Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Bootstrapper: a Memoir by Mardi Jo Link

I found this audio book while rapidly scanning the non-fiction offerings at the library.  I was in a hurry, but I recognized the cover from the bookstore, and remembered that it had intrigued me a few months before, so I checked it out.  

So far I've listened to audio books where the narrator is also the author.  This book was the first one where someone else other than the author narrated it, and I have to admit I had a hard time with that for the first day of listening on my commute.  So much so that I almost stopped listening.  I'm glad I kept plowing through (also I didn't have another audio book to get me through the weekly commute!) because I ended up looking forward to listening to Mardi's life in Michigan.  But while I did enjoy it for the most part, I have a few issues with the memoir.

Mardi Jo Link was a woman with a 19 year marriage and three young boys, living in an old farmhouse (with a half-done remodeling project) on a  6 acre spread in Michigan.  Her marriage falls apart, and her husband moves across the street, leaving Mardi with what she calls Happy Valley.  She's always dreamed of living on an acreage, growing her own food, and having horses.  Now that she's finally got that, her impending divorce and lack of money threaten to take it all away.  Mardi is a tough woman, but sometimes I felt she was too willing to take the extremely hard road instead of confessing to her parents that she was in some financial trouble.  I feel that her absolute determination to keep her farm and raise her boys on it sometimes kept her from asking for help.  It's no shame to ask for help when you are struggling.  Yes, grit and determination are all well and good, but also being sensible and making sure you've got heat and food on the table to feed your kids is important  too.  Her parents would have helped her in a second.  That was a big beef for me.  

This memoir is about the year following the end of Mardi's marriage, and the ways she and her boys kept things moving along in the dead of winter:  scouting around for firewood, winning a year's supply of free day-old bread at a local bakery by growing the largest zucchini; applying for free school lunches for her boys.  And then there is the local carpenter, Pete, who is waiting for Mardi to give him the okay to finish the remodel of her second floor.  There's a whiff of romance there that flits in and out of the story, and I did like that.  It was unexpected by both Mardi and me as the reader.  She most definitely wasn't looking for romance that first year. 

**warning all animal lovers and/or vegetarians!**

 I got the biggest laugh over the chickens she bought as chicks to raise for food.  Mardi and her sons decide not to name them, as they will be food eventually.  Instead they call them "the meats".  I found that really funny, and I don't know why.  What's even more amusing is that when it came time to do the deed, Mardi couldn't do it.  Instead she ended up giving the chickens away, and made herself feel better by realizing that the people who took the chickens needed them more than she did in her diminished financial situation.

So does Mardi hang onto her farm?  How does she do it, if she does succeed?

For the most part, I liked this memoir.  I like to read about women who move through the difficult parts of life and come out the other side stronger and smarter than before.  I admire Mardi for deciding that come hell or high water, she was going to hang onto her farm, her childhood dream, and her desire to raise her sons her way.  That fire kept her tough when she didn't know what to do, and was often at her wit's end.  But much of this drama probably could have been if not eliminated, at least diminished if she'd just asked for help.  I think part of being a strong person is having the strength to ask for a hand when you need it and accepting help with grace.  

Rating:  6/10 for an entertaining memoir.  Mardi  can write very well, and I had moments of tearing up and laughing out loud.  But, I was annoyed that she refused to ask for help.  That caused some teeth gnashing on my part.  I still prefer to hear the author narrate their audio book instead of an actor. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, e-book, and audio. 


  1. My mom was born and raised in lower Michigan. She comes of German stock. Most of the women in her family were amazingly tough. Upper Michigan is a tough place inhabited by even tougher people. I could just picture this woman as I read your review. And I wonder if she had some issue with her parents that made her feel she would be giving up some control over her life if she asked them for help.

  2. Bootstrapper sounds like a really interesting read. I do like books featuring strong women and with March being Women's History Month, this sounds like the perfect read.

    The cover of this book is somewhat misleading/odd for the topic... I'm not sure how and ax relates to farming, unless the author chops a lot of wood on the farm!

    Yes, I'm with you that part of being a strong person is also knowing when to ask for help when you need it. Asking for help from others during times of need is not always a sign of weakness like some people think.