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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 23 September 2001
Andrea Ashworth does indeed provide us with a fantastic story of how she battled against the violence and hardship of a Manchester back-street life but this book is so much more than this. It's not really a harrowing 'Angela's Ashes' tale that has you shedding tears at every page turn; it's an amazingly detailed account of simply growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. Andrea was born in 1969, the same year as myself, and although I experienced nothing of her physical abuse at the hands of drunken stepfathers, her incredible attention to detail evoked many of my own experiences of adolescence that I had forgotten. She remembers amazing precise details of TV programmes, what songs were in the charts, minute details of fashions and recreates the fear and wonderment that any girl surely feels while growing up.
Don't be put off this book thinking that it will be traumatic reading - it's also packed with funny anecdotes, and snatches of dialogue from a fast-fading era.
I'm sure Andrea Ashworth's story is not one in a million. Thousands of people experience what she went through on streets up and down the country every day, but what makes HER one in a million is her ability to tell it in such a vivid manner.
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on 24 August 2000
I can definitely say that this is the most amazing book that I have ever read. For me what made it so compelling is the fact that the events Ashworth describes are that of her own life, which make the book both hearatbreaking yet extremely uplifting. Because it rings so true you find yourself empathising with Andrea and rooting for her, willing her to survive the "fire" and escape the house where her childhood traumas took place. As an 18-year-old I could identify with some of her teenage problems but also realised that compared to her I have been extremely fortunate in my life so far. If you want to appreciate what you have got, read this book. The part that affected me most was when Andrea and her sister Laurie found all the knives in the house and made sheaths for them out of sellotape and cardboard in an attempt to render them harmless, afraid that their stepfather was eventually about to kill their mother. This made me realise how lucky I am never to have had to fear for my safety of the safety of someone in my family in my own home. But I felt more admiration than pity for Andrea, who through education and a love of books, succeded enough to be able to escape from home to pursue her dreams at Oxford University. Despite the many sad events in this book, the ending is remarkably positive, with Andrea leaving home in a taxi bound for Oxford. Although it is a story of abuse and terror, it is by no means depressing. A truly inspirational book which I don't think I will ever forget.
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on 20 December 2003
As the youngest sister of Andrea Ashworth, I feel compelled to write a few words about her memoir.
Andrea has two sisters, not one, and this is a fundamental point to both the memoir and our lives - the tale of how three sisters and their mother overcame a life less chosen.
This is an amazing insight into the "reality" of a childhood of poverty, violence and, most importantly, love.
I hope readers identify with the positive undertones of this book and would like to note that the entire family have been successful in the lives we have moulded for ourselves - proof that you do not have to live a particular life and you CAN choose your future. This book is not about how bad things are but about how good they might be! Enjoy!
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on 1 December 1999
Anyone on the train watching me read the first couple of chapters of this book would have witnessed the outward signs of a mental battle. I put the book down, only to pick it up again a second later and so it continued througout the first few chapters. Too painful to read and yet the writing was so lean and true.I couldn't resist.
This book could so easily have turned into a self pitying, and purely shocking book. But the account is so evenly balanced, and the under statement so well judged that the reader is left fighting "Andy's" corner all the more. I was carried along in the rollercoaster,hoping against hope that each "new man" was "the one", not willing to resign myself to the fact that the page would end in flying fists and broken ornaments. I felt the hurt every time.
Yes, the accademic success is a triumph over adversity, but far beyond that is the connection with something greater beyond those four walls.
I cannot claim to have had the same experiences, I'm lucky. But the greatness of this book is that , that doesn't matter.
As someone once said, "You read to know you are not alone" Ashworth found sanctury in the words of others and I found it in hers.
Read it.
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on 6 April 2002
Having just finished Ashworth's book with a burning sensation in my throat, I feel compelled to recommend this testament to every literate person. A respect swells from inside the reader when they experience Ashworth's harrowing formative years, furtively hiding diaries of poetry under carpet flaps to the sound of another 'Dad' banging her precious mum's diaphanous head against the wall. Ashworth's words are fluid, sustained and verge on the three dimensional as she recalls the haunting memories of bathing her mum when she was too weak from bruises and welts 'of love'; I felt a twinge of guilt turning the page and laughing aloud at friend Wendy's views on Ashworth's braces and how they would keep Andrea on the shelf. All this, tinged with Gran's perfectly timed maxims that Ashworth would later come to treasure make the book timeless in its wisdom and a raw, powerful look at abuse and neglect in houses not miles away from perhaps our own.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 27 August 2011
Although I have read many biographies and autobiographies of writers and artists, I have not read this type of memoir book before - by this, I mean the memories of people who have had a terribly tough time and have managed, commendably, to come out the other side. However, a friend gave me this book saying that it wasn't a 'victim' book and it wasn't depressing, but life-affirming. So I read it and was very impressed.

