Image of book similar to that read by DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley
What Not to Say

The Worst Book I’ve Read in a Long Time

Dear book club: I’m sorry I’m slamming our book.

I know most of you also disliked it, so that helps. But if you liked it, if you got something out of it – that’s great. It’s just that, well…..I hated it.

“Girl, Wash Your Face” is the worst book I’ve read in a long time.

It’s been slammed elsewhere, which I didn’t know when I started reading the book. So maybe this review isn’t super unique, but I still have to add my two cents.

The book, which is a kind of self-improvement book, centers around the idea that each one of us can decide to be happy. As the book says (and millions of Kindle readers have apparently underlined, though the italics are mine):

You must choose to be happy, grateful and fulfilled. If you make that choice every single day, regardless of where you are or what’s happening, you will be happy.

Are. You. Fucking. Kidding. Me.

Listen, I was born a joyful person. The optimism I often project is just a part of who I am. But being positive and even displaying a joyful outlook does not mean that I can define my life as “happy.”

Don’t get me wrong. I have moments of happiness. I have days, even. I think it’s important to feel grateful for the things I have in my life. But the idea that if I just “choose” to be happy, then it will happen for me is absolutely the dumbest thing I’ve ever read.

You know who can write something like that? Someone who doesn’t know real hardship.

The author makes a big deal out of the fact that she survived trauma – and she did. As a teenager, she found her brother’s body after he died by suicide. That is absolutely terrible, and I’m glad that she didn’t sweep this totally under the rug. (Although she does use the term “committed suicide” instead of “died by suicide” which is pretty 1995 of her.)

But she has left that grief behind. How do I know this? Because she devotes an entire chapter to it in her book. “I am still here,” the author writes, “because I refuse to let anything or anyone decide what I get to have….I am still here because I will not let a nightmare have more power than my dreams.” She goes on to describe how she has recovered from this trauma, and (she writes, though not in these words), DAMMIT, YOU CAN TOO.

Well isn’t that great? Why didn’t someone tell me this last week when I was scrunched up in a ball on my bathroom floor? “Marjorie, you have power over your nightmares! Marjorie, you just have to refuse to let anyone decide what you get to have!”

I mean, I can’t even.

More than a year after Shawn’s death, I have many days that feel totally impossible. I feel crushed by the weight of my grief and the insanity of raising three kids as a single mom. I’m exhausted, constantly, and the grief that wakes me up at 2 am doesn’t make it much easier.

My life feels totally and completely unmanageable. And as far as widows go, I’m a lucky one.

I didn’t lose my house. I have supportive friends. My dad lives with me and helps me with everything. My society doesn’t overtly shun me. My children are healthy. On top of that, I was born an upper-middle class white woman in America.

I know I have privilege.

And every day is still really, really hard. Every day I wake up alone.

The other day I was driving from a softball game to a soccer game with my kids. I was in charge of snacks for one of the games, and I was trying to get them out of the trunk of my car. I also needed to get out a dozen other things and carry them to the field. Tommy was whining and Claire was annoyed she had to be there. Austin kept poking his brother.

At that moment, I had just had it. I’m not sure why it was this moment when I snapped, but I did. “I hate this,” I screamed internally.

I hate single parenting. I hate being the only one who’s carting the damn snacks and remembering to buy new cleats. I hate being the only person who has to answer to every single worry of my children. I hate that even though I have a ton of help, everything feels like it falls on me. Because often it does.

So maybe I should have tried “thinking positive” at this moment. But I just couldn’t. Maybe my happiness is just up to me, especially because I was given so much privilege at birth.

But I can’t. What I’ve been dealt is something that can’t just be washed away with platitudes. It’s hard and it’s unfair – and I’m not really talking about being the only person to cart the snacks to my kid’s soccer game that day. I’m talking about forever and always being the only person at my kid’s soccer game. That part – that’s the hard and unfair part. And it’s even worse for many of the other widows and grieving families around the world.

So let’s just stop with this blaming-the-victim stuff. Sure, we can all try to have better attitudes about some parts of our lives. But the idea that I’m only unhappy because I haven’t tried hard enough?

Please. Walk a minute in my shoes or the well-worn shoes of someone with even harder circumstances and see what it’s like.

And then maybe this author wouldn’t write that “it doesn’t matter where you are, or frankly, what negative things get hurled at you. You’ll still find happiness because it’s not about where you are but who you are.”

Here’s the thing: it does matter where you are. It does matter what you’ve gone through and the daily circumstances that you have to contend with.

It does matter that Shawn is gone. It always will.


  • Melissa

    I’d heard about this book before so thanks for the link to the Buzzfeed review. I’m glad the reviewer mentioned the book’s similarity to “prosperity Gospel” twaddle, which it closely resembles. Back in the 1960’s and 70’s there was a preacher, Rev. Ike, who was on radio and televisions shows where he hawked what he called his “Blessing Plan,” which essentially was you send him money and he sends you his blessing for prosperity in your life. He used to say “Why wait for pie-in-the-sky by and by when you can have it all right now?” The problem with both the prosperity Gospel teachings and “Girl, Wash Your Face” is it places the burden of failure on YOU for either not believing hard enough (in the prosperity Gospel case) or not choosing to be happy (in the book’s case) despite outside circumstances beyond your control. I think both approaches lead to more unhappiness, not less. Thanks for posting this.

    • Marjorie

      Yes – exactly! And it ignores the very real things that surround us. Great history here – thanks for commenting!

  • Katie

    Omg it’s same kind of insane shaming they do to people who have cancer. “It’s a battle.” “If you fight hard you’ll beat it.” Complete bullshit. Don’t buy into it. I hope things get better but don’t accept the blame if it takes a damn long time.

    • Marjorie

      Oh, yes, I’m working on a blog post about that very idea! I mean, it’s just insane. More blame-the-victim stuff!

  • Henry

    People who refer the grieving to motivational speakers or tell us that “happiness is a choice” or glibly tell us to “stay positive” just don’t get it, do they!

  • Terry Clark

    As if you can just flip a switch in your brain, and voila — i’m so freakin’ happy!!!! Right!
    Honey, love the honesty you reveal about winning the upper-middle-class-White-woman lottery. That’s a good start, but no one can anticipate the curves life will throw our way. You’ve had more than your share of those curves.

  • Melanie

    Perfectly said, Marjorie. You are so right on every point. Sounds to me like the author is delusional.