Book Review, "Bloom" by Kelle Hampton

The content of "Bloom" reviewed as well as the writing

I had arrived in a comfortable place with my feelings regarding Kelle Hampton. I admired the money she raised for NDSS (assuming, of course, that the money isn’t going to padded salaries but rather to assisting individuals with Down syndrome). Happy that she had toned down the seemingly endless tea-parties on her popular blog, Enjoying the Small Things, and had turned some attention to Down syndrome. Because, as you see, she had been lifted high by the Ds community and had accepted leadership but wasn’t stepping up much – besides to stand behind podiums and accept awards.

 

It was a nice spot, that comfortable spot. It was warm and friendly and I rather liked tapping in to her blog from time to time to see what was new.

 

Imagine then my astonishment at cracking open her memoir, Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected and discovering almost immediately that it must have been written by an entire other.

 

Using broad strokes full of sweeping generalizations, worn platitudes, exhausted cliches and sophomoric adjectives, Kelle paints a picture of her life. Unlike Monet however, the painting does not become a masterpiece when viewed from a distance. Rather, it’s becomes a mash-up of gloss, painted thick but smelling of tempera – which, when stormed upon, will run.

 

She starts her book off with her “perfect” life – a life full of friends, good times, fun, and things. Then she has Nella, her daughter with Down syndrome and she undergoes great pain and grief before transforming herself from someone who likes to have a good time and party while wearing great clothes, drunk – to someone who likes to have a good time and drink while wearing great clothes.

 

Speaking of drinking: Kelle and her husband Brett don’t seem to ever talk about problems; rather, they drink through their problems. They have this “unspoken pact” to not “bring the other down” by talking about the things that have real meaning in their lives. Rather, Brett uses his “uncanny ability” in passing out the beers. In her (5 day) hospital stay with her heartbreak over having Nella, Kelle is with her friends while Brett brings the beer. The night she wrote her famous birth story – she wrote through her agony; Brett brought her beer. It seems that at every turn, they are “cracking a cold one.” The former alcoholic in me got thirsty with all that drinking; the wife in me that relied intensely on her husband to pass through her own grief (and yes, despair) at bringing a child with Down syndrome into the world was absolutely at a loss as to how one could go through this without talking about it with one’s partner.

 

Kelle’s writing about the “hot” therapist and the “hot” doctor in the hospital does nothing for me in developing even a smidgen of a sense of admiration in the loyalty, strength and bond of her relationship with her husband, either. Rather, I was struck at the seeming senselessness of their union – why be together? Just to drink? Get wasted and skinny dip with the neighbors, as she writes of?

 

The content being what it was for me, I turned to look and absorb her actual writing – the business of crafting sentences, pulling them together with meaning. I think Kelle does a good job of writing in her blog, after all.

 

I felt lost in a maze of repetition, contradictions (in the very same paragraph!). She likes to cuss, yes, but unlike say, Bill Bryson, she doesn’t insert a well-timed swear word into an elegant sentence, throwing the visual picture into quick comic relief. Nor is she like other authors who just have a potty mouth throughout and it’s a part of who they are, with a writing style being wrapped tight around each and every cuss word. No, Kelle does not cuss like that – she cusses like she’s out to prove how “bad ass” she is, that she’s a “rock star” – and she really, really likes to call herself a bad ass rock star. She throws in her “hell” and her “damn” or whatever like it’s going to hammer that final nail, firmly hanging her neon sign, but coupled with the melodrama with which she drenches her life, if feels a lot more like reading someone’s embarrassing diary from high school than a book that is supposed to pack an inspirational punch.

 

“Bloom” being as far from an inspiration as a book could possibly be for me was actually depressing. Literally. It triggered an attack of depression. If this book is making bestseller lists (as it is), if this book is receiving great reviews (as it is), then its success obviously stems from the deep and essential pity that the general population feels for a young mother who receives a surprise diagnosis upon the birth of her child with Down syndrome. The success of this book hammers the point of how much further the walk of inclusion and advocacy remains, because I am confident there is absolutely no way this book could be successful on the basis of superior writing.

 

Furthermore, I honestly do not understand the portrayal she paints of herself as one who finds the good in all things, who fleshes out even the tiniest bit of the positive and “sucks the marrow out of life”. Her life is one blessing after another. She has money. A full backing of friends. She has health, beauty. She even has a gay dad, for crying out loud! What more could one ever ask for? I would believe her ability to be a solidly bright and positive spirit if I saw something in her life – besides having a child with Down syndrome – which was truly a challenge. Getting burned like NieNie maybe. Or growing up poor – or ugly. Or teased. Or abused. Or just…something more than the awfulness of owning a house with 15-year old tiles and not wood floors…Or having a child with Down syndrome… sigh.

