Author: Emily Morris (website)
UK Publisher: Salt Publishing
Genre: Non-fiction, memoir
When Emily Morris was a 22-year-old student, she found out she was pregnant. The father of her baby told her to ‘enjoy your impending shitty, snotty, vomitty twenties’ and then disappeared. Despite not feeling maternal, Emily decided to go ahead with the pregnancy. She left university, moved back to the quiet town she was from to live with her mum, and braced herself for life being turned upside down.
In her memoir, Emily shares the loneliness, alienation and adventure she experienced finding her way as a single parent.
My Shitty Twenties started life as an award-winning and immensely popular blog. Moving, thoughtful, funny and wise, it is now a book that is heartbreaking, uplifting and an inspiration to any parent who has no idea what they are doing.
I bought this book during Salt publishing’s ‘Just One Book’ campaign back in June. Someone had posted it on their twitter timeline and the minute I saw the title in that vibrant orange I knew I had to find out more, since it’s certainly a sentiment I can empathise with. Reading the blurb, I definitely wanted to own a copy myself – I spent a lot of University (and the time since) being paranoid about getting pregnant, so I was looking forward to reading the honest, open memoir in the hopes that it would take some of the terror away. I was perhaps more maternal when I was younger than I am now as an adult, and the closer the potential prospect of babies comes, the more alarmed I am by the whole idea. Earlier this week I let my cat eat a giant caterpillar she brought in the house because it was too gross for me to want to touch it, so I hoped if she ate it then the situation would be resolved without any input from me whatsoever. (It wasn’t. She didn’t eat it, just chewed on it a lot and it left green blood from its death throes all over the floor that I had to mop up) I can only imagine what I’d be like with anything a toddler managed to find to shove in their mouth.
Emily’s memoir starts when she is a student in Manchester, and follows from the discovery of the pregnancy and having to cancel her dream trip to Australia and move back in with her mum, right up to finding financial independence again and finally making it to Australia – this time with her son. I found her writing so accessible, and her thoughts so easy to empathise with, that I was quickly absorbed in this wonderful book. The agonising over whether to keep the baby, the stubborn insistence that she can manage this without having to move in with her mum, the awful baby groups and the sheer determination to pull her life back on track afterwards.
There were a lot of moments in this book where I recognised myself, and others where I enjoyed seeing the other perspective. At the start, Emily considers an abortion, because she is proudly Pro Choice, and feels she is letting her feminist beliefs down if she doesn’t do so. Except, then comes the revelation – which she perhaps already knew, but had never considered because it hadn’t been necessary before – that Pro Choice means being able to choose. Whether to go ahead with the pregnancy or not, she has the freedom to pick rather than being forced to do one or the other. After that, she seems to view the pregnancy much more positively, and it is heartwarming to see her getting used to her growing baby.
Because this is based on the blog Morris kept at the time, the recollections in this book still feel current and fresh, rather than viewed through the lens of time. There’s an immediacy to each chapter, and you don’t feel like this is being written several years later with a sheen of nostalgia painted across it. Morris talks about feeling disconnected and anxious in her student house whilst pregnant, about postnatal depression and struggling to adjust to living with her mum again, and societal preconceptions about young, single mothers. She discusses her frustrations at the assumption she will bond with other mothers just because they have all procreated, regardless of their life stages or interests; and her relief at being able to socialise with her actual friends and talk about something other than babies. The trip at the end of the book marks the beginning of a new chapter for Morris and her son, where she seems to have finally found her feet and is able to see a longer life plan ahead of her.
Narratively speaking, it’s frustrating that the father, who lied to Morris in order to have unprotected sex and then wished her luck with her titular ‘shitty twenties’, doesn’t get more of a comeuppance, but that’s real life for you. Not all ratbags get what that deserve, unfortunately. And as the book goes on, he becomes far less of a feature in Morris’s thoughts and motivations whilst she gets to know her charming, funny and wonderful child. In some ways, perhaps, that’s more satisfying.
- A poignant, relateable and engaging memoir, with honest discussions about things that perhaps a lot of people think and feel but don’t want to say. The use of blogs from the time help the writing feel really current and not like a forced recounting.
- I enjoyed reading an account of motherhood from someone who didn’t want or expect to be a mother at that time in her life – Everyone I have spoken to has been clear they wanted kids, but it is something I have struggled with. It’s a relief to know that it can happen without preparation and still become a wonderful thing.
- Morris’ writing style is very accessible and enjoyable, not over-worked and extremely easy to read. I look forward to reading any future works from her.
Rating: 5/5 – this was exactly as delightful as I expected from that amazing title.