Reviewed: “A Common Struggle” by Patrick J. Kennedy & Stephen Fried

53I have read a lot of books on the Kennedy family, probably too many. Few Kennedys have written books so there was an immediate appeal with A Common Struggle when it was released and Patrick Kennedy did interviews for it on “60 Minutes” and in other places. I can admit I wanted to read it more for the biography slash family history specifics for the mental illness and addiction aspect, which may be part of the reason Kennedy included the personal stories that certain members of the family were reportedly upset with. Perhaps he was trying to reach a wider audience about mental health and addiction by bringing in the celebrity obsessed culture that still wants to know about his family.

It seemed that way in what he wrote. as the chapters contained a balanced mix of family life, Kennedy’s personal struggles with mental illness and addiction, and the wider fight for help for those suffering.

The high point of the book is that I learned many things that I did not know about how treatment for mental illness and addiction moved away from asylums and other horrors of the 19th and early 20th century and into the hope for better lives for those suffering. Hope, of course, is not always self-fulfilling and Kennedy makes it obvious that just because we don’t lock people away out of shame and lack of other options does not mean the system is “fixed.”

The good point of the book is that Kennedy’s ability to and method of relating much of how mental illness and addiction are seen to his own personal experiences makes an uninformed reader, who maybe does not have either of those things in their family – though everyone probably does to some degree, want to learn to more about and maybe, I am sure it is his hope, join the movement to do something about it.

The low point of the book is the Congress-speak. CSPAN can be boring if they’re not talking about something you’re passionate about and Kennedy’s very intense and close looks at what is essentially the old cartoon of “How a Bill Becomes a Law” tend to bog down the whole thing. Once I realized I’d forgotten what half the alphabet soup acronyms stood for, it was hard to care and I found myself skimming. That’s not to say there would be a better way to write it, because I don’t know that there would, it just didn’t help keep my interest.

It is an important book, because it tells an important message even though Kennedy often seems to get wrapped up in his own narrow worldview. Then again, who in the same situation, or in any situation, would not get wrapped up in his or her own worldview? The only difference is that he’s a Kennedy and people want to read about Kennedy secrets.

I received a copy of A Common Struggle through NetGalley and Blue Rider Press in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.

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