 

On the bright side – the photos – of which there are an abundance – are first-class. Kelle is in over half of them, so obviously some uncredited soul is highly involved. The ones she did take however, are lovely. The photos are extremely important in changing perceptions of Down syndrome, and I acknowledge her for making Down syndrome far more appealing to the mainstream US than it probably ever has – the gloss and “perfection” with which she continues to paint her life includes Nella. Nella – and therefore by extension, Down syndrome – is thus portrayed by Kelle while garbed in fashionable attire, at good angles, in lovely light and with fetching accessories.

 

I wish I liked this book. I didn’t. I think that while she is a very good blogger, she is not a very good writer – living proof that there is a an enormous difference between handling a blog and writing a book. Furthermore, I am upset that she is a representative of the Down syndrome community, indeed she is the representative. I’d rather have George EstreichMartha Beck or Kathryn Lynard Soper; people who truly know how to craft a memoir. People who have a maturity and depth of understanding regarding Down syndrome and disability that does not include laughing at their friend’s drawing of stick figures of men with large penises under a table at an emotional meeting in which they are present as an honorary speaker.

 

Or, if they do, have the good sense to not write about it in their books.

Meriah
Meriah Nichols is teacher and artist who lives in a yurt off the grid. She is deaf, has 3 kids (one with Down syndrome) and a lot of chickens. She writes about travel, disability, and getting dishes done. She likes her tea Earl Grey and hot.
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21 Comments

  • This makes my skin crawl. She is touted as being so brave to share her “innermost” thoughts, and really all she did was drink through her grief while surrounded by glamorous friends?

    I grieved. Hard. I will bet anything that if I wrote a memoir (and I’m sorry, but two years in isn’t a memoir – there is absolutely no perspective) I would be slammed for grieving like that for my child. The Down syndrome community would read me the riot act for my honesty. But this lady? This lady with the freaking red lipstick, the freaking cupcakes, the constant drinking? She gets praised and raised up as a savior for our community. Our community tells the world that you only need 5 days, endless beer, and zero communication with your spouse to get over a diagnosis.

    I think Kelle was in a weird place before the book. A blogger and a photographer who was thrust into the advocacy position just because her daughter has Down syndrome. But if this her deepest, darkest stuff being held up as an example of what life with Down syndrome is like, then I am not sure I feel so bad for her any more. Writing this book was a choice.

  • It really just kind of makes me giggle at how silly it is. I couldn’t agree with you more. She has raised a lot of money and that is pretty remarkable. But she was getting awards before she ever even did that. The night I finished the book, I sat up writing until late in the night. I don’t know that anything will ever come of it, but it’s at least there for my kids.

  • I haven’t read the book so I actually do not have much to say, but I really love your brutal honesty. I grieved when Ellie was diagnosed. I was angry for a while. At times, I am still upset. I am not upset for having Ellie, but I am upset with all of the trappings that come with having Ds. I am pissed every time we miss out on something because she has therapy or she has yet another specialist appointment. At times I am frustrated when I do not understand what Ellie wants because she cannot talk and has trouble signing. Anyway, what I am saying is that I am a little further along than Kelle in my journey with Ds and I still doubt I could write a memoir. She has brought lots of attention to Down syndrome through her blog which I believe is good, but it appears that life is perfect. There are no therapies, no heart conditions, etc mentioned in her blog. She only advocates when it is Nella’s birthday. She has a great platform to make a difference, but has chosen not to use it. That is her choice, but I cannot help but be saddened by this.

    Anyway, I will probably read her book because I am curious about the woman behind the blog. Through her blog and stunning photography, she has been thrust into the spot light of advocacy so yeas, I am curious.

    • You know, Anna, a lot of people say Kelle was “thrust” into an advocacy role – she wasn’t. She was invited and she accepted. She accepted the awards, she accepted the praise, she accepted NDSS promoting her blog – at any time, she could have declined or said, “hey – I’m new here and not ready for this. Ask someone who is seasoned.”
      But did she?

      Meriah

  • Wow, you hit the nail on the head on so many levels. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Get ready for the vitriol that is surely coming your way now!

  • I haven’t read it and doubt that I ever will. I don’t know how I would feel about it if I just had a prenatal diagnoses or just had a new baby with Down syndrome. I didn’t go through any major grieving process, so I doubt that I would have found it helpful then either, but maybe. If her book is perpetuating the myths about how “sweet” people with Down syndrome are instead of representing them as valuable members of society deserving of respect, then it’s just sad that she has become a spokesperson. We need some loud advocates that want to really stand up for disability rights and disability pride instead of creating pity and condescension. Honestly, instead of “more alike than different”; I’d prefer to see “different and proud of it”.

