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The Boy Who Loved Tornadoes Hardcover – March 30, 2010

4.9 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

An academic and writer at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, offers a dense, achingly inconclusive tale about her developmentally challenged son, whose difficulties remain elusively untreatable and largely undiagnosed. Davenport writes poignantly about her increasing sense of helplessness over the years as her son, Chase, moving into his teens, grows harder and harder to manage, from his inability to focus and sit still, to his paranoia and obsession with morbid thoughts, his seizures, to his eruptive agitation and truculence that eventually warranted long-term hospitalization. What was wrong with him? Davenport lists the dozens of doctors' suggestions over the years, from autism and severe ADHD to seizure disorder, psychosis, and schizophrenia. Yet, stubbornly, Chase's diagnosis remains unnamable, and a plethora of drugs often fail him, such as Clozaril, which checked his psychosis but left him vegetative. Chase's indefinable state proves problematic for insurance providers, who cut off his hospital coverage though no long-term care facility will take him. As a result, Chase has to spend a frightening stint at the state mental hospital. Davenport's memoir is intensely thorough and affecting. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Davenport’s painful story reveals how she, husband Zip, and also his physician responded when their son Chase began exhibiting behavioral irregularities as a tot. The doctor’s assessment was that Chase may have had developmental problems but nothing to fret over. Chase entered school, and his difficulties escalated. Teachers requested numerous parent conferences, and Chase was frequently sent home for disruptive behavior. School counselors and specialists couldn’t pinpoint a particular diagnosis that encompassed Chase’s problems. Alternately considered autistic, behaviorally disabled, and more, depending on who was consulted, and because Chase fit into no neatly defined niche, most clinical interventions failed. When he became fully psychotic as a teen, he entered the rabbit hole that is the American mental health care system. It’s difficult to say which is more painful: Chase’s illness or Davenport’s efforts to advocate for him as the by-then divorced, single mom tried to navigate a system full of blind alleys and dead ends. This is a story with which far too many families can probably identify. --Donna Chavez

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; 1 edition (March 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565126114
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565126114
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,512,967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Randi Davenport is the author of The End of Always (Twelve, May 2014) and of The Boy Who Loved Tornadoes (Algonquin, 2010). In 2011, she received the GLCA New Writer's Award for Creative Non-fiction, and was a finalist for the Books for a Better Life Award. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in Huffington Post, Washington Post, Ontario Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Women's History Review, Literature/Film Quarterly, Victorian Literature and Culture, among others.

Randi Davenport has a son and a daughter. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

For more about Randi and THE END OF ALWAYS, visit her website: www.randidavenport.com

Follow her on Facebook and Twitter!

Advance praise for THE END OF ALWAYS:

"Extraordinary. A lament straight from the heart of young womanhood in early twentieth-century America. You will feel this story in your bones." -- Amity Guage, author of SHRODER

"In a first novel as lyrical as it is harrowing, Davenport (author of the memoir The Boy Who Loved Tornadoes) explores the darker side of the American dream and women's exclusion from its freedoms. Marie Reehs, the child of German immigrants, comes of age in Waukesha, Wis., in the first decade of the 20th century. When she's 17, Marie loses her mother to a gruesome injury; though the death is deemed an accident, awareness of her father's violence make the naturally questioning, even visionary girl doubt that convenient explanation. Later, working grueling days as a laundress, Marie reencounters August Bethke, one of the passersby who helped bring her mother home as she was bleeding to death from a stab wound. Soon trysting with him in the woods at night, she finds herself in conflict with her family, her employer (who begins to make passes at her), her coworkers, and her fellow townspeople, who look down on her affair with August. Her elemental passion seems to promise a less constricted future, but Marie finds that neither her family's painful legacy nor her own female vulnerability is easily escaped. Davenport shapes her story--drawn from her own family history--with scrupulous patience, deftly juxtaposing striking images of the Midwestern landscape with evocations of Marie's vivid inner world."--Publisher's Weekly


"Randi Davenport's The Boy Who Loved Tornadoes (Algonquin) is about her son Chase's psychotic breakdown at age 15. One doctor diagnosed him as " 'Chase NOS'--Chase Not Otherwise Specified. 'He's a population of one,' " as is this unforgettable memoir of a shattered family, a mother's abiding love, and the frightening permutations of the human mind."--Lisa Shea, Elle Magazine, April 2010

"A heartbreaking, disturbing, and truly courageous story of one mother's fight to save her son."-- Alice Hoffman

"A gripping memoir of motherly love and absolute devotion."
--Kirkus Reviews

"A brave and beautiful story by a born writer. This is a book like a beacon, offering clarity, inspiration, and validation for us all, especially those of us, like myself, who have struggled with serious mental illness in our families...and that's two out of five families in the United States." -- Lee Smith

