Cover Image: Dog Flowers

Dog Flowers

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Member Reviews

Some memoirs, especially those depicting difficult childhoods are by their nature difficult to read. This was not easy to read right from the first pages, and if you find the first pages of this as gut wrenching as I did, be prepared. When Geller goes back in time piecing together her mother’s life, recounting her own life, her father’s alcoholism and imprisonments, her sister’s alcoholism and imprisonments, her own mental health issues, her struggle to get through it all, it gets worse, much worse. Geller comes from a dysfunctional family and had such a sad childhood, as she and her sister are abandoned by her alcoholic mother and live with their alcoholic father, until their grandmother gets custody of her at five and and her sister at three. Disappointment after disappointment, from one home to another, these sisters had an unstable life to say the least. This is an alcoholic family- her mother, her father, her younger sister, her grandmother, though fortunately recovering and saving Danielle and her sister Eileen at various times in their lives . This felt repetitive at times, not because she told the same stories of her family, but because the same things happened over and again. Geller narrative is interspersed with the photographs, cards, drawings, diary entries that her mother kept. A heartbreaking, but hopeful story about how she moves herself forward by using her skills as a librarian to catalog her mother’s things, by going back to her mother’s roots on the reservation, finding more of her mother and herself.

I received a copy of this book from One World through NetGalley.
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Geller writes sparsely, yet intimately about trauma, family and grief. I admire her honesty and reflection on such difficult topics.
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I always like reading memoirs. I feel it's a genre that allows for freedom to tell one's own story, one's own truth.  It may diverge from the story, truth of others in the story, however this divergence does not make the story untrue.  Danielle tells stories of the past, of her growing up in different households and trying to find her way.  The telling of the heartbreak of trying to hold together relationships with an alcoholic father and drug-addicted sister. She learns how to be herself and live her life and to build healthy boundaries for herself.
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This is a very tough memoir to read. If you’ve survived trauma, of pretty much any kind, this could be very triggering.

I picked this book from Net Galley, wanting to learn more about the Navajo Nation, especially in nonfiction form (but also nonfiction is my jam). And while I learned a bit about Navajo Nation, it wasn’t what I expected! Most of the story doesn’t take place on a reservation, but Navajo cultural and lifestyle aspects are woven into the story.

Geller’s tale was an absolute cry for help. She shows her soul telling bits from her childhood, into her teenage years, and adulthood. She does jump around quite a bit, so I couldn’t tell what was memory or what you’d consider present day, if that’s what she was trying to convey. She includes references about growing up as a minority, her dysfunctional family, and what it’s like being the glue for her family.

Her mother passed away, her father is an alcohol, and her sister is addicted to drugs. She very much had me in my feelings wanting to give her a big hug, because being the glue of your family is such a tough task. I was super invested.

Despite the sad stories, she includes photographs and letters from happier times in her life, reminding her where she came from and guiding her to who she wants to be. 

Content warnings: death of a parent, abuse, alcoholism, bullying, drugs, addition, racism.
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Dog Flowers was such a beautiful and important read. My greatest thanks to the publisher for this review copy.
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Dog Flowers is a well-written memoir where Geller tells deep, raw recollections of her life experiences. I look forward to reading other books by Danielle Geller. Many thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for my opinion.
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I’d like to thank One World/Random House and Netgalley for so generously providing me a copy of Dog Flowers. All opinions are, of course, my own.

"I was angry at things outside our control. I was angry at the broken communities we were born into, and the godly men who perpetuated the cycles of abuse. Who told us to seek happiness in ignorance and faith in a God who seemed indifferent to our suffering. Who taught us to forgive too readily, and that forgiveness restored power, when in my experience, forgiveness had only taken my power away."

In Dog Flowers, Danielle Geller rips your heart out. She presents her own life in this heart-wrenching memoir that partly revisits her childhood and young adulthood and partly her mother’s life.

Geller recalls all the moments that shaped her and they’re not necessarily pretty. Everything from abuse, neglect, abandonment, hopelessness, mental illness, and loneliness.

The memoir begins in real-life after her mother’s death and in the book it begins when Danielle receives a phone call that her mother, Lauren “Tweety” Lee is in the hospital, dying. She makes the decision to go despite the hell she went through.

