Monday, April 8, 2013

Review: Diary of a Stage Mother's Daughter by Melissa Francis

Title: Diary of a Stage Mother's Daughter
Author: Melissa Francis
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Weinstein Books
Publish Date: November 6, 2012
Source: I received a copy from the PR; however, this did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a memoir fan.
  • You don't mind tough subjects.
What's the Story?:

From ""The Glass Castle" meets "The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" in this dazzlingly honest and provocative family memoir by former child actress and current Fox Business Network anchor Melissa Francis. When Melissa Francis was eight years old, she won the role of lifetime: playing Cassandra Cooper Ingalls, the little girl who was adopted with her brother (played by young Jason Bateman) by the Ingalls family on the world's most famous primetime soap opera, "Little House on the Prairie." Despite her age, she was already a veteran actress, living a charmed life, moving from one Hollywood set to the next. But behind the scenes, her success was fueled by the pride, pressure, and sometimes grinding cruelty of her stage mother, as fame and a mother's ambition pushed her older sister deeper into the shadows.

"Diary of a Stage Mother's Daughter" is a fascinating account of life as a child star in the 1980's, and also a startling tale of a family under the care of a highly neurotic, dangerously competitive "tiger mother." But perhaps most importantly, now that Melissa has two sons of her own, it's a meditation on motherhood, and the value of pushing your children: how hard should you push a child to succeed, and at what point does your help turn into harm?"

My Two Cents:

Before reading "Diary of a Stage Daughter's Mother," I really did not know anything about Melissa Francis. I had seen reruns of Little House on the Prairie but I didn't realize that Ms. Francis appeared in it. I had seen the book on a couple different tv shows and it seemed interesting to me. I love memoirs, especially those about difficult subjects where someone is able to overcome a really difficult event. This book definitely fits into that category.

Throughout the entire book, you are really pulling for Francis to get out from under her mother's thumb. Her mother is the quintessential stage mom, who seems to only care whether or not her daughters are able to land an acting job. She's overbearing, strict, and mean. When Melissa starts landing way more jobs than her sister, Tiffany, their mother puts all her focus on Melissa and is just downright horrible to Tiffany. It was really difficult to read. I don't understand how a parent could be so absolutely horrible to their kid! I really wanted the mother to change her tune but you can tell from early on in the book that was not going to happen.

The book focuses a lot on Melissa's early life and her entry into acting. Once the book gets to where Melissa is an adult, it really seems to speed up to the point where I wish that it had slowed down a little bit and gave more detail to the reader. It was almost as if Francis was rushed at the end and wanted to just get a couple more chapters in before the end of the book.

This book was a hard read but it is edifying that Francis came out to be such a well-adjusted adult. This memoir would be a good read for those looking for something to elicit a lot of emotions and who don't mind a really tough subject.

Bottom line: A great memoir!

From the author:

Choose to be Happy
By Melissa Francis,
Author of Diary of a Stage Mother's Daughter

As a journalist, I have built a career around asking other people questions. But answering them? That is another story altogether. When the topic turned to my life growing up, I was the master of skirting the issue. Even with my closest friends.

"Are your parents coming for Christmas?" someone would ask.

"Not this year," I'd reply.

"Do you have brothers or sisters?" they'd wonder.

"It's just me," I would say.
I hadn't lied, but I hadn't told the truth either.

The fact that I grew up on dozens of Hollywood sets -- the fictional daughter of Michael Landon, Martin Sheen, Ted Danson, Glenn Close and others, hawking baby shampoo, McDonald's cheeseburgers, and Campbell's soup -- made the topic of my past even more attractive. And I didn't mind talking about that part. But then diverting the conversation when it inevitably turned to my real family proved almost impossible. I didn't want to share the fact that my flesh and blood family had exploded and disintegrated in spectacular fashion. That behind the scenes, my magical childhood was fueled by the Hollywood version of a Tiger Mom, a Stage Mother, whose wildly ambitious and often cruel ways ultimately destroyed my sister. Rather than explain, I preferred to just avoid the whole topic.

After years of skirting the issue it was my four year old who was the one person I could no longer hide my past from.

"Where's your Mommy?" he asked. This was not the first time he'd gone down this road. After all, his other grandmother, my husband's mother, is a vibrant character in our family portrait, constantly abounding with energy and creative ideas for how to spend the day. Next to her, the hole where my mother should be is even more gaping. I knew I had to come up with an answer that I could stand behind, not a diversionary technical-truth.

So I dared to put my history on paper, in Diary of Stage Mother's Daughter. And finally, in putting words to my story and sharing my life with the world, I have relieved the pain, largely because of the support showered on me by complete strangers. Turns out, I was far from alone in having a troubled past. Judging from the letter, emails and even Tweets I have received, I now realize that nearly every family has a dramatic, heart wrenching story, that every person has suffered through their own trials.

We could all write a book!

What counts is what we do now -- how we move forward.

Rather than carrying past pain around and allowing it to paralyze us, I suggest that raw, aching memory can be harnessed as a richness of experience to draw upon. For me, I know how not to raise my sons. I took control of my history, stopped the cycle in its deadly tracks, and chose to take a different path into the future. I demanded a different relationship with my mother, and when she refused, I moved on to a new life. It was both a terrifying and a liberating choice. But it changed my life.

I'd love for anyone who reads the book to feel that they can learn from a challenged past and move forward positively towards a joyful future. You can choose to be happy -- your very best person. It's never too late.

© 2013 Melissa Francis, author of Diary of a Stage Mother's Daughter

For more information please visit, 
and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter


1 comment:

  1. This sounds like something I'd want to read, but would probably piss me off too much. I find stage parents so weird, but I still like to hear about them.


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