My Thoughts on Kelle Groom, I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl

Title: I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl
Author: Kelle Groom
Publisher: Free Press (Simon and Schuster)
Date: 2011
Genre: Memoir

238 pages.
Where I got it: I received a copy from the publisher via Free Press Blog Tours
Challenges: None

Kelle Groom's memoir tells more than one story.  It tells the story of her struggle with alcoholism that begins when she is in her early adolescence.  It tells the story of giving away her child, and then losing him again, this time for good.  And finally, it tells the story of a town and the past that might be making its people sick.

Kelle Groom is a poet and that fact is obvious in her prose.  Her language is abstract and often strange, its poetics making this a different sort of read than the typical memoir.  Each of Groom's chapters seeems to tell a full story, making the movement of the book more circular than forward. And yet I did feel propelled by it as I read, as each new retelling opened new windows into the aging and maturing Kelle.

I wasn't sure that I wanted to read Kelle Groom's memoir, honestly.  I have a case of "memoir fatigue."  I don't think that Groom has much to say that hasn't been said about addiction struggles, and I found her attempts to investigate the role of environmental factors in her son's death to be intriguing at first, but ultimately a disappointing side plot.  In the end though, the book was a quick and relatively engaging read for me.  What I did find unique and refreshing was Groom's voice.  She resists (mostly) the impulse to universalize her experience, and keeps it in the realm of the poetic and personal.  This is Groom's story and she doesn't claim that it is anything else.  As I read, I felt that I was discovering Groom as she discovered herself.  Although I still am wary of memoir at the moment, I would happily check out Groom's poetry.  If you are not tired of memoir, this certainly has something to add to the genre even if what it adds isn't the story itself.


  1. I like memoirs but think the whole 'tragic life story' genre is a bit saturated at the moment.

  2. Thank you for the great review. I appreciate your honesty. Donna

  3. @ Tiny Library: That's how I'm feeling, but I've been reading memoir for years. I know that when people are new to the genre is seems fresher.

    @Donna: Thanks for coming by the blog. I try to be honest about what works for me as a reader.

  4. Hi Laura,

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. I love your review and agree about the subplot regarding her son's death and the city's environment.

  5. I just finished reading this today, having received it a little late for the blog tour (as in two days after the hop happened...), and I've got a first draft of my review in hand. I agree with your assessments and appreciate your balanced review, though I haven't treated the same elements in my review so far (except, of course, the language). Seems as though I need a cooling off/processing period after such intensity, so I'll probably post on Thurs. (With your extensive background in this sort of memoir, did you find that you could process the emotional content as you read?

  6. @ Simone: Thanks for stopping by. I really wanted more out of that subplot, because I liked the depth it added to the story. I thought it had potential.

    @Laurie: I let a few days pass before writing my review as well (I usually do). There were a few scenes that were emotionally difficult for me (the rape scenes in particular). However, one of the things I like about the reflective nature of memoirs, is that I feel like I am digesting the emotion and the experience along with the writer. I thought that Groom did a wonderful job of taking the reader along with her on her journey towards resolution.


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