Praise for Hamster Island

book-icon“Bittersweet, engagingly written, and populated by a household of strong-willed, idiosyncratic characters, Hamster Island has, at its core, a conflict familiar to us all: How can we be good to others while also being good to ourselves? This is a matter of profound importance to Joan Heartwell: her brother had an intellectual disability, her sister a psychiatric one, and her parents were consumed by their own unhappiness. Joan’s six-decade journey to find the answer starts in a 1950s world limited by religion and rules, and ends in a contemporary world open to generosity and love. This tale of caregiving and self-actualization is unique, but it abounds with insights for us all.”

—Rachel Simon, New York Times bestselling author of Riding
The Bus With My Sister
and The Story of Beautiful Girl   

“Joan Heartwell invites us into her life on Hamster Island with great honesty and humor and warmth. This memoir will resonate deeply with anyone who ever longed for a ‘normal’ family, anyone who ever escaped the chaos of their childhood home, anyone who was ever bound by love to return.”

—Gayle Brandeis, novelist, winner of Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize for
Fiction in Support of Literature of Social Change

“The most gorgeous literary works are, in my mind, the most courageous. They take language as their tool and use it to winnow wheat from chaff until the story stands out in all its pain and glory. Joan Heartwell’s Hamster Island does this and more. As a writer it makes me want to read it all again to see how she put it together; as a reader, it’s a bit like staring at the statue of David and wondering how the artist uncovered that from the stone. Heartwell, who was rendered invisible in her family by her very normalcy, pulls herself out of the shadows and into her own life, and uses her prolific skills as a writer to render that resurrection. It’s an honor to be in its presence.”

—Kate Niles, author of The Basket Maker (ForeWord Book of the Year) and The Book of John

“Joan Heartwell’s incredible biography, Hamster Island, shines a harsh torch on normality. It is, at once, terrifying, tender, extraordinary and deeply familiar. It reads quickly, but lingers with the reader, forcing us to contemplate what it means to be a human being, and our fuzzy relationship between the centre line of ‘normalcy’ and the world of those who can’t live there. A beautifully written, engrossing book.”

—Magdelena Ball, author of Black Cow, director of Compulsive Reader book reviews

“A riveting story of a life-long struggle to relate to a by-times jealous and by-times indifferent mother and siblings afflicted by mental and social challenges.”

—Damian McNicholl, author of A Son Called Gabriel

“Joan Heartwell’s poignant and unsparing account of growing up with her disabled siblings will resonate with those whose siblings can never be their peers, and help them realize that they are not alone.”

—Jeanne Safer, PhD, author of The Normal One: Life with a Difficult or
Damaged Sibling
and Cain’s Legacy

“Heartwell captures so well the responsibility that is the normal life of siblings of people with special needs—and my heart skipped a beat when she described her realization of what ‘survivor guilt’ was driving her to do. I believe that not only siblings but anyone who has faced a difficult childhood will find resonance and comfort in these pages.”

—Kate Strohm, Founder/Director of Siblings Australia, author of Being the Other One

“Perhaps better than any other book I have read, Hamster Island illustrates the complex challenges of sibs who find themselves in the ‘club sandwich generation.’ Beautifully written, a job well done!”

 —Don Meyer, Sibling Support Project Director, editor of Thicker Than Water:
Essays by Adult Siblings of People with Disabilities

Hamster Island does an excellent job of describing the emotional pain and harm that occurs in a family with SMI [serious mental illness] and DD [developmental disability] illnesses; that the author survives all of the above is remarkable. And if she acts somewhat out of ‘survivors guilt,’ and one of the end results of that guilt is her book Hamster Island, the reader greatly benefits from it.”

—Mona Wasow, Social work Prof. Emerita, author of The Skipping Stone:
The Rippling Effect of Mental Illness in the Family