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Monday, January 27, 2014

Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma

I was sold on the title, and you will be, too: Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson.

Janie Ryan was not an expected baby, and the hardships she endures throughout childhood would knock others to their knees. Her mother takes up with Tony Hogan when she is just a kid, but Tony is less-than-kind to her mother, and in order to get Janie out of protective care, she must agree to leave him. As Janie grows and her mother drags her throughout Ireland and the U.K., she moves through hardships, a step-father, a new sister, poverty, and growing up a Ryan. She learns that we are who we are because of where we come.

I was expecting, based on the title, a book that was satirical in nature and funny overall. I was pleasantly surprised to find an earnest story told through the eyes of Janie and her childhood as the daughter of a woman who loved a man, got knocked up, and tried her best to do everything she could to be a good mum. Janie's childhood was far from easy and it shows. Her mother left her home after Janie's birth, and as much as she didn't want to admit it, Janie's mother was poor.

The bulk of the book is Janie's middle childhood, dragged around the country of her birth and forced to live a childhood of volatility, poverty, and instability. I loved the early sequences in the book that were told from Janie-as-baby perspective; since no one remembers what it was like to be an infant, it was beautiful to read an account of how we might perceive our experiences when we are too young to truly process them.

It's hard not to feel for Janie and to want to reach out and slap her mother. You want to believe that she is doing the best she can, yet it can be hard to watch the experience of abuse without wanting to know why she doesn't just leave Tony without the threat of losing her child. It is hard to understand, yet it's an easy trap in which to fall.

Regardless of how you feel, it's a beautiful story that traces Janie through the early stages of adulthood, examining how a young woman becomes who she is and how she seeks to define herself though her identification with her past and her hopes for the future.

Hard copy for purchase below. 

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