Replacement Child, by Judy L. Mandel.
I never met my sister, Donna. My other sister, Linda, was burned nearly to death. I was conceived as the salve on the burns, to fill the abandoned chair at the gray Formica table. My place in the family was cauterized by the flames.
This is the story of my family's trials and triumphs as a result of a tipping of fate, and my own struggle to live up to the role burned into my psyche from the time my mother first dreamed me up as her salvation.
This story is perhaps one of the saddest books I've read lately, and the scary part is, it's nonfiction: a memoir. Judy Mandel never knew her 7-year-old sister, Donna, because Donna died when a flight bound for Newark airport crashed into the house that her other sister, Linda, lived in with her mother and father. Judy wasn't yet born at the time, and her mother and Linda escaped from the wreckage, although not unscathed; Donna was not as lucky. This is the story of how Judy was born as a "replacement child" for Donna, and how she grew up and later made her own family.
Replacement Child tells the true story of a horrifying accident: A plane crashes into a family’s home, leaving one daughter severely burned and another dead. The death of the child leaves a hole in the family that threatens to tear it apart. In an attempt to fill the painful gap, the parents give birth to a “replacement child.” But what is life like for a child that was born only be replacement and how does that unique position in the family affect them into their adulthood?
In this powerful story of love and lies, family and hope, Judy L. Mandel tells the story of being the child brought into the world to provide “a salve for the burns.” As a child, she unwittingly rides the deep and hidden currents of her family’s grief—until her discovery of this family secret, years later, changes her life forever, forcing her to confront the complex layers of her relationships with her father, mother, and sister.
This powerful memoir switches between the history of the family before the accident, the day of the accident and Judy’s memories of her own life in a fascinating way of connecting the “before” and “after” families.
I'm not sure if I had heard of the term "replacement child" before - I feel like there has to be another book or a movie that's explored this topic, but I can't recall any right now. This book could actually be made into a movie; at times, it resembled fiction more than fact, because even though there are plane crashes every day, it's hard to imagine a place crashing into your house, on what previously was a normal day.
Much like with 9/11, it was crazy to read who was in the Mandel house when the plane crashed. They lived in the second story of a triple-decker; the tenants on the 3rd floor were killed. Judy's father was still at work, and only an hour or so earlier, there were three or four girls over at the Mandel's working on a school project. Donna was in the living room and Linda was in the kitchen when the plane hit. Another tenant of the building would have been home, but was a professor and delayed his university class by ten minutes and so he was not home when the plane hit.
I really liked how the author parceled out bits and pieces from the day of the crash - pieces collected from her parents' and Linda's memories, even though Linda was only two years old at the time, and from newspaper articles and other reports about it - but also jumped back and forth between her childhood and growing up, and her present-day (2005/2006, at the time) life and family. I was curious to know why the crash happened, and the aftereffects of it; you learn about the aftereffects before you read about the crash itself, for the most part.
The other scary thing was that planes flying to/from Newark airport had multiple crashes in 1951-53, including this one; yet, they continued to happen, and if you lived near an airport, there was nothing to do but pray that it didn't happen to you and your family.
4 stars out of 5.
*Disclosure: I was provided a copy of this book to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.
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