Her mother was never a real presence in her life. Her and her sister, Eileen, were shuffled from their alcoholic and abusive father and their grandmother (father’s mother).

After visiting her mother in the hospital, Danielle returns to Boston with a suitcase full of letters, receipts, diaries, and photos from her mother’s relatively short life.

This memoir is heavy, raw, and doesn’t hold anything back. Not only does it bring to light very important issues that many face whether it be abandonment, abuse, alcoholism, addiction, and more, but it also gives a real snippet into the life of Navajo culture and what it’s like to be born into a life where the cards are stacked against you.

The style of writing was a bit unusual for me, but I soon came to love it. Danielle can abruptly change scenes, but somehow it works.
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This is a great book. Thanks for letting me read and review this title. I appreciate it..............
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I felt split reading this one. Geller could be at times revealing and then at times oddly distanced from what's clearly very personal writing. Coupled with the jumps in narration (not only in chronology but also in geography and even social interactions, as when people who are apparently very important in her life pop in and out with little or no context), it made it hard to feel an emotional connection to the story.

I also would have liked some clarity as to why I should read this book (beyond simple human empathy, and I realize that point sounds harsh). Memoirs typically are inspiring, informative about a time or place, etc. This one did tell a difficult story and we see a woman rise above her situation, but only barely and not with encouragement for us. Maybe I wanted some dots connected for me, or maybe I wasn't in the right state to get there (there's plenty of empathy to go around for some of the people in this book). I also would have enjoyed more integration of the other components -- the photos, letters, diary entries, etc. -- although to be fair that might be more about my expectations than about the book's execution.

That said, I'm glad I read it, and I especially appreciated the final third or so of the book. Geller writes well, but it just didn't all come together for me with this one.
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This was a beautiful memoir of a daughter learning more about her mother and her own childhood by going through the things her mother left behind. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC.
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This is an incredible memoir. The author wrote it while coming to terms with her unanchored childhood after her mother dies. Though she is of Navajo descent, her mother left the reservation before giving birth to her children so she grew up off the reservation and rarely saw her. She is given a collection of her mother's journals, photos, and letters after her death. The facts are heartbreaking. It reveals a life of addiction, abuse, and homelessness. The journey into finding out who her mother was opens her eyes to see her own cultural identity and she returns to the reservation to find the family she never knew. I loved how she wove all the various letters and diary entries into her own memories. It makes for a heartbreaking but powerful story.
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3.5 stars. I have loved learning about and reading more from Native American authors.  Danielle Geller returns to Florida to retrieve a suitcase full of pictures after her mother dies of alcohol withdrawal. Interspersed with photos and images from her mother's suitcase, this is really the story of Danielle-- the struggles of her childhood, her alcoholic mother, father, and sister, and her connection to the Navajo reservation. This is a difficult story, of a young woman, who, despite her self-reflection during her mother's memorial service on the reservation, is actually a caretaker of her whole family, even her parents. This is a sad and touching novel about family.
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Beautiful, precise writing. Geller doesn't shy away from trauma but neither does she let it define her life and experience. A moving story that is at times heavy but ends in a place of lightness.
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Dog Flowers is a memoir where Danielle Geller explores seeing the world through her mother's eyes following her death. The memoir shows Danielle learning about her mother's stories and connecting with her mother's family. The memoir covers a long period of time very well, jumping between time while not being confusing at all to the reader. I really enjoyed this memoir and I would recommend giving it a chance! 

Content warning for domestic abuse, death of a parent, drug and alcohol abuse, and homelessness.
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Upon her mother's unexpected death, Danielle Geller sorts through her mother's small collection of belongings—receipts, job applications, photos and diaries—and visits her mother's birthplace, a Navajo reservation, in order to piece together the story of her own childhood. A childhood ruled by alcoholism, poverty and near-constant loss. A childhood mostly absent of her mother.

In opposition to the subject of this memoir, the writing has an easy clarity that kept me going even when the story is quite painful. You move seamlessly back through the author's recollections, media fragments and the present in a way that reminds me of how we easily slip into our own memories when given a few minutes of silence. I'm grateful for this story but also for the author's stylistic choices in telling it. In combination they make for an illuminating book.

