Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Learning Joy from Dogs without Collars - Summer

In her memoir, Learning Joy from Dogs without Collars, Lauralee Summer tells her "homeless to Harvard" story with just enough sarcasm and trepidation to make her real.  From her childhood in Oregon and California, where she and her mother moved regularly and sometimes lived in shelters to survive, to her teens years spent in Quincy, Massachusetts she shares her struggles and helps the reader to truly understand the plight of the poor. 

With the guidance of her beloved "Mr. Mac", a teacher and friend, and a focus on high school wrestling Summer manages to not only get through high school but gain acceptance to Harvard University, due more perhaps to her uniqueness than her grades, an issue that keeps her in fear of being "found out". Unlike other similar stories however, Summer doesn't fit seamlessly into the Harvard world and live happily ever after.  She talks candidly about her struggles to find herself and figure out her place, not only at Harvard but in the world.  In doing so, she becomes the first female on the Harvard wrestling team and creates her own course of study in order to succeed, eventually reconnecting and forging a strong bond with a father who denied her as a child.

In the book, Summer speaks often of the juxtaposition between her life at Harvard and at home with her mother (who continues to live in and out of shelters while Summer completes college), the varied differences between her Harvard world and her home world.  Unfortunately, her writing suffers from the same confusion...flowing from comfortable conversation about the realities of poverty and homelessness, to pretentious intellectualism about sexism and such issues.  She lost my attention more than once during long-winded rants...  At times she is interesting and engaging and others she is just boring. Despite that, when she's good, she's very good. 

3/5- Good. Read it, have a good time and move on. Or not.