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BOOK REVIEW: When I Grow Up: Conversations with Adults in Search of Adulthood by Moya Sarner

By Hector MacKenzie

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Hardback £16.99

When I Grow Up by Moya Sarner.
When I Grow Up by Moya Sarner.

WHEN do we become adults?

That's one of the recurring questions in Moya Sarner's multi-faceted book which is part psychology, part memoir with a little dash of self-help thrown in for good measure.

Before taking the leap and deciding that she wanted to train as a psychotherapist, her stock in trade was journalism, specialising in writing stories about women who have in some way changed their lives for the better, often after some traumatic life event.

This background offers some rich source material of inspirational stories which also help shed light on the process of change and of growing up.

In her interviews for this book, she asks most of her subjects – ranging from experts in the field to people who have faced and overcome significant psychological challenges – whether they feel like adults. The answers – often 'no, not yet' regardless of age – are always illuminating and combine to build up a picture of the true complexity of the subject. She discovers that growing up is not the linear process we imagine it to be.

She posits the idea of "grow ups" – life experiences or events, sometimes traumatic – which can create growth. These come in many different forms and can be staging posts along the way to becoming an adult. And she floats the idea of a life like the circles of a cut tree with an inner child there waiting to be nurtured even when adulthood – however defined – is attained.

The fact that she is training to become a psychodynamic psychotherapist and has also chosen to seek the services of a therapist adds a fresh dynamic to her quest, allowing inputs from a variety of points of view.

She is on the most solid ground when interviewing subjects from her journalistic endeavours, clearly establishing a rapport that allows her to return to them for illuminating catch-ups after a significant period of time has elapsed. This gives the book some added depth as we can see how people have changed and what life experiences have propelled them forward – or left them "stuck".

There are some moving sections as she hears from people who have been 'stuck' either because of what life has thrown at them or the choices they have made in response to their upbringing. This offers the layman some insight into the value of "therapy" however that is defined or conducted. And it is genuinely heartening to hear from some of her interviewees who have managed to turn a corner and come to a clear view of who they are, where they have come from and where they now wish to go.

She finds stories of humanity and courage amidst tales of terrible loss, psychological set-backs and addiction.

Sarner also takes a look at the different stages of life – essentially from adolescence to death – interrogating how people feel about their lives and what they have learned about themselves along the way.

Although there is some structure to the book, the sense is of an author feeling her own way to a conclusion as she writes and taking the reader on that journey, chapter by chapter.

There are plenty of little nuggets to be mined along the way and much that will allow the reader to reflect on their own journey.

Adulthood? It's complicated...

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