The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Story of Surprising Second Chances

Overview

Dear Amy,
First my husband told me he didn't love me. Then he said he didn't think he had ever really loved me. Then he left me with a baby to raise by myself. Amy, I don't want to be a single mother.
I told myself I'd never be divorced. And now here I am—exactly where I ...

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Overview

Dear Amy,
First my husband told me he didn't love me. Then he said he didn't think he had ever really loved me. Then he left me with a baby to raise by myself. Amy, I don't want to be a single mother.
I told myself I'd never be divorced. And now here I am—exactly where I didn't want to be!
My daughter and I live in London. We don't really have any friends here. What should we do?
Desperate

Dear Desperate,
I have an idea.
Take your baby, get on a plane, and move back to your dinky hometown in upstate New York—the place you couldn't wait to leave when you were young. Live with your sister in the back bedroom of her tiny bungalow. Cry for five weeks. Nestle in with your quirky family of hometown women—many of them single, like you. Drink lots of coffee and ask them what to do. Do your best to listen to their advice but don't necessarily follow it.
Start to work in Washington, DC. Start to date. Make friends. Fail up. Develop a career as a job doula. Teach nursery school and Sunday School.
Watch your daughter grow. When she's a teenager, just when you're both getting comfortable, uproot her and move to Chicago to take a job writing a nationally syndicated advice column.
Do your best to replace a legend. Date some more.
Love fiercely. Laugh with abandon. Grab your second chance—and your third, and your fourth.
Send your daughter to college. Cry for five more weeks.
Move back again to your dinky hometown and the women who helped raise you.
Find love, finally.
And take care.
Amy

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

"I didn't become an advice columnist on purpose," writes Dickinson (author of the syndicated column "Ask Amy") in her chapter titled "Failing Up." In the summertime of 2002, after spending months living off of her credit cards between freelance writing jobs, Dickinson sent in an audition column to the Chicago Tribune and became the paper's replacement for the late Ann Landers. Here, Dickinson traces her own personal history, as well as the history of her mother's family whose members make up the "Mighty Queens" of Freeville, N.Y., the small town where Dickinson was raised, and where she raised her own daughter between stints in London; New York City; Washington, D.C.; and Chicago. Dickinson writes with an honesty that is at once folksy and intelligent, and brings to life all of the struggles of raising a child (Dickinson was a single mother) and the challenges and rewards of having a supportive extended family. "I'm surrounded by people who are not impressed with me," Dickinson humorously laments. "They don't care that my syndicated column has twenty-two million readers." Dickinson's irresistible memoir reads like a letter from an upbeat best friend. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Mary Quattlebaum
Amy Dickinson, the "Ask Amy" syndicated advice columnist, serves up a sustaining slice of life in this warm-hearted memoir about her small-town roots. Through divorce, single motherhood and a variety of jobs, Amy knows she can count on her family of largely women, the so-called "Mighty Queens," for love, support and common sense. And so though she may live in London, Washington, DC, or Chicago, she keeps heading home to Freeville, New York (population: 458) with her growing daughter for long weekends, holidays and summers. Amy reflects on her life with wit and good humor and shares with the reader much of the good advice she has received from others. My favorite tidbit comes from her work as a nursery school teacher when toddlers taught her "to be in the moment, to play with abandon, to nap when you need to, and to preserve your friendships by saying ‘I'm sorry' when necessary." Amy is quick to give thanks throughout for the strong, kind women in her life. Reviewer: Mary Quattlebaum
Kirkus Reviews
In a gutsy debut memoir about family, resolve and the secret of survival, farm girl turned advice columnist Dickinson plows to the root of her down-to-earth American know-how. The straight-shooting successor to Ann Landers, Dickinson's previous claims to fame include the community auction of household possessions to square a debt accrued by her absent father, teaching Sunday school, harboring Holsteins and mastering single motherhood. In the late 1980s, Dickinson's adulterous, soon-to-be-ex-husband walked out on her, and she recoiled to her banal hometown of Freeville, N.Y., with toddler daughter Emily. Dejected, fond of therapeutic cigarette smoking in the tub, she was steadily buttressed by patient pillars of female kin and finally traded the bathroom for a fresh start in Washington, D.C. Like a quarterback reacting to a testy defensive line, she called snap plays for first dates, odd jobs, solo parenting, disastrous home repairs and pet surgery. Hectic yet reflective, Dickinson's mind constantly searched for life lessons in her mistakes while pondering how to present these aberrations as worldly insights to her daughter-a thought process which now endears 22 million readers daily to her column, "Ask Amy." Real-life situations were forever testing her, from damage control after a high-school choir accident to the humiliating Laura Ingalls Wilder Halloween costume. Regardless, Dickinson's crisis-filled playbook had two constants: candor and Freeville coaching. No fumble was without its rewards according to Freeville women, portrayed here as resilient blends of Marmee March and Calamity Jane. An unabashed, self-pity-free, landmine-filled love letter to a rocky past, credited for theauthor's current success and happiness. Author tour to Boston, Charlotte, N.C., Chicago, Cincinnati, Dayton, Ohio, New Orleans, New York, Raleigh, N.C., San Francisco, St. Louis, Washington, D.C. Agent: Elyse Cheney/Elyse Cheney Literary Associates
The Barnes & Noble Review
Out of all the reasons to recommend a book to a friend, my motivation is rarely "This might help." But twice now, since reading Amy Dickinson's memoir The Mighty Queens of Freeville, I've passed it on in precisely that spirit. In one case, I thought a city-dwelling friend of mine, who's lately missed the small midwestern town she grew up in, might find comfort in Dickinson's loving description of her own rural hometown in upstate New York. In the other, a mother of three very young children revealed that her husband (the rat) had recently left her for another woman; I hoped she might find some salve in Dickinson's survival under similar circumstances.

