wonderful keepsake for her friends and family but will likely have challenges attracting a wider audience.
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