From Diane Donovan of Donovan’s Literary Services:

“… educates readers about the impact of multiple mental illnesses under one roof, revealing many insights and facets of adaptation and survival that most singular mental health memoirs do not hold.” Read entire review below:

Biography & Autobiography

Embracing the Shadows
Marlene Dunham
Hudsongarden Press
979-8989-507504                 $16.95

Embracing the Shadows: Navigating a Family’s Mental Illness is an important contribution to both memoirs and literature on family mental illness. Marlene Dunham explores not one, but a family pattern of mental illness that included a bipolar father, a sister with schizophrenia who committed suicide, and a severely mentally disabled brother who spent 15 years at Willowbrook State Hospital on Staten Island. 

Her survey of her childhood, family relationships, and the overlay of mental illness which affected her and other siblings not diagnosed with such ailments makes for a thought-provoking, revealing account of how families can struggle with multiple mental health challenges. 

From the start, Dunham embraces a frank tone about how she and her siblings were raised and, as adults, faced their past differently. Her intention of ‘doing justice’ to their lives via this story does more than validate their connections and experiences. It educates readers about the impact of multiple mental illnesses under one roof, revealing many insights and facets of adaptation and survival that most singular mental health memoirs do not hold. 

The family’s dynamics are related not just from Marlene Dunham’s perspective, but from the experiences of her surviving siblings. This lends a multifaceted perspective to the family dynamics and their perception, making the narrative especially wide-ranging and valuable. 

Medical considerations of DNA, family legacy, and the promise of future technology in helping families suffering with inherited mental illness round out the personal reflections, adding value with their insights and considerations of the future. 

The story opens with an especially powerful reflection: 

“Why not me? This question has plagued me for years. It’s been the unspoken punchline of many a conversation about my family history: Suspended in midair like that final silk thread from a spinneret. Hanging fragile and vulnerable. My comeback, always: “But I’m fine,” and we all would laugh. The conversation would move on, but I would always wonder why. Why not—me?” 

From the irony of genetic rolls of the dice to the sadness of a broken family with siblings lost that will never know each other, Dunham pulls no punches in revealing the realities of coping with family mental illness. 

Libraries and readers seeking memoirs steeped in the personal experience of not just one mental challenge, but a host of them, should place Embracing the Shadows at the top of their reading lists. Hauntingly passionate, its study in contrasts of how different family members coped offers invaluable insights: 

“Claudia does say that she was always aware that she was different from other kids. She lived in fear daily but never told any of us—Mom or Dad or sisters. She would look at people walking their dogs or going to the mailbox and think, “I’ll be normal like that one day.” I never saw this. I wasn’t aware. At that point, I had kind of dissociated from the whole family.” 


From Editor: Valerie Valentine:                
The writing was powerful and I feel it enters into the memoir territory along with great titles such as The Center Cannot Hold by Elyn Saks, and The Dark Side of Innocence by Teri Cheney. Also The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Wang came to mind. Well done! Yours differs in that you are writing as a family member of those who are ill. A new viewpoint, much needed! I hope you write more.
If you plan to self publish this, I am happy to review the book’s cover copy at no additional charge. If you wish to send to agents, I can help you with a query letter, too.
Thanks again for a pleasurable read, it was an honor and a treat to get into this project with you.

From Amazon Reviews:

Reviewed in the United States on December 12, 2023
Verified Purchase

When I read the synopsis of “Embracing the Shadows,” I knew I had to read it, as I have more than a sprinkling of mental disease coursing through my family line. I devoured the book in one sitting.

Ms. Dunham sifts through painful family memories with equal measures of courage and mercy. Her story of the devastating effects on her family of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and suicide is one that many will find hauntingly familiar. With unflinching honesty, Ms. Dunham seeks to unravel the mysteries of mental illness and in doing so, presents a compassionate plea for destigmatization of mental illness.

Embracing the Shadows is an important book about a topic that has too long remained in the shadows.

A Powerful Journey through Family Shadows
Reviewed in the United States on December 13, 2023
Marlene Dunham’s debut non-fiction, “Embracing the Shadows: Navigating a Family’s Mental Illness,” is a poignant exploration of her family’s battles with bipolar disease, schizophrenia, suicide, and mental disability. Skillfully crafted, the memoir sheds light on societal progress in addressing mental health stigma. Dunham’s candid narrative delves into the often-avoided corners of her family’s history, offering a captivating and uplifting read. The book skillfully weaves the threads of genetics, revealing the possible contributors to her family’s challenges. A compelling journey through the shadows of mental health.

Read all Amazon reviews here.