My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Replacement Child is a very well written and gripping memoir. Judy Mandel is the third child born to a family that has suffered immense loss. Judy’s eldest sister was killed and her surviving sister Linda was badly burned after a plane crashed into their small apartment building. Following the tragedy, Judy is born and it quickly becomes apparent to her that she will never be the child her parents’ buried though she was created to fill the void.
This is a personal story but that does not mean that Mandel knew it by heart. Rather, Mandel doggedly assembled every newspaper clipping, photo, diary entry, and scraps of paper left behind by her deceased parents. What she discovered was the strength of her parents and their struggle to overcome immeasurable loss and heartbreak. Through her research and her own experiences as a mother, Mandel seems to find her own peace with her painful upbringing.
Replacement Child is divided into nearly 70 small chapters. There are 19 chapters recounting the moments before the plane crash and a mother’s gut-wrenching choices following the impact. These are interspersed with 50 memoir chapters describing Mandel’s difficult childhood and her struggle to find herself. The short chapters seem purposeful, as if it’s too hard for the reader to take in the tragedy all at once.
This is a difficult story to read but it is a beautiful tale of a family trying to overcome something that is insurmountable. It is a testament to redemption and power of the human spirit.