Monday Book Talk: “The Mighty Queens of Freeville,” by Amy Dickinson

Thanks to Nicole Bruce at The Book Report Network for offering a copy of this book for review!

The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter, and the Town That Raised Them by Amy Dickinson
The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, A Daughter, and the Town That Raised Them
Amy Dickinson
Hyperion, 2009 (hardcover) (ISBN 1401322859 / 9781401322854)
Memoir, 240 pages

First sentence: One December day in the mid-1980’s, I looked out the front window of my mother’s house and watched my soon-to-be husband walking up the road.

Book description: Millions of Americans know Amy Dickinson from reading her syndicated advice column “Ask Amy” and from hearing her wit and wisdom weekly on National Public Radio. Amy’s audience loves her for her honesty, her small-town values, and the fact that her motto is “I make the mistakes so you don’t have to.” In The Mighty Queens of Freeville, Amy Dickinson shares those mistakes and her remarkable story. This is the tale of Amy and her daughter and the people who helped raise them after Amy found herself a reluctant single parent.

Though divorce runs through her family like an aggressive chromosome, the women in her life taught her what family is about. They helped her to pick up the pieces when her life fell apart and to reassemble them into something new. It is a story of frequent failures and surprising successes, as Amy starts and loses careers, bumbles through blind dates and adult education classes, travels across the country with her daughter and their giant tabby cat, and tries to come to terms with the family’s aptitude for “dorkitude.”

They have lived in London, D.C., and Chicago, but all roads lead them back to Amy’s hometown of Freeville (pop. 458), a tiny village where Amy’s family has tilled and cultivated the land, tended chickens and Holsteins, and built houses and backyard sheds for more than 200 years. Most important, though, her family members all still live within a ten-house radius of each other. With kindness and razor-sharp wit, they welcome Amy and her daughter back weekend after weekend, summer after summer, offering a moving testament to the many women who have led small lives of great consequence in a tiny place.

Comments: When a friend at the Chicago Tribune told Amy Dickinson that the paper was going to launch a new advice column after the death of Ann Landers, and invited her to audition for the job, she was unsure of her qualifications for telling people how to solve their problems. However, when she thought about it more, she realized that her years of receiving advice of all kinds, asked for or not, from the women of her family gave her a vast repository of knowledge and experience to tap, and more than adequate preparation for the task at hand. Dickinson got the job, and has authored the nationally syndicated advice column “Ask Amy” since 2003. The job took her and her teenage daughter to Chicago, but their home – in heart, and in physical location every summer and as often as possible during the rest of the year – has remained the village of Freeville, New York, where they return each year to be surrounded by mother, sisters, aunts, and female cousins. Dickinson’s family is one where the men have tended not to stay in the picture, but the women, and the small town where most of them have remained, have been each other’s constants.

Dickinson’s not sharing advice in The Mighty Queens of Freeville; she’s just telling her own story – one of divorce and single parenthood, financial struggle and success, homes and pets and attempts at relationships. As a storyteller, she’s honest, engaging, and often very funny – she comes across as easy to relate to and like. There were quite a few lines in the book that made me chuckle, but the chapters about her various adventures in dating and her daughter’s developing comfort level with her “dorkitude” made me laugh out loud in several places. The book is relatively short in the first place, and Dickinson’s style makes it a quick read.

Ever since I first read about this book, it’s nagged at me that I should know where Freeville, N.Y. is – and it turns out that I do! Dickinson’s mentions of nearby Fall Creek reinforced that feeling, but it was her mention of her hometown paper, the Ithaca Journal, that confirmed it. Freeville is located in the Finger Lakes region of New York, not far from Cornell University in Ithaca; I worked at the university while my first husband was in graduate school there, and one of my co-workers lived in Freeville. Even by small-town standards, it’s a small town – but it’s Dickinson’s town, and her family’s. Speaking of her family, one other thing has nagged at me: Dickinson never refers to her ex-husband by name, but I hope that his last name is her daughter’s name too – or that she’s using a pseudonym for her daughter in the book. Otherwise, her daughter’s name is “Emily Dickinson.”

I don’t read the newspaper on a daily basis these days, and one of the things I miss about it is “Ask Amy.” I like her column, and that’s what interested me in this book. I feel that I know her better since reading it, and I liked learning about how her life experience shaped an advice columnist.

Rating: 3.75/5

Buy the book:

Other bloggers’ reviews:
Bloggin ’bout Books
Books on the Brain
B&b ex libris
Random Wonder
Booking Mama
S. Krishna’s Books
Word Lily
Chefdruck Musings

If you have reviewed this book and your link isn’t listed here, please leave it in the comments or e-mail it to me at 3.rsblog AT Gmail DOT com, and I’ll edit this post to include it!

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  1. Kathy (Bermudaonion) – Sorry I missed your link in the original post, but I’ve added it now! I’m glad you enjoyed the book too.

    Anna – I actually like her advice column; very down-to-earth, and she gets modern life and its dilemmas, if you know what I mean.

    Wordlily – Thanks, I’ve added your link! And I agree with what you said in your review about the cover designs – the one on my edition doesn’t fit the book as well as the ARC cover did.

  2. Nice review. I liked it too. Growing up in Detroit we got Ann Landers in the Detroit Free Press, but out here in LA we get Dear Abby. I have never seen the Ask Amy column but I liked her ‘voice’ in this book.

  3. Lisa – I always liked Ann Landers a little better than her sister Dear Abby, and I think Amy’s a good successor.

    Yeah, “see you this weekend” does sound a little weird, but in a good way :-).