Irene O’Garden’s poetic memoir, Risking the Rapids: How My Wilderness Adventure Healed My Childhood focuses a lens on her less than perfect childhood and how a more recent trip with her siblings following a new trauma helped her to work through how her childhood has impacted her life. Through moving prose O’Garden moves between her past and the more recent trip with ease, allowing the reader to relate these periods to each other. Beyond that she allows herself to be completely open with her reader in this touching work.
After the unexpected death of her brother John, O’Garden goes on a trip with some of her siblings in an attempt to get closer. When they were children their family would spend time at a cabin and this outdoor expedition ties back into their past experiences together. While their were sweet and loving moments between the siblings there is great deal of emotional trauma that was experienced that impacted them all in a variety of ways. O’Garden’s father was a well known WCCO-TV personality, Don O’Brien, and while he showed care for his children he was very hard on them in many respects. There are examinations of his behavior and how he insisted that his sons be successful. With a busy schedule he was not often home and while her mother did not work, she often found things to focus on that were not her children. At one point O’Garden compares her to the wire mothers used in experiments with monkeys, which meant she was there for them, but did not emote. Each child dealt with this emotional neglect in their own ways, either through food, nail biting, or becoming invested in the church. As they’ve grown older each of the siblings tried to find their own way out of these established patterns.
I credit O’Garden for her completely open writing and her willingness to share all of herself and the deep history of her family. While she is primarily focused on her own experiences she tries to include her other siblings and how she believes they felt due to the pressures put upon them by their parents. Her writing is easy to connect with and is able to move between stories and timelines is done in an easy to follow way. You feel as though you are experiencing the family story pages that she mentions she and her siblings maintained during their youth. She has opened her family up to you and is allowing you a glimpse into what shaped her life. O’Garden’s story is emotional and remarkable and if you are looking for a story that shows how to cope with grief and grow as a person this is something you should pick up. You can find Risking the Rapids on sale now.