The setting is Manchester in the 1970s and the author, Andrea Ashworth, relates her story of growing up with her two sisters, her mother and her two stepfathers. Both stepfathers, although initially appearing to be reasonable people later reveal themselves to be selfish, violent bullies who verbally and physically abuse the girls' mother before starting on Andrea and her sisters. This is a sad, moving tale of violence, poverty and neglect - but it is not depressing, and I feel that is due to the way Ashworth relates her story with honesty, wit and incredibly, with humour. It seems to me that in no way does she try to demand sympathy from her readers - in fact Ashworth reserves her sympathy for her poor, despairing, neglectful mother whilst she (Ashworth) determines to make the best of her life by using her intelligence and resourcefulness to escape from the situation she has found herself in.

One of the reviews in my edition states that the book is "almost a sociological resource as much as a family story, so rich is it in vivid detail of everyday life on the wrong side of 1970s Manchester" and this seems true, for although I have no personal experience of that type of background, I almost feel as if I have after reading this brilliant memoir. For me, having grown up in much more fortunate circumstances, it was an enjoyable experience to be reminded of the clothes, food and music of the 1970s - however it must have been a very bittersweet journey down memory lane for the author, and I am glad she was able to make that journey and share her experiences with us.

I was very heartened to read in the afterword (added in 2007) that Ashworth's mother is now rebuilding her life and very pleased to hear that both of her sisters escaped the `fire' and have made successes of their lives also. How all three girls managed to do so well after such an unpromising start in life is quite simply amazing and inspiring.
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on 20 April 2003
If there is one book you should read it is this one. You can't help but admire the courage and bravery of the author.
Don't expect another 'Angela's Ashes/Boy Called It' type book. There's a lot more to this autobiography; it's also a trip down memory lane for those of us who are old enough to remember the 70s and 80s.
Expect the pages to turn by the hundred!
I've just finished it and now I want to read it again - it's that good.
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on 7 March 2014
I bought this book for my English Language and Literature studies at school. This automatically tells you that it's an obviously well written book, and it truly is. The words that Ashworth uses are truly beautiful in some points and her descriptions are wonderful. It was such a pleasure to read this book as Ashworth is very talented and I admire her skills as a writer and her determination to get through her hardships in life.

The only thing that lacked in this book was a point. Sure, Andrea told her childhood story, but why? After finishing the book easily in a couple of days, I felt a little let down by the lack of an actual reason for this book to exist apart from the obvious.
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on 15 September 2002
In this book, Andrea Ashworth relates to us her story. Through pages of extremely touching and sentimental memoirs, we hear of her childhood during the 70's and 80's. Packed full of icons of this era, such as The Wombles and John Craven's colourful wooly jumpers, this is a book that can be looked back on in years to come as a piece of important historic literature of this time.
But at times, Ashworth's autobiography can also be so overwhelmingly sad that it is easy to forget that she actually experienced certain things, from several violent Step Fathers to the amazing feat of being able to gain a place at Oxford university despite living in an era when a working class upbringing woud have almost certainly excluded her from doing so.
What makes Ashworth's story all the more moving is the way in which she tells it through very accepting, grateful eyes, not attempting to use her life story to gain the sympathy of her readers, and it is this honesty and lack of self pity that makes this book such an inspiring read . Ashworth has the great skill of not only being able to portray something through her own eyes, she is also able to open her readers' eyes so that we can truly see her experiences also.
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on 19 January 2005
I bought this mainly because I saw it was about a girl growing up in Manchester, England in the 1980s. So when she ends up in Canada only a few pages along I got worried :) It's a sprawling tale and an astonishing feat when you consider she's spun an entire book out of her first 18 or so years, complete with realistic dialogue and insightful, poetic descriptions.
There is a literary approach to the narrative which takes it beyond your usual 'oh my childhood was so terrifying' type of autobiography you see in this genre. The point here being that even as a young girl she was able to use her creativity and imagination to escape the horrors around her, thus allowing her writing talent to flourish.
Two quibbles, though. First, the descriptions of her surroundings are very limited and you don't get any real feel for what Manchester was like. Second, with the narrative playing out like a novel, it's a letdown at the end when she abruptly walks out and you're left without any sense of what happens to her or the rest of the family. I guess the book itself stands as an indication of her future: her epilogue is the book itself in your hands.
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