A review of Everything I Never Wanted to Be by Dina Kucera

Reviewed by Jenny Mounfield

Everything I Never Wanted to Be
by Dina Kucera
Dream of Things
October 2010, ISBN: 978-0-9825794-3-5, Trade paperback, 216 pages

When this book came up for review my first thought was: Oh yes, another family dealing with addiction. Been there, done that. But as I had nothing better to do, I went along to, www.everythinginever.com and read an excerpt. I was hooked. So what makes this memoir so special? As with fiction, it’s all about voice: the fairy dust that brings words to life, gives them a heartbeat. Dina has a voice many authors would cheerfully give a limb for, and what’s truly amazing is I don’t think she has any idea she possesses such a gift.

Recovering alcoholic and pill popper, Dina lives in Phoenix with husband John (also a recovering addict—who has a life-threatening heart condition thrown in for good measure), an infirm mother who sees things that aren’t there, and at various times one or more of her three grown daughters, all of whom have addictions and various other issues. Add to this her less than glorious job at the local supermarket and what you get is a family dynamic that falls somewhere between, Malcolm in the Middle and Cops.

‘My customer counts out ninety-six cents in change. “Can I get rid of this?” Of course you can. The express lane is the perfect place to unload your enormous pile of change.’

Without a doubt, the Kucera family is a family in crisis. Sadly, the crisis—or rather, crises—aren’t anything unusual by today’s standards; after all, the world is filled with dysfunctional families. What is unusual is how this family’s matriarch has not only come to live with crisis, but bulldoze through it when so many others would have dropped the can and bolted years ago. The reason I single Dina out is that I believe this family would cease to exist without her at its head keeping it together on a daily basis.

‘My house is like living with the circus. All we need is a midget and a bearded-lady. Well, all we need is a midget.’

One of six children—five of whom became addicted to something that wasn’t good for them—Dina had a bohemian childhood living in a commune of sorts in Albuquerque New Mexico. As a child she was plagued with anxiety and a host of irrational fears even though there was plenty of genuine danger dogging her life. Her schooling ended with ninth grade and from there it was pretty much all downhill.

‘When I was about nine, my siblings and I fell out of a moving van at an intersection. My dad didn’t notice for about five blocks.’

But don’t think for one minute this is a tale to inspire pity. Far from it. Neither does Dina come across as a victim. She tells her story with matter of factness and humour, imparting wisdom and insights along the way. This wisdom has come at a huge price and she doesn’t underestimate its value. Her story, this getting of wisdom, is about what it means to be human, and what it means to survive despite the odds.

By far the most difficult passages to read in Dina’s story are those concerning her youngest daughter, Carly’s battle with drugs. The title of this book comes from a poem written by Carly at age sixteen:

‘I have decided that when I get caught doing something by the police I will kill myself right away.

I have destroyed my family.

I have become everything I never wanted to be.’

Everything I Never Wanted to Be will tie your heart in knots, it will have you howling in frustration and it will make you laugh out loud. This story is for everyone, not just for those plagued by addiction. In fact, those with the least experience with this disease will have the most to gain. I use the word, ‘disease’ in the singular case here because whatever the addiction it’s all the same beast. Addiction is addiction whether it be to alcohol, heroin. or green M&Ms. Addiction is the engine that drives the behaviour. The only real difference between one and other is how fast it’ll kill you. I strongly urge everyone to read Dina’s story. For parents in particular, this should be compulsory reading. This book has the power to change lives.

About the reveiwer: Jenny Mounfield is the author of three novels for children and YAs In addition, several of her short stories and articles have appeared both in print and online. She has regularly reviewed children’s books for e-zine Buzz Words since 2006 and is currently working on her first adult novel.