Review: Everything I Never Wanted to be by Dina Kucera

Monday, December 13, 2010


How often do you complain that you wish life was better? I've thought it every time I get stuck in the doldrums, but I know that it's just a minor blip. What if your whole life is one big never-ending blip? What if you wake up every day only to find that the nightmare of last night is not really over? That pretty much sums up the sentiment expressed in Dina Kucera's memoir, Everything I Never Wanted to be. When I first received this title, I was expecting a depressing read about a family's battle with alcoholism and drug addiction. It doesn't help that the cover conveyed the same impression.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Dina Kucera's life is a mess. I don't think she will mind that I wrote that, because she uses more intense words in the 204 page memoir. When I say mess, I mean, she was an alcoholic, though sober for a few years now. Her husband was a pot-addict, also sober for a few years now. Her mother has Parkinson's, her grandmother was addicted to Xanax. Her three daughters are fighting off various additions - the eldest, Jennifer is both an alcoholic and a drug-addict; her second, April entertained neither until a life trauma sent her to alcohol for relief; the third, Carly, was a heroin addict at age 13. In addition, Dina's grandson, Moses, has cerebral palsy.

Does that sound like a family you would see on greeting card websites or as a success story poster for any kind of organization? I was shocked to read the vices that plagued this family. Carly's drug addiction tore me the most. She used meth to get off heroin and heroin to get off meth. No matter how many rehabs she went to, she kept returning to the drugs. Being a very anti-drug person, it took me some time to understand Carly's obsession. Dina shares with us four letters that Carly wrote. She starts with a letter in which sixteen-year old Carly expresses her desire to die. By the time, we read Carly's third letter, which she wrote at the age of six, the reader is well-versed in Carly's addiction. The innocence of the third letter made me very sad. How did such a girl go to full-blown addiction by the time she was thirteen?

Dina writes her memoir in a tone typical of stand-up comedians. I don't watch many stand-up comedies, I find my grey cells process jokes too slow. As a result, it took me about 50 pages to "accept" Dina's style of writing. It was definitely easy prose, in fact, a very engaging one. After page 50, I found that I didn't want to put the book down at all. But until then, I found her sarcasm too cruel, whether it was directed at herself or her extended family, or her own mom or her husband's twin. It was just her way of narrating the darkness in her life. It was her therapy. Towards the end, she explains that in a life as messed up as her own, humor's the only way she can get through her day. And when you turn page after page and get a feel that her nightmare doesn't seem to near a possible end at all, you understand. Humor becomes your means to navigate through pile after pile of horrors.

That doesn't mean I agreed with her at all times. The author frequently says that no one "gets" it, that only someone who has been through what she has will actually understand her hardships. She rants against the rich people, the other parents (whose children don't do drugs), and anyone who's not a parent. All such people in Dina's life have either offered her unhelpful advice or turned their noses up at her. Hard and traumatic as those experiences have been to her, I feel that generalization is a very dangerous tool. It's the one thing that creates so much bias in the world today. And since I am not a parent myself, I felt offended many times, reading those passages. I'm not even going to begin narrating the what-would-I-do's, I know fully well that many times I've done the opposite of what I've proclaimed. But I don't believe that not being in a situation makes you any less empathetic than you are.

Dina Kucera clearly has a lot of regrets. She has even listed out the terrible mistakes she made as a parent - the kind of mistakes that anyone would go aghast at. But her boldness in admitting them and her intense wish that she could go back and change them feel very honest. Despite my disagreements with her, towards the end, I was rooting so much for her and wishing that the nastier aspects at least mellowed down. For all her mistakes, I think she is one incredible woman for trying to do all she can for her family - even iron out their problems. And did I mention her husband? Although he isn't mentioned too much in this book, I have to say I loved this guy for all he did for his family too. In the end, although the elements explored in this book are tragic, this book is definitely not a depressing read. Instead, what you get is a tremendous amount of hope. Dina writes a very uplifting story amidst and about all the ruins around her. I could take a writing class from her. In addition, it is also a powerful call for help of the drug-addicted teens, who need help not prison to help knock off their habits.

If you wish to buy this book, you can get 30% off at the book's website, by entering the coupon code "Dina" at checkout. If you ask me, I believe that money is well-spent!


I received this book for free from the publisher via TLC Book Tours.

10 comments:

Helen's Book Blog said...

This book sounds so intense, but so interesting. Just yesterday I was trying to explain to my daughter how addiction and addictive personalities run in families. This book certainly is an example of that!

bermudaonion said...

Wow, what a life she's had! I agree with you about generalizations, though - it sounds like she has a little bit of a chip on her shoulder.

Dina Kucera said...

Thank you Aths for the beautiful review! We are all doing amazing! It wasn't magic and it didn't happen overnight, but our life today is very different than it was during the writing of my book:) I will be getting a new amazing grandson probably this week. I can not wait. I want a baby! (I said that in a southern accent) I have been checking in on your blog and I know you've had your own heavy heart. I am sending prayer and good thoughts your way. I hope your holidays are amazing! Dina Kucera:):)

JessiKay89 said...

This sounds like an incredible book, and I would really love to see how something that sounds so depressing can turn out to be so uplifting. I'll be keeping my eye out for this book, that's for sure.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Sounds occasionally frustrating but good :) Thanks for the review :)

Natalie said...

wow...and i thought my family was having a rough time lately! this woman has it all over us.

i can't imagine a life like this and it must have been difficult to look back and examine her life and failings.

though this book isn't for me--i need more uplifting stuff right now--it certainly sounds like quite the tale. maybe her edginess is what gets her through?

-nat at book, line, and sinker

ps. would you be willing to open your comments to accept NAME/URL? i can't really post comments very easily with your current settings. :) thanks.

heathertlc said...

I've been hearing great things about this book. Like you, I would have expected it to be dark and depressed - it sounds like it was anything but that. I also would have been initially put off by the sarcasm until I got used to her style. Still, it sound like sticking with it was very worth it in the end.

Thanks for being a part of the tour!

Ash said...

I can't imagine having all of those problems in my family. Makes me grateful for the life I have today.

nj said...

phew!!!
that was a great review!!!
this book was my to-read list but your review has definitely booked a spot for it on the top :)

how can a person actually gather enough courage to go through all this. after reading all that I have come to the conclusion that no matter what hardships my family or I may be suffering or suffer, we are definitely lucky, and I feel really sympathetic towards dina and wish her all my best wishes for definitely whatever is in store for her life next will be sure a hell lot better than this...

Aths said...

Helen, I agree on the family trend thing. I've noticed that too, but I never really understood it much until I read this book.

Kathy, yeah, the generalizations kind of bugged me too.

Dina, thank you so much for your thoughts Dina! We are doing much better now - I'm glad the same is the case with you. I hope you don't see such murky days ever in future.

Jess, I have to say that what I loved the most of this book is the humor. I identified with Dina's troubles, but I didn't have to read the book with a heavy heart.

Juju, you're welcome!

Natalie, I read this one right after a depressing period in my life just because I felt I couldn't handle it. But you know what? I think I was wrong - this book was certainly funny and I might have cheered up a lot by reading it then.

Heather, It sure was worth reading it! And thank you for having me on this tour!

Ash, It sure makes you appreciate your own family more right? That's how I felt too.

NJ, I'm glad my review bumped this book on your TBR! I certainly appreciated my family much more after reading this book. Not in a "I'm glad this is not me" way, but in a "I'm complaining about silly things" way.