Dickinson, who writes the syndicated advice column "Ask Amy," dispenses no advice in this book. Yet her experiences -- which she relays with disarming charm, humor, and intelligence -- and her resilience may prove instructive, even restorative, for many readers.

In a dozen chapters that could work as stand-alone essays -- yet which loosely weave together to form a story -- Dickinson, who was tapped by the Chicago Tribune to succeed Ann Landers in 2003 and who contributes regularly to NPR, warmly welcomes us into her life. It's an informal, kick-off-your-shoes-and-sit-down kind of story, and Dickinson makes the most out of its lively cast of characters. There's her father, who left his family and their farm to run off with a truck stop waitress; the college sweetheart husband Dickinson followed to London, only to be abandoned by him shortly after the birth of their daughter; the daughter she's raised on her own; the string of unsuitable men she's dated; and the close extended family that's gotten her through.

More than anything else, there's Freeville (pop. 458), the small Upstate New York town she's always considered home -- even while she's lived in London, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. "My family has called Freeville home for over two hundred years," she writes. "We've tilled and cultivated the land, tended chickens and Holsteins, built houses and barns and backyard sheds. Most significantly, my family has made more family, and that's the main reason I continue to call this little place home."

As her story unfolds, Dickinson emerges as a mix of big-city smarts and small-town wisdom, self-deprecating wit and steady self-assurance. Also in evidence is the steadfast pragmatism that distinguishes her daily advice column. "When people ask me how I know what I know or how I get to do what I do, I have the answer," she writes. "I got here the hard way, by living a life and making my share of mistakes." Vitally, Dickinson sees that path as one she couldn't have walked alone. "I got here with my family watching my back, with my hometown community influencing me and accepting my choices and enfolding me in their prickly embrace."

Dickinson's close circle of relatives -- mostly women because, she notes, divorce runs in her family "like an aggressive chromosome" -- pick her up and dust her off after her broadcast journalist husband ditches her for a younger woman. "He told me that he was tired of disappointing me," she writes, "and I understood perfectly because I hated the feeling of being disappointed by him." And while, for years thereafter, the men she dates continue to disappoint, the women in her life never do. As Dickinson puts it, "They abide," dropping by to sit on porches, gathering to watch movies, sharing pews at church, and meeting weekly at the local diner to discuss family news. (Conversational topics include "Ancestor Trivia," "Politics and You," "Jellies and Preserves," "Humidity," and "Pets: Dead or Alive," she wryly observes.)

The values these women impart propel Dickinson forward as she struggles to raise her daughter, Emily, and to build a career as a journalist. Putting family first, she turns down a prestigious job at Time magazine -- a really big break -- because it involves the sort of travel and 60-hour workweeks that would keep her away from Emily for long chunks of time. "I have another job," she tells the startled bureau chief. "I'm trying to raise a person." Impressed, the bureau chief calls back days later to offer her an even more prestigious job -- her own column about families and parenting -- this one with a more mom-friendly schedule. "You know that you skipped over the part where you work here for years and then get your own column?" he says. (That's the sort of career kismet Dickinson seems to have; she snagged her plum advice column gig without even breaking a sweat.)

