BOOK REVIEW: SHADOW DAUGHTER: A MEMOIR OF ESTRANGEMENT by Harriet Brown
Updated: Oct 6
A Validating, Healing Memoir of Family Estrangement
An award-winning journalist, Harriet Brown is no stranger to taking the most painful of family experiences and turning them into a combination of literary memoir linked with cutting edge research about her subject. She did this in 2010 with her book, Brave Girl Eating: A Family’s Struggle with Anorexia, about her daughter’s battle with the eating disorder. I read this book years ago, and never forgot it.
She’s done it again with Shadow Daughter: A Memoir of Estrangement (2018). In Shadow Daughter, Brown weaves three themes together. First, she describes her deeply conflicted relationship with her own mother, and their roller coaster history of estrangement. Second, Brown shares stories from women and men around the world who ultimately cut ties from their parents or siblings. Third, although there is little research on family estrangement, Brown finds it and explains it to readers.
As a psychologist who specializes in working with daughters of narcissistic mothers, many of the women in my practice have wrestled with the excruciating problem of whether to cut off—estrange—from their mothers and other family members. Most of all, they feel ashamed and alone with this problem. They feel pressured to forgive and forget, to find a way to stay connected because family is family.
Brown, and the people whose stories of estrangement she shares, understand those feelings and experiences. Shadow Daughter covers, among other topics: the causes of estrangement in families, its back-and-forth pattern, the concept of forgiveness, and grief. Shadow Daughter explains why for some people, it is, in the end, the only choice. This book may be painful for some readers to complete. However, this book is important for people who are estranged from family members or considering it. Ultimately, the readers will
understand why estrangement happens, and how other people survive.