"Randi Davenport has written a miraculous book about the heartbreak and devastation that occur when her son is diagnosed with severe mental illness. The Boy Who Love Tornadoes is a gripping and deeply compelling book about a mother's search for the proper care and treatment of her psychotic son. Davenport shows us the gritty and enraging reality of our long fractured mental health system, even at the best health facilities. Davenport's exacting and beautifully written story, along with her ferocity and unrelenting determination to help her child, make her a formidable advocate for those afflicted with these cruel and often stigmatized diseases. The Boy Who Loved Tornadoes is the best book I've read about mental illness since Kay Jamison's An Unquiet Mind." --Virginia Holman, author of Rescuing Patty Hearst: Memories From a Decade Gone Mad

"Davenport writes poignantly. . . . [her] memoir is intensely thorough and affecting." --Publishers Weekly

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
When I picked up this book, intending to simply glance through the first few pages, I found myself instantly drawn into Dr. Randi Davenport's finely spun world, and was unable to put the book down until I had finished it. Riveting, painful, and, ultimately, inspiring, this is an incredible book. It is a story worth telling, as well as a story well told.
Davenport has found the courage to chronicle her son's illness without any melodramatic embellishments or overwrought appeals to the reader. Her story is told in a frank, stark, and oddly beautiful style that at once makes her overwhelming love for her children plain, though she does not attempt to paint herself as a heroine or as anything other than a mother struggling to do the best for her kids in an impossible situation.
I have read many memoirs in which forgettable writing is made up for by an interesting story, and others in which a rather boring, ordinary narrative is rendered memorable through the use of skilled writing. This falls into neither of those categories.
The Boy Who Loves Tornadoes is one of those rare memoirs in which a truly captivating story is brought to life by a talented writer. Davenport's prose is spare, gorgeous, and incredibly affecting. This moving story of her son's illness, her daughter's sadness, and the desintegration of their family plays out like a feature film, with characters so well drawn that they appear in the reader's head.
The structure of the book pulls the reader along like a pair of speeding trains, with scenes from the present interspersed with memories from the past, until the two timelines crash together and create one heartbreakingly clear picture of a child in crisis.
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Format: Hardcover
This is truly a riveting book. Once I started it, I could not put it down. Everyone has a story to tell or so the saying goes, but none like the story that Randi Davenport tells in her new book, The Boy Who Loved Tornadoes. This author's journey through life as a wife and mother of two children who is forced to face the devastating impact of mental illness in her own family when her husband abandons them due to his own mental incapacity and leaves her alone to raise and care for a daughter and son who has debilitating mental health issues of his own. This beautifully written story is a true testament, in the face of almost insurmountable obstacles, of perseverance, persistence, and positive possibilities for the future. Readers will ride a tidal wave of emotion ranging from love and optimism, to anger and despair, back to triumph and hope for our society. Mental illness can no longer be kept behind closed doors nor can it be the responsibility of the parent alone to care for their family members or maneuver through our health care system. If this book does one thing it reinforces that every child is truly a gift in their own unique way. Each child offers value and worth to the human experience.
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Format: Hardcover
I can't truthfully say that I've read all that many memoirs in my life; I've read fewer still about families coping with mental illness. That said, Davenport's book stands tall not just as an historical record of her family's nearly unimaginable struggles, but as a creative work written with an ability to construct an almost literary structure, framing the events in an emotional and chronological span that encompasses multiple lives, decades, and locations.

Because of Davenport's skill as a writer, "The Boy Who Loved Tornadoes" encompasses not just the primary story at hand, but Davenport's own experiences growing up as an aspiring poet (including the common tendency among poets to glorify mental illness as a divine state), her perceptions of mental illness, and the struggle to make sense of the chemical and psychological tethers that bind her son, Chase, and baffle caregivers at all levels of the medical community. Her cross-country travels as a professor, the dissolution of a failed marriage, and her attempts to simulate a normal life (even when none seemed possible) with her daughter, Haley, as well as her struggles against a health care system that constant seeks loopholes in order to push the most difficult patients (who are, by default, those also in the most need of care) out into a nearby alley imbues the true-life story with rich, complex emotions and situations. At times, the book reads like an especially intense one-act play between two players; at other times, gentle memories or sly asides evoke not just the low moments, but also the flickering moments of relief and clarity. Far from maudlin, the book is written by an author with a gift for (and love of) language that dissects fleeting, intangible emotions and delivers them to the reader in a very comprehensible way.
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Format: Hardcover
The writing is beautiful and exquisite. Davenport's honesty enables the reader to find herself in the story, even though the story she tells is uniquely her own. I expected to be drawn in by the story, but the writing has captivated me. She has a gift.
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Format: Hardcover
"The Boy Who Loved Tornadoes" is about a family trying to deal with doctors who are baffled by a boy whose illness doesn't fit any known medical category (he's not quite autistic and not quite psychotic and not quite mentally deficient) and struggling with government and insurance company bureaucracies that range from merely indifferent to downright cruel. Yet, for all that, it's an upbeat story about how sheer doggedness and love, even when it does not quite triumph, creates a life worth affirming, both for the mother and her children. This is a great book: well-written, moving, and about how the ways we care about each other are the true markers of our humanity (or lack of it).
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