Where Am I Now?
True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame
by Mara Wilson
Summary: Mara Wilson has always felt a little young and a little out of place: as the only child on a film set full of adults, the first daughter in a house full of boys, the sole clinically depressed member of the cheerleading squad, a valley girl in New York and a neurotic in California, and one of the few former child actors who has never been in jail or rehab. Tackling everything from how she first learned about sex on the set of Melrose Place, to losing her mother at a young age, to getting her first kiss (or was it kisses?) on a celebrity canoe trip, to not being “cute” enough to make it in Hollywood, these essays tell the story of one young woman’s journey from accidental fame to relative (but happy) obscurity. But they also illuminate a universal struggle: learning to accept yourself, and figuring out who you are and where you belong.
I really, really loved this book. Both the book itself and as an audiobook. Mara Wilson is an excellent storyteller, and hearing her narrate her own story was a wonderful experience. There's something about people narrating their own biographies -- they get the tone perfect because they know how it should be told, it just adds and extra layer of something that doesn't come across in the text version.
I'm very bad a reviewing biographies. Fiction is easier, because the people and lives aren't real. I can talk about character development and the plot and what/who I liked and didn't like. I can't critique a biography without feeling like I'm an asshole, or feeling weird in the ways I'm judging it because it's real...there's a real person in every line of it, real experiences. But, I'll try:
I'm far from being alone in my adoration of Mara Wilson -- her portrayal of Matilda was such a huge part of my childhood (a part I happily and nostalgically passed onto my niece because its timeless), but in the past few years, I've been a fan of her online presence too. Loved seeing little glimpses of the person she's become since her days as a child star. Online, she comes across as funny, intelligent and just a pretty good person in general.
This book, it fills in the stuff that happened in between her movie days and the person she is now. Tells the bits of her life we didn't get to see back at the height of her fame and stuff that happened after. You'd think it would be hard to relate to someone whose life seemed to be so vastly different from what most of us experience, but it wasn't and I was surprised by how many moments of "omg, me too!" and "yes, that! that's exactly how that felt!" there was in the book. I was surprised by how much of her story was so like my own, particularly the struggles with mental illness and the loss of a parent at a young age.
It reminded me, once again, that *Famous People* were still just that: people.
While the behind the scenes glimpses we get of her movie days were excellent, my favourite bits of the book were the simple human experiences that we all go through -- the loves and losses and awkward moments, the family stuff, the figuring out what we believe in and the process of finding our place in life and learning to accept ourselves.
That's the heart of the book and that's what I loved about it (although I did also really love the way she describes what it's like to be a woman, her experiences universal in a lot of ways but amplified because unlike most girls, she was growing up under public scrutiny).
I cried multiple times listening to this (once, almost in the middle of a public park because unfortunately, it got to the heartbreaking bits about Robin Williams mid-walk). But it made me smiled a lot too (probably looking a bit creepy in the process to anyone walking past me).
This book, it wasn't about Mara Wilson, the child actress. It was just Mara, the whole person, not just the little bits and pieces we've seen over the years (well, as whole as you can condense into a biography). Her grief, her anxiety and insecurities, her high points and lows and I have a lot of respect for her for having the courage to share it like this.
I normally struggle to focus on audiobooks. I have a few audiobooks I started listening to last year that I'm still not finished yet... I listened to this one in just two days. It was that good. I'd rate it 5 stars out of 5.