This is the second of a two-part series – a conversation with George Estreich, author of The Shape of the Eye: Down Syndrome, Family, and the Stories We Inherit , and Amy Julia Becker, author of Good and Perfect Gift, A: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny.
Amy Julia’s Awesome Blog: Thin Places
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My Review: A Good and Perfect Gift
1. You have both written memoirs related to your daughters, both of whom
were born with Down syndrome. Why did you feel the need to write about
The genesis of A Good and Perfect Gift was a journal. After Penny was
diagnosed with Down syndrome two hours after birth, the easiest way for me to
try to figure out what I was thinking and feeling was to write about it. I sometimes
felt like a little kid again because my mother was helping out a lot and she would
send me to my room and say, “Take a nap, or write.” She knew what I needed.
About once a month I would post an edited version of a few journal entries on
a private blog intended only for our friends and family. In time, I realized that
parents who didn’t have children with special needs nevertheless resonated with
many of the hopes and fears and doubts and joys I was experiencing. By the
time Penny was two, I felt compelled to write about the whole experience in a
more public way, in hopes that it would prompt questions and reflections about
the goodness of life and the challenges and rewards of parenting.
2. What do you hope readers will gain from your memoir and your
I think of A Good and Perfect Gift as a meditation on the nature of love,
particularly parental love, I suppose, but really love in general. So much of our
culture is built upon the assumption that our identity comes from our abilities, and
this assumption is destructive to all of us because it implies that we are only so
valuable as what we can achieve. But if our identity is based upon the fact that
we are loved and that we love in return, it enables us to see one another as gifts
and to give and receive with humility and gratitude. I hope readers come away
from this book with greater freedom to love and to be loved.
3. You have read each other’s books; in what ways do you think your books
are both similar and different?
The Shape of the Eye is broader in scope than A Good and Perfect Gift. For one,
Laura, George’s daughter, is older than Penny, so his story spans more time
and perhaps demonstrates greater wisdom because they have had more time
together. George also weaves in his own relationship with his parents more than
I do. Laura’s medical challenges in the beginning of her life were very different
than Penny’s, and the reality of Laura’s physical difficulties early on led George
to different places as a result. But both books attempt to simply tell a story of
a family. I hope both of them do so with beauty and integrity. I know George’s
4. What was the most challenging aspect of telling your story?
Writing about the beginning of Penny’s life was particularly difficult. I was working
on the book years after those early days, and I had resolved so many of the
emotions. The fear and grief and anger was gone. It was tempting to make
editorial comments, to assure the reader that I wouldn’t feel like this forever, or
even to wonder out loud how I could have been so upset. But of course I needed
and wanted to tell a true story, and the true story of my life as Penny’s mother
includes the weeks and months of confusing emotions after her birth.
5. If you had to write it all over again, would you change what you said in your
book? If so, what would that be?
There’s one passage that I often read when I’m talking about the book in public.
It happens when Penny was five months old and some high school students
come to our house and say, “You have the perfect life.” From there, I go on
to think about the meaning of perfection, the ways in which our life doesn’t
conform to cultural standards of perfection, and what it might mean to think about
perfection differently. In retrospect, I wish I had written that passage with a little
more clarity. One of my struggles since I was a little girl has been perfectionism,
which I now see as the attempt to pretend to be perfect. Every perfectionist
knows that perfection (by any measure) isn’t possible, but the pretense of it is. A
child with Down syndrome can’t pretend to be perfect. Penny’s presence in my
life knocked the perfectionism out of me, which was incredibly jarring at first, but
also incredibly freeing over time. If I were writing it over, I’d edit that one section
to be a little more clear about this perfection stuff.
6. How did you come up with the title of your book and how do you think it
reflects on the story’s overall message?
I’m terrible with titles. I had originally named the book “Just Penny.” I liked the
sentiment—there’s a scene in the book where I realize “she’s not our daughter
with Down syndrome. She’s just Penny”—but I didn’t love the way the words
sounded out loud. They also have an unintended double meaning that she’s
both “Simply Penny” and “Righteous Penny.” So my agent and I spent a few
days brainstorming, and she ultimately came up with the title A Good and Perfect
Gift. I love her choice because it mentions themes that run throughout the book
as I consider what makes life good, as I discover a new meaning of perfection,
and as I come to understand what it means to receive Penny as a gift. It’s also a
reference to a verse from the Bible: “Every good and perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like
shifting shadows” (James 1:17). In this way, the title also reflects my growing
understanding throughout the book that God has a purpose in Penny’s life, and in
7. What was your favorite part in your story?
It’s hard to pick a favorite part, but I laugh out loud every time I read the part
where I’m telling my husband Peter that Penny’s hearing might be compromised
and she might have trouble hearing the “sh” sound. He responds, “Good thing we
didn’t name her Sheila.”
8. What was your favorite part in Amy Julia/George’s story?
Again, hard to pick a favorite part of George’s beautiful book, but I find myself
returning again and again to one paragraph:
A syndrome means, at root, a ‘running together.’ When you have a child, it all
runs together: the heart defect, the eyes, the way her voice sounds, the name
of the speech therapist, the worries over the future, the joys of discovery, the
sliding sense–slow, quiet, enormous, an avalanche in the skull–that different is
not as different as you thought. The genes produce the child, who lives a story,
whose story is bound up with yours. So reducing a child to a heap of medical
fragments is, for a parent, a complicated and dissonant act. It is a necessary
fiction, a story one tells only in order to move on.
George states it perfectly, and his words have informed my own thinking about
how a diagnosis is only the beginning, and perhaps even a false, if important
beginning, to understanding a child as a full human being with an interwoven
9. What projects are you currently engaged in? Any new books from you on
My biggest project at the moment is moving our family of five to Connecticut!
With that said, I am working on a short ebook about prenatal testing that will
come out in September. I have two books knocking around in the back of my
head, but it will be a few months before I have time to sit down and listen to what
those ideas have to say.
10. Do you have any questions for the reader?
What is one gift that your child has brought into your life?
Readers, by answering Amy Julia’s question –What is one gift that your child has brought into your life? – or by answering my own question – what is one gift that disability in any way, shape or form has brought into your life? – you will be entering to win one of the three (3!) copies of A Good and Perfect Gift that she is giving away.
Winner will be selected by random.org and announced on MONDAY, JULY 2nd
If you’d like to just go ahead and buy your own copy, Amazon is having a sale till the end of June for the Kindle version: $2.99!! Click HERE