None of us would be writing this blog or much of anything else if we hadn’t found Janelle Hanchett’s blog, Renegade Mothering, and then taken her online writing class together. And we couldn’t be more excited to tell you how her new book, I’m Just Happy To Be Here: A Memoir of Renegade Mothering, is changing our lives once again. If you don’t run out and buy this book after reading these reviews, you are clearly a heartless robot. Janelle, we love you, you jerk face.
Amy Smith Elliott
I had the privilege of receiving an advance reader copy of this book and devoured it in three days. It is different than what I expected. Janelle is humorous and irreverent and sometimes even aggressive on her blog, and that is why many of us fell in love with her writing and her online persona. But this book delves deep into her past and her mind and her addiction. It is delicate at times and raucous at others but it carries us through her journey in a beautiful and heartbreaking way. It is not a self help book, it is not a good mother’s guide to recovery. It is broken down and raw and searing and at turns it is joyful. It is a glimpse, no, a wide-eyed look into what makes us human. And whether you have suffered from mental illness, addiction, regret or simply have wondered at how difficult life can be some days, this book will make you look at things just a little bit differently. I finished it last week and it hasn’t left me. The images Janelle painted and the people she brought to us have stayed at the surface of my mind. I’m going to read parts again so I can keep them a little bit longer. Please read this book, buy it for your friend or your mother or your husband. It needs to be out there in the world.
Over the past 15-20 years I’d say three-quarters of what I’ve read has been memoir. It’s my jam. It’s where I find stories that resonate, where I learn how other people approach their own truth, and the genre I’ve been drawn to use in crafting my own story. More than anything, I am interested in the exchange of stories around how we make it through the things we never thought we could survive.
I was expecting to love Janelle’s book because she knows something about survival and isn’t afraid of her own truths. I admire and enjoy her strong voice on her blog Renegade Mothering and adore her as a teacher and friend. I was not, however, prepared for the ways in which the book was going to hit me.
Sometimes we read memoir to get into the shoes of someone whose story is very different than our own, and other times to find comfort in the familiar. I wasn’t a young mother and haven’t dealt directly with addiction, so I expected to get a top-notch tour of a different world. Instead, I saw more of myself on the page than I was comfortable with. I related to feeling smothered by a role I also love. I squirmed as I found myself in the patterns of irritability, frustration, and even rage. Ultimately, though, I found incredible freedom in the honesty, the surrender, and the love.
I discovered Janelle’s writing in 2015 when a friend shared one of her blog posts on Facebook. I don’t even remember which post it was because I immediately started reading the whole blog. She wrote about motherhood and social expectations and politics in a way that was sarcastic, outraged, and ernest all at once. She outed herself as imperfect, a misfit, and invited all the other misfit mothers to join her. When I found out she was writing a book about her addiction and recovery that preceded her life on the blog, couldn’t wait to read it. She did not disappoint.
Janelle’s writing is brave because she knows life is too short to give any fucks about propriety and other outward signs of white, middle class adulting. After we follow her through her descent into alcoholism and slow recovery that has so many false starts we begin to doubt she will ever make it back to her family, she brings herself and the book home with a raw, unsentimental meditation on what’s truly important in this one, short life we have here on Earth. There is only time for honesty and kindness and love—for helping each other up each and every time we fall. Near the end of the book, when she is finally in recovery and staying sober, she reflects on the importance of telling her story. In the scene she is visiting a home for alcoholic mothers and explains,
“I tell them what I did and how I recovered, because I want them to see that the water they need to wash themselves clean flows always and immediately to the lowest possible places. And I know that God, to me, is that kind of love.”
This book is bedtime story for grownups—not a fairy tale where good triumphs over evil, but a story of how a flawed, messy human (as we all are) gets a chance to try again, a shot at redemption. The wisdom in Janelle’s book is that we are all already redeemed, already worthy of love. We just have to step into the water and let it wash over us.
When the ARC (advance reading copy) of I’m Just Happy to be Here arrived on my doorstep in March, I binge-read it in four days despite being alone on a weekend with my son while my husband travelled for work. Now that the book is out in the world, I’m listening to the audiobook during my morning commute, hearing Janelle’s voice tell her story as I cross the Colorado River from my home in South Austin, to the former shopping mall turned community college where I teach writing in North Austin. I wonder how many other doorsteps this book has graced, where it’s travelled in the mere two days since its release. And I know some of my friends have downloaded the audiobook, are listening to this heartbreaking story of loss of ego and true love as they traverse their cities each morning, sipping coffee, getting cut off in traffic, realizing we’re all in this together. If you’re not yet part of this club, these readers and listeners absorbing Janelle’s hard-won truth and spreading it to others, it’s time to join. There is plenty of room here. Once you’ve read the book (or listened to the author herself read it), please come back here and give us your thoughts in the comments.
Tracy Walker Morales
How I feel about this book as a reader and a writer: As an avid reader of Janelle’s blog I was in awe of the way her writing shifted to book territory. I fully expected to read Janelle, but I didn’t expect it to be more outstanding than what I thought I had come to know. Her writing expertise radiated and I see she’s arrived in a big way. Everything that she’s taught me is as true as this book.
How I feel about this book as a mother: The stories connect us all in the torrential love, guilt, guts and fire of becoming a mother which in that instant changes everything you used to be. While everyone’s journey isn’t this same Janelle lays out the truth of the moment you find out you’re carrying that baby – nothing is the same.
How I feel about this book as a women: The way we are seen and unseen, like a dial that can be turned by society if we’re in trouble or trouble. A woman’s exploration to be whole is more complicated that anyone can understand, including sometimes ourselves. If you find a few friends such as a partner, or a Good News Jack, and the relentless love of a Mother to see you through to the other side then it all might turn out better than okay.
This book is not really about alcoholism, or addiction, or even about motherhood. This is the reason it is universal. It is a book about the truth.
When we stop pretending that life is pretty and perfect, we get to that “other side” of the conversation, also known as reality. We start to talk about reality as it is, instead of the expectations, or the fantasy, or the other things marketers in New York want us to pursue. Living in reality is difficult at first – oh my god this is it?! But as Janelle chronicles in her descent into addiction and her eventual triumph, reality, with all its bumps and turns and thwarted dreams, is so much richer than anything that can be had in the relentless pursuit of that fantasy.
Letting go of the notion that we exert some kind of control over what reality looks like (make it look nice no matter what) is hard in this culture where motherhood is beautified and sanctified so aggressively. Motherhood is no exception to the rule of life: what happens can be horrible and difficult and at times very ugly and unfair. It’s felt on many levels – financial, emotional, spiritual. There is the loss of the future you thought you had, and the loss of certainty and control. However, as Janelle shows us, getting to the core of coexisting ugliness and beauty allows us to more deeply appreciate the ability to just be present: to just be here.
Reading Janelle’s memoir, clearly there is freedom in realizing you can no longer trust your prescribed future. It can be the catalyst for the kind of deep human connection we all crave. It comes at a huge price, laid bare and beating in this memoir. In the end, though, as I wept over the final chapter, there is no question about whether this journey is “worth it”; it is simply the only way.
Sarge Kathryn Clanton
Janelle is a jerk face for writing this turnt freakin memoir and that’s a fact jack.
You all ain’t ready.