This weekend I finished The Glass Castle, a memoir by Jeannette Walls. It’s a mesmerizing read. Walls’ irresponsible, dysfunctional parents were, as her mother put it, “addicted to excitement.” Had they had more money, they would have run off to Alaska – it made her alcoholic father’s short list of escape routes.

Reading the book reminded me of two exceptional Alaskan memoirs: Kim Rich’s Johnny’s Girl and Natalie Kusz’ Road Song. It’s been awhile since I read Road Song, which came out in 1991, and unfortunately it appears to be out of print. If you can get your hands on a copy, I recommend it heartily. Thankfully, Rich’s amazing memoir is still available. She recounts a harrowing childhood, growing up in the underbelly of Anchorage during the 1960’s, with a father as incredibly dysfunctional as Walls’.

Rich states clearly what Walls implies. People marvel at how well she turned out, despite the wild ride in her formative years. “What did you expect?” she asks. “Why shouldn’t I be okay?”

Much fuss has been made over the dysfunctional family. I’m as much an advocate of good parenting as the next person. But I’ve yet to meet the perfect parent. Parents do the best they can with what they have.

I once heard a husband say to his wife – and I’m paraphrasing here – “Why don’t you admit it? Your family was dysfunctional. Of course you’re messed up.” That sort of statement says more about the arrogance of the speaker than anything else.

Walls and Kusz and Rich traveled roads no child should have to go down. But they did more than survive. In telling their tales, they celebrate the triumph of the human spirit and the power of love.

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