Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings Book Review

“Normal” is relative. What is every day to one person is out completely out of the ordinary for another.

To say that Chrysta Bilton‘s childhood was anything but ordinary is an understatement. Raised in and around Los Angeles, her story is told in the new memoir, Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings. It was published earlier this month.

In the early 1980s, her mother, Debra was out of the closet and wanted to be a mother. Other than getting married to a man and making a baby the old-fashioned way, her options were limited. She would have to go to a sperm bank. While getting her hair done one day, Debra met Jeffrey Harrison. He was everything she wanted the father of her children to be.

Through Debra tried to create a traditional family structure for both Chrysta and her younger sister, it was anything but. She had a series of partners, addiction issues, and tried to support her daughters via get-rich-quick schemes.

When Chrysta finally discovered the truth about her parentage and her many half-siblings, she was forced to face a reality that would force her to shift her worldview.

This book is amazing. Bilton’s story is complicated, emotional, difficult at times, and shows the truth about what it is to have a family. What I found inspiring is that Bilton somehow came out of this extraordinary childhood with a resolve and a strength that some might not have developed at all.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings is available wherever books are sold.

Flashback Friday: The Blind Side (2009)

Education, as we all know, unlocks the key to our future. When we don’t have access to that education, that lack of access has the possibility of lifelong consequences.

The 2009 film, The Blind Side, is based on the true story of former NFL player Michael Oher. The narrative comes from the book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, by Michael Lewis. In his teenage years, Oher (Quinton Aaron) was a young man who had almost nothing. Coming from a large African-American family that was dealing with poverty, homelessness, and addiction. Taken in by Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) and her family, he is being given the opportunity that many of his peers will never receive.

When he shows a spark of interest and the ability to play football, this opens the door to a life path that he never expected.

Without knowing anything about the real people behind the story, it is a tale of seeing potential in a young person who does not believe that they have any. Bullock won an Oscar for the role and deserved it. Her role is that of a mama bear who loves and protects her young ones with a ferocity that never wavers.

There are two perspectives on the movie. The first is that it is at heart, a white savior narrative. From a certain point of view, it is extremely problematic. The other is that it humanizes the white evangelical Christian Republicans. These days, it’s easy to demonize this crowd. This story shows that they are just like the rest of us, even when we disagree on a litany of topics.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Just Getting Rid of the Homeless Camps in NYC is Not Enough

I think it is pretty safe to say that the homeless issue is a worldwide problem. Though the solutions seem simple enough to execute, the reality is that it comes down to deeds, not words.

Over the last couple of weeks, New York City Mayor Eric Adams decided that the way for the city to solve the problem in regard to homeless citizens was to purge the streets of encampments that have popped up in various locations.

While I understand that aggressive action is needed, this is nothing more than kicking the can down the road. The issues that contribute to someone living on the streets seem enormous: mental health, drug addiction, structural racism, lack of affordable housing, unsafe shelters, etc.

The truth is that while they are daunting, they are not impossible to solve. Now granted, I’m not an expert, but simple logic seems to be the cure for what ails us. If we (by we I mean both the government and the individual citizen) deal with the respective issues that contribute to the overall problem, then it goes away. But if continue to say we are going to do something and not follow through, then the outcome remains the same.

Beautiful Things: A Memoir Book Review

Addiction is not a thing we can turn on and off like a light switch. It is an all consuming habit that devours and destroys everything in its path.

Hunter Biden, the younger son of President Joe Biden released his memoir back in April. Entitled Beautiful Things: A Memoir, is an emotionally raw and difficult read about Biden’s decades of drug addiction, his adoration of his late older brother Beau Biden, and his many attempts to get clean. He tells the story of his life as only he tells it. From the death of his mother and baby sister when he was a young child, to his father’s time in politics and his attempt to live a normal life while dealing with his inner demons, nothing is off the table.

If this book is not among the top five, if not the best book of the year, something is wrong. I have a feeling that putting pen to paper was a cathartic experience for him. It is real, it is uninhibited, and it is emotional. I wanted to reach out through the pages and give him a long hug. Leaving no stone unturned, he is honest about his long years of drug abuse.

He also talks about the accusation that came from the other side during the 2020 Presidential election in regards to the laptop that linked him to the Ukraine scandal. Unlike a certain person and their family, Hunter Biden comes off as a genuine person who is not always looking out solely for number one.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Carrie Fisher: A Life on the Edge Book Review

A good biography does much more than provide the basic facts found on any general internet search. It introduces the reader to the real person that is sometimes hidden behind history and the PR machine.

In 2019, Sheila Weller published Carrie Fisher: A Life on the Edge. The biography tells the story of the late and beloved actress, writer, and mental health advocate. Born to Hollywood royalty Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, her early years were not all sunshine and roses. Her most famous role was that of Princess Leia in the Star Wars movie franchise. Like her off-screen counterpart, Leia was a bad-ass, smart mouthed woman who did not conform to the idea of what a woman (and a princess) should be. She also lived with bipolar disorder and addiction, demons that stayed with her until the very end.