  • This review made me smile. Tell it how it really is! I gave credit where credit is due but I absolutely agree with you on many points. The one I will highlight here is the complete depression that set in. Mine however, was more a result of the idea that this book (if you can call it that, as opposed to one long blog post) made the best seller list while so many other great pieces of literature don’t. I am reading Amy Julia Becker’s book right now and it is so much better, but she will never get the hype because she proclaims faith loud and clear instead of raising her fist at a smiting God…or maybe it is just that she doesn’t swear enough. Kidding. and yet not, sadly.

  • I did read the book. Let me start by saying that I like reading her blog. It’s amusing to me. It’s like one of those “reality” TV shows were half of what happens is not even real! LOL! I assume that every time I go into her blog so all the fantasy she portrays doesn’t really bothers me. I thought the book was not inspirational. I agree that two years into this journey is too short period of time to pretend to write a memoir. I think the book is more about her and her perfect life than about her life as a new mom of a girl with Ds. I think the fact that Nella hasn’t have any mayor health issues and is doing very well compared to others (my son included) has made things very “easy” for Kelle in terms of dealing and accepting a diagnosis. Sometimes I wonder how did she get so far?! There are so many talented writers/moms/bloggers out there (you included Meriah) that should be getting all that attention for what they write!! It amazes me!

  • Ha! Thank you for writing this! I’ve essentially stayed away from critiquing much on my blog (is that true? I’ll have to think…), and I didn’t write anything about this book because I found it so troubling. I’ve already written my academic critique of memoirs, and I don’t have another one coming, so I probably won’t say much in public about this book, except to give pats on the back to other bloggers who say things I agree with. Like you!

    • Don’t let your fear steer you from not writing an honest review of the book. I’m so sick of people being afraid of the Kelle Hampton backlash. It’s not right. It was that way with Noah’s Dad, too. People wouldn’t call him on his bullshit, though must of it felt it, because we were afraid of what his minions would do. I’m not saying that Kelle’s book is bad, I haven’t read it, but I’m saddened to see how many people just write what people THINK they should write, rather than their truth. Please, please write your review.

  • Thank you for your honest (and well written) analysis of her book. I must say, I wasn’t running to the bookstore to get it. I’ve visited her blog a few times, but was turned off by the self-important “vibe” I got. It just didn’t seem real or authentic – sounds like her book is much of the same.

  • Bravo, M! I haven’t read the book myself yet, so I can’t say if I agree or not (though I imagine I will because the things you’ve mentioned are troubling to me as well). Thank you for writing how you really feel and not fearing the people who feel a need to put you down for just being honest in how you feel. You are a fantastic writer and this is an excellent, well thought out review.

  • Oh my goodness, I love this post! I thought I was the only one in the DS community who finds Kelle Hampton to be kind of annoying. Don’t get me wrong–I’m sure she has a good heart, and I’m glad she brings awareness to the community. And her pictures are lovely. But her life just often seems so superficial to me–all about having a Martha Stewart-perfect party and having everything just so.

    I had my baby son 21 weeks ago and found out in the delivery room that he has Down syndrome. I’ve kept a blog since the birth of my older son (four years ago), and I wrote about the birth of Samuel and our shock upon learning of his diagnosis–you know, the whole series of emotions you go through upon learning your child has Down syndrome. A lot of people read the blog, and one sent me Kelle Hampton’s blog about Nella’s arrival. I read it and cried because parts of it WERE touching…but there were parts that I just couldn’t relate to at all. Most strikingly, the fact that she wanted to run away from her baby upon learning of her diagnosis. That was just completely foreign to me. Personally, I had the opposite reaction–I couldn’t hold Samuel for about 90 minutes after he was born, and I wanted nothing more to fold him in my arms and never let him go! And in reading Bloom, I learned about how she consistently leaned on her friends for support during that traumatic time. That, too, was strange to me. I loved having support from friends and family, but she seemed SO needy–like she had just learned a loved one had died! As for me, I was just glad my Sam was born healthy. And I appreciated so much the support from everyone…but I can’t say I lay on my hospital bed writhing and crying all night, begging for the night to end. More like cuddled Sam, fed him when he needed it, got some sleep where I could, and puzzled through the complex labyrinth of joy, hurt, relief, and confusion that was going on in my brain.

    I shouldn’t cast aspersions–everyone deals with these things differently. Maybe I didn’t see Sam’s diagnosis as a horrible thing because he almost died during delivery, and I was just relieved that my baby boy was ALIVE! But I just kind of gag at the “What a big person I am because I learned to love my poor afflicted child” attitude that comes across in the book and the blog. It comes across as her constantly patting herself on the back for doing what should come naturally–accepting and rejoicing in the birth of her beautiful child.

