Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Just Like Other Daughters: A Review

The 21st of March is World Down Syndrome Day, so I wanted to write about Down Syndrome for today. I don't have a personal connection to Down Syndrome (I've met a few people with the condition, but they were no more than acquaintances), but I have recently read a book starring a woman with Down Syndrome, so I've decided to contribute with a book review.

When I saw the back cover to Just Like Other Daughters, by Colleen Faulkner, I thought it looked promising. A romance between a woman with Down Syndrome and a man with an undefined mental disability, neither of whom can live independently? Finally! And having it narrated by an overprotective mother who the book strongly implied would learn a valuable lesson, that seemed interesting too.

But the ending ruined all my hopes for this book.

(Spoilers ahead, of course.)

The mother, several years before she conceived Chloe, aborted a presumably chromosomally typical embryo because she didn't feel ready to be a mother. Her marriage fell apart after Chloe's birth, and it's implied that Chloe's disability played a part in it. As a result, the mother often thinks about that baby she aborted and how different (and better) her life would have been if she had that child instead of Chloe. Very problematic thoughts for a mother of a woman with Down Syndrome to have, but I'm down for flawed characters, even if their narratives can make me flinch at times. As long as the author doesn't seem to share the character's views, and the sections narrated by Chloe made me really think that she didn't.

But I guess I was wrong. Because once Chloe and Thomas finally marry and Thomas moves in, it all falls apart - and for explicitly disability-related reasons.

Chloe needs her routine, and hates how Thomas living in her home disrupts the routine. She also clearly can't understand Thomas's feelings about the situation. Meanwhile, Thomas is experiencing separation anxiety, crying and having difficulty sleeping without his mother. Both sets of parents try to make it work, hoping they'll adjust, but then finally Thomas moves away with his parents.

And then Chloe turns out to be pregnant, because she and Thomas didn't understand how to use birth control. And Chloe's mother is primarily concerned that she'll have to look after a grandchild with Down Syndrome, as well. But her fears are unfounded, as the child turns out to be chromosomally typical. (Doesn't mean the child couldn't have the same condition as her father, but this isn't acknowledged as a possibility by the story.)

And then the worst twist - Chloe dies in childbirth, leaving her mother to raise her (assumed NT) child. And rather than being devastated by grief, as I'd have expected from a mother who's just lost her child, Chloe's mother seems completely fine, and delighted to raise her grandchild, who she sees as a replacement for the child she aborted. It's as if she sees Chloe's life, love and marriage as existing solely to bring her grandchild into this world, a perfect child to replace the flawed one she was saddled with. The narrative reads with the feeling that this is intended as a happy ending, or at least bittersweet, rather than the tragedy it would be normally for a story to end with a woman in her twenties dying and leaving her mother to raise her grandchild alone.

It also strikes me as odd, because while women with Down Syndrome aren't immune to dying in childbirth, it's not particularly common, either. As far as I know, it's no more common than a chromosomally typical woman dying in childbirth, and this story is set in a modern setting, so that's pretty rare. It seemed a bit overly convenient to the plot, rather than a believable event.

Overall, I would not recommend this book. I liked it at first, and I especially liked the bits narrated by Chloe, but it left a bad taste in my mouth when it ended.


Blogger Adelaide Dupont said...


thank you for your review of JUST LIKE OTHER DAUGHTERS.

Chloe's love of Beauty and the Beast is probably very relevant to today, as the live-action version was released around the world.

[Would she have loved it if she were real and alive?]

And the mother, Alicia, is an English Lit teacher.

Do you remember the review on Dave Hingsburger's website by Karin in 2014?

1:56 AM  

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