Audiobook Review: Have Mother, Will Travel

Audiobook Review: Have Mother, Will TravelHave Mother, Will Travel by Claire Fontaine, Mia Fontaine
Narrator: Claire Fontaine, Mia Fontaine
Length: 10 hrs, 29 mins
Published by Harper Audio on July 17, 2012
Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Gifted

A mother, a daughter, and a life-changing adventure around the world . . .

Their bestselling memoir, Come Back, moved and inspired readers with the story of Mia Fontaine's harrowing drug addiction and her mother, Claire's, desperate and ultimately successful attempts to save her. Now it's a decade later and Claire and Mia each face a defining moment in her life, and a mother-daughter relationship that has frayed around the edges. At fifty-one, Claire's shed her identity as Mia's savior but realizes that, oops, she forgot to plan for life after motherhood; Mia, twenty-five and eager to step outside her role as recovery's poster child, finds adult life isn't all it's cracked up to be. Determined to transform themselves and their relationship once again, the pair sets off on a five-month around-the-world adventure.

What awaits them is an extraordinary, often hilarious journey through twenty cities and twelve countries—one that includes mishaps, mayhem, and unexpected joys, from a passport-eating elephant to a calamitous camel ride around the Pyramids—and finally making peace with their tumultuous past in the lavender fields of France, where they live for the last four months of the trip. Seeing how self-possessed and community-minded twentysomethings are in other countries broadens Mia's perspective, helping her grow, and grow up. Claire uses the trip to examine her broken relationship with her own mother, a Holocaust survivor, and to create a vision for her second act. Watching her mom assess half a century of life, Mia comes to know her as Claire has always known Mia—as all mothers know their daughters—better than anyone else, and often better than themselves.

Wiser for what they've learned from women in other cultures, and from each other, they return with a deepened sense of who they are and where they want to go—and with each embracing the mature friendship they've discovered and the profound love they share.

Alternating between Claire and Mia's compelling and distinct voices,Have Mother, Will Travel is a testament to the power and beauty of the mother-daughter relationship, one that illuminates possibilities for our own lives.

Much as I love the books I read and it should be pretty evident from all of this blogging business that I really, really do, sometimes I worry that I’m becoming too set in my ways and not exploring genres and such enough. Well, in Have Mother, Will Travel, I ventured into an almost entirely new genre for me: the memoir. Sure, I’ve read a couple, like The Glass Castle, which I am one of the only people in the world not to like, but, mostly, I’ve avoided them. Thankfully, I have been rewarded for my exploration and open-mindedness; I was surprised how much I enjoyed this, even though the topic, mother-daughter bonding, sort of made me want to run for the hills.

What I learned early on is that this is actually a continuation of some sorts from mother Claire and daughter Mia’s first book together, Come Back, which focused on Mia’s self-destructive teen years and her mother’s efforts to save her. There’s no need to read Come Back before going into this book, though I did add it to my reading list after enjoying this one. I was not confused, but I suspect there’s plenty to be learned from that one as well.

The framing of this memoir was months of world-wide travel embarked upon by Claire and Mia, as an effort to bond again, having lost their closeness to the regular troubles of life in their different cities. Knowing this, I sort of expected everything to be light and fluffy, but both Claire and Mia are still dealing with the long-lasting effects of the traumas covered in greater detail in Come Back. Mia was sexually abused by her father when she was a child, and after she turned her life around after her drug-addled teen years, she and her mother became advocates to help abused daughters and their mothers. This isn’t an issue I’d really ever heard discussed, so I learned a lot and found it very powerful emotionally.

Of course, what I hated about The Glass Castle was how boring and whiny it felt to me, as well as the tone of superiority Walls seemed to have about being well-off now while her parents dug through the dumpster for food. (Sorry if you liked that book but it just rubbed me the wrong way). The Fontaines didn’t come off that way to me at all. They do not seem to feel particularly superior, are very willing to detail their personal faults and foibles, incredibly honest about the dark things, but also quite funny. The book maintains a balance between serious discussion and navel-gazing, and humorous travel book.

The first half of Have Mother, Will Travel describes a whirlwind tour of myriad countries as part of a scavenger hunt vacation. Can I say how much I want to go on this trip, even though there’s no way in hell I would be able to complete most of the challenges? It just seems like such a great way to structure your vacation. Anyway, I don’t want to go into this in too much detail, but the descriptions of the countries visited made me want to travel really badly. This is an excellent book for making you feel wanderlust.

The most important focus of this book, though, is not the travel, but the relationship between mothers and daughters, and, more generally, women. Claire and Mia, from their two different perspectives, do a lot of thinking about their personal relationship, looking at where it’s gone wrong and how they can grow closer. They also consider the different family roles they see as they travel, considering which is best. They made me think a lot about myself as a daughter and as a woman, and I do plan on making my mom listen to this as well, even though I suspect some of Claire’s observations will make her cry. Given that Mia is about my age and my mom is a baby-boomer like Claire, a lot of their observations hit close to home.

This isn’t a book I see having much, if any, appeal for males, because much of it deals strongly with what it means to be a woman. There is some repetition, but, mostly, I was incredibly impressed with this.

I cannot imagine this being anywhere near as delightful if I’d read it. Claire and Mia did their own narration, reading their different sections. They both have good, distinctive reading voices, full of personality. Hearing their thoughts in their voices made the memoir, already very personal, feel much more so.

10 responses to “Audiobook Review: Have Mother, Will Travel”

  1. Mystica says:

    Having two daughters of my own, I think this would be a good one for me as well.

  2. Aw this sounds like a sweet read. And it sounds like an AMazing Race vacation, so cool! I think I will add this one and the first to my TBR though I am not really a memoir reader either. Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

  3. cleemckenzie says:

    This book sounds like something I’d like to read and to share with my mother. Thanks so much for mentioning it here.

  4. Christina, well done for being brave and venturing into new genres! I admit I feel too comfortable where I am at the moment, but anything with travel would seduce me as well despite the heavy topic of abuse. Gorgeous review!

  5. fakesteph says:

    Hmmm… I read personal essays (loooove Sloane Crosley), but can’t remember the last time I read a memoir… mother daughter relationships are really complicated and I’m not sure I could handle this. I’m glad you liked it though. I also really want to listen to “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened’ or “Bossypants” soley for the narration by the author…

    • Christina says:

      My mother and I have a tricky relationship, but I related to this a whole lot. Definitely not for everyone, but yeah.

      Oh, I want to listen to both of those as well!

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