    That said, I do follow her blog. Kind of like you can’t look away from a train wreck, really. I’m always curious to see how over the top and annoying posts are. And, as I said, she DOES take beautiful pictures.

  • Wow… What a review! Unfortunately, your description captures exactly how I have felt about her all along (except that first beautiful post). On a positive note- I, like you, love the pictures. Oh well, I guess I will cross Bloom off my summer reading list 🙂

  • I really enjoyed reading your review, Meriah. That you clearly took no pleasure in writing about what you didn’t like lends much credence to your words. You managed to be critical without being mean, and to disagree without making it personal. Nice!

    As far as pity being the draw for book sales, I prefer to believe that it’s more like the People Magazine phenomenon. People love juicy stories about other people.

    I am still trying to decide whether I want to read the book. It sounds like it will be an uncomfortable read. I do enjoy Kelle’s blog, but in much the same way that I enjoy the Pottery Barn catalog (quick browse to see all the pretty things). What I hope the take away is for the book, as it seems to be for the blog, is that a child with Down syndrome can bring more joy and beauty to an already beautiful and joyful life. She may not be contributing much directly in terms of advocacy in a traditional sense, but I think her window into one way to live life with an extra chromosome is a net positive one for our community. She will probably look back at her book someday and laugh at how silly she was (hindsight, perspective, and all that). She is still very young and new to this journey. She will grow along with Nella, and along with her readers (at least those of whom do not have a child with Down syndrome), and I would be surprised if her advocacy didn’t evolve in the process.

    • Saw this link posted on Baby Center yesterday. Erin, like you said, Kelle is still a young woman and very early to this journey. As she grows along with Nella, her advocacy will adjust accordingly. The majority of her 18,547 and counting readers don’t have a child with Down syndrome, so the fact that she is crossing over to a mainstream audience, raising so much positive awareness for Individuals with Ds is very good to the community. By reading her blog and Bloom you can definitely take away a great message: “a child with Down syndrome can bring more joy and beauty to an already beautiful and joyful life”. J’sa

  • I like that you are so honest about your feelings about Kelle and her book. I have to say though (although I love your blog AND Moxie!!) that I disagree. I do not think Kelle is the ultimate in advocacy for Ds, but I do think she is doing the best to HER ability. Should she focus more on Ds in her blogs to highlight negatives AND positives? Sure. Does she clearly throw up unicorns and brightly colored balloons on a daily basis? Definitely. But I think that positivity is admirable, to some degree. I started a book club at my school with other teachers/teaching assistants and secretaries. None of whom had a child with Ds (other than me), and I have to say, every single one of them LOVED the book. We actually got to Skype with Kelle and one of my co-workers brought up the fact that Kelle spews happiness, family and friend support, etc. and she asked whether or not Kelle believes that could be HARMFUL to a new mom/dad of a child with Ds. Kelle said she did in fact think it could be, and realizes that most people’s lives do not include as much support as she seems to have.
    So although I do see your point, I also think that Kelle is spreading a message of enjoying life, with or without a child(ren) with Ds. I like her positivity and I try to aspire each day to NOT focus on the “what if’s” and negative that some people can bring.
    Just thought I’d share my P.O.V., but I wanted to do it as respectfully as possible, because I respect your view as well. Thanks for hosting this blog hop! I am enjoying participating in it. Love the pictures of Moxie and congrats on your newest addition!

  • I was going to read the book, but I’m giving it second thoughts now. I don’t know that much about Kelle; I don’t read her blog, and I only know about the book because I heard about it from a friend recently. But it sounds like the type of thing that would frustrate me more than anything else. I might start reading her blog to get a better picture of her and pick up the book a little later…but this review and the comments have certainly given me some things to consider, so thank you.

  • Wow! You just really do not pull any punches and I absolutely admire you for that! I wrote a review of this book and mine… well, it came off a lot nicer. Honestly, I could not specifically relate to her situation… for many reasons. We received Spencer’s diagnosis while pregnant, so I wasn’t in that same just-birthed hormonal space. I got time to get used to the idea and research before his arrival. But also some of the other things you mention. She has such a nice life, nice things, supportive family and friends, etc. Her going on about her circle of friends depressed me as well. Oh yeah, and she’s gorgeous, too. Sucks to be her. Pfft.

    I did, however, enjoy the book on an emotional roller-coaster level. Kind of like choosing to watch a tear-jerker movie so you can have the catharsis without any personal investment. I literally sobbed through parts of her book. But her emotions definitely seemed over the top. Very, very dramatic!

    After I’d read it and written my review, I donated the book to my local DS Association with a kind note at the front. I think I might like your review better than mine, though.

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