Book Review: Signs of Life: A Memoir by Natalie Taylor

Amazon summary
Twenty-four-year-old Natalie Taylor was leading a charmed life. At the age of twenty four, she had a fulfilling job as a high school English teacher, a wonderful husband, a new house and a baby on the way. Then, while visiting her sister, she gets the news that Josh has died in a freak accident. Four months before the birth of her son, Natalie is leveled by loss.

What follows is an incredibly powerful emotional journey, as Natalie calls upon resources she didn’t even know she had in order to re-imagine and re-build a life for her and her son. In vivid and immediate detail, Natalie documents her life from the day of Josh’s death through the birth their son, Kai, as she struggles in her role as a new mother where everyone is watching her for signs of impending collapse. With honesty, raw pain, and most surprising, a wicked sense of humor, Natalie recounts the agonies and unexpected joys of her new life. There is the frustration of holidays, navigating the relationship with her in-laws, the comfort she finds and unlikely friendship she forges in support groups and the utterly breathtaking, but often overwhelming new motherhood. When she returns to the classroom, she finds that little is more healing than the honesty and egocentricity of teenagers.

Drawing on lessons from beloved books like The Color Purple and The Catcher in the Rye and the talk shows she suddenly can’t get enough of, from the strength of her family and friends, and from a rich fantasy life—including a saucy fairy godmother who guides her grieving—Natalie embarks on the ultimate journey of self-discovery and realizes you can sometimes find the best in yourself during the worst life has to offer. And she delivers these lessons, in way that feels like she’s right beside you in her bathrobe and with a glass of wine–the cool, funny girlfriend you love to stay up all night with.

Unforgettable and utterly absorbing, Signs of Life features a powerful, wholly original debut voice that will have you crying and laughing to the very last page.

My review
It’s a good thing I’ve gotten over my “no books that make me cry” roadblock, or I would never have made it past page five of this book. Natalie Taylor is visiting her sister when she gets word that her husband of only 18 months has been critically injured. Josh Taylor is declared dead on Father’s Day in 2007 – four months before the birth of their child. The heartbreak starts right from page one.

Not only is the book written in a conversational, easy-to-read style, but there are bits of humor thrown in. Of course it’s possible that not everything I found humorous was meant to be funny, but you can blame my weird sense of humor for that. Such as when Natalie (a high school English teacher) wrote, “When I was in college, we read this Emily Dickinson poem. I have no idea what it was called or what it was about, but then again I never really know what any Emily Dickinson poem is about.” As someone who rarely gets deep, hidden messages in poetry and literature, I found it amusing that an English teacher admitted that she didn’t “get” Emily Dickinson.

Natalie is just like most new moms: tired and overwhelmed. So she invents a Fairy Mom Godmother. “My fairy godmother would wear her hair in a banana clip with strands sticking out everywhere. She would dress in an oversized T-shirt covered in spit-up stains, faded black stretch pants, worn-out running shoes, and one ankle sock and one tube sock. She would be the fairy godmother for new moms.” Motherhood is a reminder that life goes on and experiencing one tragedy doesn’t mean that everything else in her life gets easier.

But there is more to this book than tragedy. It’s about finding reasons to smile and be grateful, family and friends, and motherhood. It’s also about growing up. When her husband died, Natalie was twenty-four, a college graduate, a teacher, and a mom-to-be. But, at twenty-four, she was still very young. In her journaling of the following year, we see her maturing and changing her attitude toward her in-laws, her students, and even complete strangers.

About the book
Title: Signs of Life: A Memoir
Author: Natalie Taylor
Publisher: Broadway
Release date: April 12, 2011
Pages: 320
Where I got the book: In the mail. Honestly, I have no idea. Maybe I won it?