I loved this book. As much as I knew about Ms. Fisher before I read it, I learned even more. She was intelligent, incredibly funny, smartass, loyal to those she loved, and vulnerable. What made this one special was that it showed her humanity. It is a complete picture of a woman who has inspired generations of fans, women, and those living with mental illness to not be afraid of being who they are.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

I Agree With the Legalizing of Marijuana in New York

Do you remember when you were a kid and an adult told you that you couldn’t do something? It made that thing all the more tempting. If the adult had said yes, this thing you wanted lost some of its luster.

The same could be said about marijuana. As of yesterday morning, it is now legal for adults 21 and over in New York State to purchase the drug in small amounts and/or grow their own plants within their private residences.

Though it will take time for the market and regulations to be set up, I agree that this bill is an important one.

I understand the reasons that some might object, but if we are to learn anything from history, it is that an outright ban only compounds the problem. Addiction is real, as are the problems that are offshoots from addiction. In the United States, alcohol was banned from 1920 to 1933. While the lawmakers at the time had their hearts in the right places, they didn’t quite think things through. During the Prohibition era, crime increased via the gangs who took advantage of the illegal booze trade and tax revenues dipped to new lows.

From my perspective, I see only good things with this new law. From an economic standpoint not only will it bring in millions, if not billions of necessary income to the state, it will create new opportunities for business and employment. It will also cut down on the funds spent in the legal system to arrest and incarcerate accused dealers and users, taking the sting off communities of color who are frequently the target of law enforcement.

Only time will tell what the consequences of the law will be. My hope is that though there may be some minor drawbacks, it will overall be the solution to a problem that was needed long ago.

New Amsterdam Character Review: Lauren Bloom

*For the foreseeable future, some Character Review posts may not be published every Thursday as they have in the past.

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the television series New AmsterdamRead at your own risk if you have not watched the show.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

Addiction and mental health issues weigh heavily on the lives of millions around the world. It is easy to pretend that these issues don’t exist. But the reality is that until one is able to see that they need help, they will never begin to move on.

On New Amsterdam, Lauren Bloom (Janet Montgomery) is the head of the Emergency Department. Smart and efficient, she has the ability to manage a very busy staff while ensuring that the patients are looked after. But underneath her professional abilities, Lauren is facing the two-headed demon of addiction to Adderall and the unhealed emotional wounds from a traumatic childhood.

She is forced into rehab when her colleague and friend, Helen Sharpe (Freema Agyeman) notices that something is off with Lauren. Rehab forces her to confront her troubled past and deal with the addiction that has hindered her ability to emotionally recover. But life is not all sunshine and roses when Lauren returns to work.

After bringing Georgia Goodwin’s (Lisa O’Hare) daughter in the world, Lauren has a different recovery ahead of her when she survives a car wreck. Well aware of how easily she can slide back into addiction, she turns to Helen and Zach Ligon (JJ Feild), her physical therapist, and sometimes hookup partner for support.

In the end, Lauren is able to put her past behind her, but not without some serious soul searching and hard work.

To sum it up: There are two ways to deal with problems. The first is to pretend that nothing is wrong. The second is to admit that you need help. Though it is infinitely harder to admit that you need help, the payoff is worth the risk. In admitting that she has a problem, Lauren shows that she has the strength and courage to move beyond the demons that have plagued her for far too long.

That is why she is a memorable character.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel Character Review: Willow Rosenberg

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Read at your own risk if you have not watched one or both television series. In this series of character reviews, I will strictly be writing about the characters from the television series, not the 1992 film.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

Confidence is not always something that some of us have naturally, especially when we are teenagers. Confidence sometimes has to be grown into. On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy’s BFF, Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) was not the most confident when the series started. Book smart, tech smart and a little awkward, Willow was not exactly at the top of high school social hierarchy. But she was not alone in her social awkwardness. Her other BFF, Xander (Nicholas Brendon), was equally looked down upon.

But then things changed for her. Willow discovered that not only was she a witch, but also found solid romantic relationships. In high school, she dated rocker/werewolf Daniel “Oz” Osbourne (Seth Green). In college, she not only came out of the closet and dated Tara Maclay, but also became confident with her magical abilities.

But even with her new-found confidence, Willow is far from perfect. Her addiction to magic nearly kills her and everyone around her. It nearly ruins her relationship with Tara and compounds her grief when Tara is murdered. But she is able to heal from the loss of Tara, move on from her addiction and find the will to move on with her life.

To sum it up: Watching a character gain confidence in who they are and their abilities can be a very compelling narrative. Over the course of the series, Willow grew from a teenage girl who doubted herself to a woman who faced personal trials and survived. That story is as old as the human race and continues to be compelling because we all go through a similar narrative in our lives.

P.S. As a Jewish redhead, seeing myself reflected on-screen was the cherry on the top of the ice cream that is Willow Rosenberg.

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