Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson, via Penguin, out now.
[I received this book from Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review; this did not affect my opinion of the book whatsoever.]
Ok, let’s get the basics out of the way. Most of you will know Mara Wilson from her portrayal of Matilda or her role in Mrs. Doubtfire. You may or may not know that since those many years ago, she’s grown up to be a great writer, comedian, retweeter and voice actor. Though it did feel kind of random to hear about her doing a memoir of sorts, I was excited about it from the get go. Of course I want to know more about what it was like to be Matilda, one of the biggest bookworm icons! Of course I’d be interested in finding out what she’s been up to! Of course I’d want to read more of her genuine and comedic voice! And these wants are exactly what play into the premise of Mara’s book of personal essays. And I was not disappointed! I really like Mara’s writing style and hope to see much more in the future. She was in Toronto for press and events this week and I was lucky to see her do a Q&A and signing at Indigo. She is such a wonderful presence to be around – she seems comfortable, happy, and interested in everyone. Plus, she’s as much of an eloquent speaker as she is a writer. Where Am I Now? is a great read – something you can pick up and put down or read all the way through, something everyone can find something to identify with, and overall, it’s totally enjoyable and interesting.
So here are 5 reasons why you need to read Mara’s book of essays.
1. Memories of being an existential kid are hilarious.
I wish I had as good of a memory of my childhood as Mara does. There’s one essay about how she was such an existential kid, going through her years, and it probably cracked me up more than any other essay. Here’s a passage from age five:
My kindergarten class goes to an assembly on astronomy. The astronomer, in an attempt to make science more exciting, plays up the danger in the universe. When he talks about solar flares, I am convinced that come the next solar flare, fire will rain down from the sky and incinerate us all. By the time he moves on to all the ways the planet Venus could kill a human being, I am sobbing hysterically.
None of the other kids are crying, and I wonder if I’m the only one who understands. If this is what it is to be special, it’s terrible. Several kindergarten aids take me aside to try to calm me down. When it doesn’t work, they give me a rice cake and call my mother.
‘Maybe you were scared because you were getting something out of it the other kids weren’t,’ she tells me when she picks me up. ‘The other kids just thought, ‘Oh, Venus, it’s a planet,’ but you were making connections they weren’t. Maybe you really love astronomy?’
I don’t think she’s right.
2. She understands what it means to be called ‘cute.’
As a child actor, or as someone who has a baby face, the word cute could be good or bad. And there’s always a time in your life when cute is very bad, because you want to be more than that. You want people to see your maturity, not as a thing to hug. In her essay “the ‘c’ word,” Mara explains how being cute was just one of the many reasons why she was falling out of love with Hollywood, especially as she was a pretty dark and kind of edgy kid. In a scene where she discovered she was being scouted to be ‘the next Shirley Temple’:
We watched Bright Eyes and The Little Princess and I thought about how I’d say no to this. Shirley Temple was so cute, she didn’t quite seem real. Did I admire her? Yes. Did I want to be her? No. My mother knew, and I was starting to sense, that being cute meant being controlled, and that being the next Shirley Temple would mean everyone in the world knowing a version of Mara Wilson that wasn’t me at all.
3. She’s a strong advocate for mental health.
I don’t think I knew much on this before I read the book, so it was a pleasant surprise to read so much about Mara’s experience with depression, anxiety and OCD. She explained how it felt really well, and it made my heart ache to experience it along with her again, to think of this kid being totally confused as to why she was feeling so different and upset all the time, and why she felt like she couldn’t tell anyone about it. Now, Mara will candidly talk about her experience, being on medication, and how important it is for people (especially child actors) to go to therapy, which I really admire.
4. She gives a funny, personal and smart look at what it’s like to be a child actor.
Normally your first thought about ‘child actors’ is something along the lines of look now they are a recovering alcoholic, can’t get any work and just seem sad, right? Because that’s what we’re fed through weird slideshows online and entertainment tv. Mara acknowledges this throughout the book, pokes fun at it a little bit, and shows how her growing up was nothing like that at all. She’ll reference kids she hung out with (at her event this week, someone asked if she still hangs out with Hilary Duff) and the silly things they did. She was just a kid who liked acting, but liked other things, then a teenager who went through an awkward phase, and then someone who wasn’t comfortable in Hollywood and wanted to come at it from a different angle. Respect!
5. She’s just a really good writer.
Her style flows so naturally, like she’s talking to you, and it’s really funny and poignant. She could make the smallest things sound interesting. She’s so in touch with her memories and feelings that they just jump off the page. And like I said, I hope there will be more to read in the future!
Have you read Where Am I Now? What do you think?