Book review: Teaching the Cat to Sit: A Memoir, by Michelle Theall

Teaching the Cat to SitTheall, Michelle. Teaching the Cat to Sit: A Memoir. Gallery Books. 2014. $24.99. 288p. HC. 978-1-4516-9729-2.

In alternating chapters, Theall tells the dual stories of growing up as a lesbian in a very religious Catholic family and raising her son, Connor, with her partner with the decision to remove him from his Catholic preschool. Theall’s description of her childhood include a rape by a friend’s father and her slow recovery as she chooses not to tell her parents about the assault. Her determined clinging to Catholic beliefs despite the Church’s rejection of her sexual orientation keeps her sending Connor to a Catholic school until she discovers that his baptism was performed in secret.

Another personal crisis for Theall is coming to grips with her growing realization that her mother, who lives far away in another state and barely speaks to her, still controls Theall’s decisions. The theme of what makes a family–whether it be our family of origin or our family of choice–prevails throughout her memoir.

As a lesbian who grew up in a very religious family, I relate to Theall’s story of her family’s repeated rejection of her “lifestyle” as well as her struggle to reconcile her sexual orientation with the faith of her childhood. Especially telling is her struggle to write articles about her experiences: she wants to tell her story and shed light on a very real problem within the LGBT community as well as the community of faith, but doing so would “out” her family’s lack of acceptance and face her parents’ wrath.

Theall’s story will ring true with many readers, not just those among the LGBT community. It will resonate with readers of Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler and Love Makes a Family by Gigi Kaeser. Well-written, with a conversational style one would expect to hear while having coffee with a friend, this book would be an excellent addition to a public library’s collection.

Reviewer: Jenni Frencham, Librarian
Cesar Chavez Middle School, Hayward (CA)


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