Following her heart, Dickinson meanders through life along circuitous routes, which might be maddeningly indirect if they weren't so scenic. Dickinson's knack for zeroing in on telling details and her sly humor make the journey worthwhile, wholly enjoyable, and -- for all its undeniable sweetness -- surprisingly untreacly. She conjures the contours of her life by highlighting its contrasts: the difference between the church she attends in D.C., with its swanky locale, soaring Gothic details, and politically connected congregants, and the one she frequents in Freeville, with its rusted aluminum siding, fragrant Saturday barbecues, and lively airing of community news ("Joys and Concerns," they call it). And she has a few laugh-out-loud slapsticky passages I won't ruin for you here.

I also won't ruin the end, with its lovely emotional payoff. Suffice it to say that Dickinson's unconventional choices always seem to carry her in the right direction. Her career success is ultimately matched by luck in her personal life. And by the time she sees Emily off to college, well, we couldn't be happier for them if we were members of their own family.

Such is the charm of The Mighty Queens of Freeville. As big as Dickinson's family may be, there always seems to be room for one more at the table. Reading this book, you get the lovely feeling that, for a time, that person is you. --Amy Reiter

Amy Reiter, a former editor and senior writer for Salon, has written for The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book World, Glamour, Marie Claire, Wine Spectator, and American Journalism Review, among other publications.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781401310127
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • Publication date: 4/13/2010
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 304,195
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Amy Dickinson

Amy Dickinson is a syndicated advice columnist. She replaced Ann Landers in 2003 and now pens the "Ask Amy" column, which appears in more than 100 newspapers nationwide, including the LA Times, The Chicago Tribune, Newsday, The Boston Herald, the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the Washington Post. She currently lives in Chicago.

Biography

Amy Dickinson is a syndicated advice columnist, penning the "Ask Amy" column, which appears in over 200 newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Newsday, and The Washington Post.

She grew up on a small dairy farm in the Finger Lakes district of New York state. Her father wanted his three daughters to be farmers but gave up on them when they refused to compete in the local Diary Princess pageant. Her large family has lived in and around her hometown (pop. 450) continuously since the Revolutionary War. She has described them as "hilarious, short-waisted Methodists."

"My extended family is a collection of married and divorced parents, single mothers, step-relatives, adoptees -- and devoted siblings, cousins, aunties, uncles and grandparents. I grew up hearing stories about my ancestors' exploits: My great-grandfather was warden of Sing Sing Prison and my great-uncle ran off to Europe and joined the circus when he was 40. Life in my hometown was like growing up in Lake Wobegon, only with worse weather and high unemployment," she says.

Amy attended Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. She graduated from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. She has worked as a receptionist for The New Yorker magazine, as a producer for NBC News in Washington and New York, as a lounge singer, and as a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Esquire, Allure, O magazine, and other publications. From 1999-2002, she wrote a column for TIME magazine focusing on family life and parenting.

Dickinson's commentaries and radio stories have been featured on the National Public Radio program "All Things Considered." In the early days of the Internet, she wrote a weekly column, carried on America Online's News Channel, which often drew on her experiences as a single parent and member of a large, extended family. She has also been a Sunday school teacher and a substitute teacher at a local nursery school.

Of her role as an advice columnist, Dickinson has this to say: "Because I so often write about personal issues and points of family conflict, readers have been reaching out to me, asking for advice about everything from their children's appalling table manners to their sticky relationships with the in-laws. I realized that people really want to have a conversation, and I'm honored that they want to have it with me."

In addition to her advice column, Amy is a regular panelist on NPR's comedy quiz show, "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me." She also can be heard regularly on NPR's national talk show, "Talk of the Nation." Amy appears frequently on CNN, Fox News, and the "Today Show."
--Biography from author website

Good To Know

Here are some outtakes from our interview with Amy Dickinson:
  • "I was once a lounge singer."

  • "I love to tramp around in the country."

  • "I have an affinity for animals and livestock of all kinds, but they don't necessary take to me."

  • "The saddest and most beautiful sight I know is that of a flock of geese, honking and flying overhead."

  • "I have always put my relationships before my work, because I figure if my relationships are good, I'm happier and have more freedom to write what I want to write. I try to celebrate other peoples' creative endeavors and am easily inspired."

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