Go to Homepage   Haven Kimmel: A Girl Named Zippy

 

Crescent Blues Book ViewsDoubleday/Random House (Trade Paperback), ISBN 0767915054

As a newborn, Haven Kimmel, a diminutive dynamo deemed an "afterthought" by her mother, elbowed her way into a family complete with a mother; father; brother, 13; and sister, 10. At five weeks, Kimmel struggled with a staph infection and took a little while to decide whether to stay or leave this world. Thankfully, she stayed and readers rejoice at this innovative memoir written without self-pity, agenda or malice.

Book: haven kimmel, a girl named zippy
In the unwavering voice of that young girl, Kimmel begins her childhood recollections with excerpts from her baby book but soon abandons any chronological map. She describes everything from her hair, disasters involving animals, her best friends and her siblings. Thus she indirectly gives readers a child's eye view of topics from religion to wicked neighbors, child abuse, domestic violence, death and poverty.

The hardback version, released in 2001, received rave reviews. But I resisted reading it, thinking, "Oh no, another memoir of growing up poor in small town Mid-America. After all, I grew up poor in an Ohio farm town, why would I want to hear about another small town experience?"

Then a fellow writer grabbed me and insisted, "YOU HAVE GOT TO READ THIS!"

"Why?"

Her answer drove me to the bookstore: "Because this is the memoir you would write if you'd sit down and just do it! Now read this and get busy."

Book: haven kimmel, the solace in leaving early
My loyal friend believes I possess more talent than I ever saw emerge from my keyboard. But she was right about the book -- amazing vignettes that made me laugh till I cried alternated with descriptions that mingled insight and innocence in the same sentence. Every chapter gave me a new perspective on my own small town experiences and a yearning to write them as clearly and simply as Haven Kimmel wrote her memories.

An example of unfettered mingling of humor and pathos opens her chapter "Julie Hit Me Three Times." She clearly describes life where humiliation and violence occur daily.

"The teachers all thought that Julie couldn't talk. I knew she could, but she didn't want to, because she sounded funny. Her brother, David Lee, who was basically a heathen, knocked all her front baby teeth out when she was only two years old, so she never learned to talk exactly right."

The book, complete with pictures, tells the life of a small girl in a small town, but the truths loom large against this minimalist's pallet of not-so-pastoral times.

Dawn Goldsmith

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