I like to think of myself as pretty critical of my country, The United States, and its' systemic injustices. But sometimes you read something that gives you a new lens with which to view the place you live. Dog Flowers is one such book.
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My review for Shelf Awareness is here:

The review was also cross-posted to Smithsonian BookDragon:
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Danielle Geller’s engrossing new memoir, Dog Flowers, reads like an unputdownable novel. This graceful, empathetic book deals with her acceptance of a deeply flawed family and problems of identity. 

Raised in Pennsylvania by her white grandmother but a member of the Navajo nation in Arizona, Geller grew up in a stable home but took for granted the problems of her drunken, divorced, often homeless parents. When her father appears at their grandmother’s house drunk or violent, this is everyday family life. Geller and her sister Eileen are deeply affected emotionally, but Geller concentrates on telling the story and not on describing their emotions.

The impetus for the memoir is the death of her mother, Lee, who dies homeless in a hospital in Florida. Danielle flies from Boston to Florida, the only relative who visits. Danielle’s sister Eileen has a drug problem, and screams at her on the phone when she hears the news. So Danielle holds it all together: a nurse questions her presence, because she’d been told Lee had no family, and Danielle is upset by their assumptions about homelessness. And we readers learn about the challenges that kept Lee from living a normal life.

After Lee’s death, Danielle finds scraps of her mother’s writing, diaries, and letters among her belongings. She cherishes these scraps, which show her mother’s love for her daughters and appreciation of their relationship. Later, Danielle is trained in library school as an archivist. And so she archives her mother’s writings, using them as footnotes to this narrative.

Geller’s writing is flawless, graceful, and moving. Her writing reminds me slightly of Pam Houston’s. An excellent read.
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I really dislike having to rate memoirs, as I think it is impossible to pass judgment on another person's life experience. My rating is more of a reflection of how readable I found the telling of the story, and in this case, it took a bit of time to get into it. With her mother's death, she is left with photos and random documents that leave an incomplete picture of who she was, but Geller fills in with details of her own upbringing and tumultuous familial relationships. You cannot help but feel for her as she constantly tries to support various family members' sobriety. There is a lot that remains a mystery, which is frustrating as a reader, but I can only imagine how it must feel for Geller.
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Danielle Geller unravels her family’s troubled lives in this heart-wrenching memoir. After her mother Laureen “Tweety” Lee dies from alcohol withdrawal, she takes her mother’s belongings “packed into eight suitcases” and begins a self-discovery journey. She weaves in her personal story from childhood as she tries to find out more about her mother’s past from Laureen’s departure from a Navajo reservation at age 19.

Danielle Geller shares her dark memories of her childhood with us, being abandoned by her mother and father to their addictions, her journey in finding herself, and finding a way to make peace with her family’s path. Her memoir is beautifully written with her quiet tone however, her story is heavy. A good part of her memoir tells us about her family’s addictions and her troubled relationships with them as she shares with us her struggles with her father and sister’s addictions with alcohol, who come and go from her life as they are drawn into the relentless cycle of addiction. It weighed heavy on me, and I wanted to look away from the story. I would have liked to know more about Danielle Geller’s journey. The beauty in her story is her strength in her caring, quiet words as she carries that weight, her path to self-discovery and healing as she unravels her mother’s destructive path.

I struggled with her writing flow that felt choppy and distant with her telling us her family’s story, and I wanted to feel more connected to her by seeing her story. However, this is Danielle Geller’s personal story, and that is a “me thing.”
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This memoir by Geller explores her upbringing and the emotions the death of her mother uncovers. She talks about getting to know many of her family members after the passing of her mother, and of her relationships with them. 
The book tells many small stories that are often tragic, but Geller seems detached. The emotions these events should have evoked don’t come through. The timeline for the book is a bit jumbled; this is a non-linear story. 
I give this book 2 stars. I simply didn’t feel involved in the tragedy that Geller has experienced. Her style of writing feels disjointed to me, halting and emotionless. Her descriptions of emotions experiences are there, but the feelings themselves never visited me. Maybe memoirs are not for me.
This book was a NetGalley gift from the publisher, Random House - One World. The opinions shared in this review are my own and I have received no compensation in exchange for offering them.
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