Heart Berries: A Memoir

by Terese Marie Mailhot

Hardcover, 2018

Call number




Counterpoint (2018), 160 pages


"Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman's coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot's mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father-an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist-who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame. Mailhot trusts the reader to understand that memory isn't exact, but melded to imagination, pain, and what we can bring ourselves to accept. Her unique and at times unsettling voice graphically illustrates her mental state. As she writes, she discovers her own true voice, seizes control of her story, and, in so doing, reestablishes her connection to her family, to her people, and to her place in the world."--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member richardderus
Rating: 6* of five

Shattering. Beautiful. Agonizing. Necessary.

I will never, ever read this book again. I'm glad I borrowed it from the library so it will not be in my home. This isn't a story I want to have exerting its metaphysical gravity on me while I'm sleeping.
LibraryThing member akblanchard
It would take an extraordinary book to live up to Sherman Alexie's effusive praise in his introduction to Heart Berries. I'm not sure that this non-linear narrative does. It has its evocative moments, as First Nations author Terese Marie Mailhot details her dysfunctional relationships with her parents and her lover, her bouts of suicidal ideation, and her hatred of ladybugs. Yet some elements remain frustratingly vague. For example, she alludes to an eating disorder that is never described.

Recommended to those who like their memoirs brief and poetic.

Please note that I received an advanced reader's copy of this book through my employer, with no expectation that I would review it or give it a positive review.
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LibraryThing member caanderson
It’s hard to put into words how wonderful and tragic this book is. I enjoyed the story telling then pausing to feel the pain of the story.
LibraryThing member lostinalibrary
Heart Berries: A Memoir by author Terese Marie Mailhot is a very short book that packs a very powerful punch. It is a tale of love, loss, grief, abuse, addiction, and mental illness. It is her own story told in beautiful prose and brutal honesty but she also makes it clear that it is not dissimilar to the stories of other First Nations women:

Native women walk alone from the dances of our youth into homes they don’t know for the chance to be away’

The memoir, like the life she is describing, frequently seems confusing and chaotic. Written in a non-linear manner, she often leaves holes in the narrative only to later show that these holes were not just holes in the narrative but in her memory, memories she finally recovers with the aid of psychotherapy, medication, and almost cruel self-examination. But this chaos, rather than weakening the story, make it that much more powerful. She reveals how much she has survived and, in the end, how far she has come but there is no sense of relief or closure, not for her and not for First Nations.

Heart Berries is a book almost lyrical in its prose, at times beautiful, elegant, raw, poignant, angry, and insightful. I would be lying if I said it was an easy read but it is an important one. A definite high recommendation from me.

Thanks to Edelweiss+ and Counterpoint for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review
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LibraryThing member Well-ReadNeck
Terese Marie Mailhot's Heart Berries is a memoir from an emerging native American writer. She writes with an honesty and anger that is raw and unfiltered. Her truth is difficult to face as a reader (or, really, as a listener, as I received an ARC of this book on CD). The format matters here, I think. I would have preferred to have encountered this as a book, where you can take your time, look away when needed, slowed down in places, with the narration, everything drives straight ahead. And the voice of the narrator didn't capture the feeling I wanted here. In the beginning, she is dry, almost mechanical, robotic in presentation. Later, she spits words as if she is someone pretending to be angry, but who, in fact, isn't enraged, but merely acting. The brutal honesty and short, snippy sentences throughout this book may present well on paper, but, in this performance, fall flat.

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher via LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
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LibraryThing member streamsong
In the interview at the end of the book Terese Mari Mailhot says that she started out to write the story of a woman so wounded that all she can do is wound others. And then she realized she was writing her own story, and this memoir evolved.

Her subject is bleak – physical and sexual abuse, alcoholism, mental illness, growing up on a reservation in Southwest Canada with little hope of change; longing to have someone take care of her and the subsequent abandonments.

Her honesty wrapped in beautifully crafted sentences is searing.

This is her first book. I'll certainly be looking for more from this author.

I received a copy of the audiobook through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer Program. To me, this is a book that would be better to be read as a print copy.

First, reading this in print would have given me the chance to savor the words.

Second, the reader's intonation was consistently one of wounded anger, with little variation of tone. While this may well be the perfect tone for the author's thoughts, four hours of it becomes overly long.
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LibraryThing member ecataldi
This was one of the most brutal, heartfelt, unabashed, memoirs I've ever read. Mailhot rips out her heart for the reader to see and holds nothing back. From her insecurities about being a mother to abuse she had buried as a child to her unwise relationships to growing up native; she bares her entire soul. She manages to convey these truths about her life in the most succinct, powerful way. Not one word is wasted in this memoir. While listening to this I was struck by the beauty of her prose.

“I think self-esteem is a white invention to further separate one person from another. It asks people to assess their values and implies people have worth. It seems like identity capitalism.”

“I felt breathless, like every question was a step up a stairway.”

I listened to this short memoir, but now I want to read it; I want my eyes to eat up her words. Her prose is transcendent. Mailhot, hasn't exactly had the easiest of lives, but she is able to convey the beauty in her struggles and challenges. What a writer. I cannot wait to read more from her. I am ready for the Indigenous Renaissance.
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LibraryThing member kaylaraeintheway
I heard buzz about this memoir for weeks before it was actually published, and I'm glad to say that it definitely lived up to the hype! Such a powerful and unflinching memoir from a great new voice in Native American literature.
LibraryThing member muddyboy
The emotionally charged memoir of a young Native American woman growing up on a dysfunctional family and later with abusive relationships with men (one that she just can;t seem to get over). This book is very well written and she doesn't rail against the abusive people in her life. Through it all a couple of mentors help her overcome these traumas leading ultimately her back to her Native American heritage and a Doctoral Fellowship in creative writing at Purdue University. This book will pull on your heart without being sappy or maudlin. Short book with a whole lot of meaning.… (more)
LibraryThing member Jane-Phillips
Mailhot's memoir weaves back and forth throughout her life and is mainly written to her lover as she takes the reader on a journey from her youth to the present. Reading it was like reading snapshots of her life and it was more like poetry than the usual memoir which made it a refreshing read for this reader.
LibraryThing member chrisblocker
I don't know if there's ever been a book I've hated disliking as much as I hated disliking Heart Berries. This is such an honest, heartrending memoir. Written by a First Peoples woman battling mental illness, it is a very important and unique work. The prose is gorgeous though not always easy to follow: Mailhot takes a stream of conscious approach that may leave a reader feeling disoriented. I think the style works well as it gives the impression of the mental and political struggles Mailhot faces throughout these pages.

For these reasons, Heart Berries is a stellar read. But…

Mailhot has some reason to be angry. I understand. She’s been through several toxic relationships and many difficult situations. But her answer is to perpetuate stereotypes and justify her own toxic response. It’s all very honest, but it doesn’t give me much hope for the future. Though it’s beautifully written and very heartfelt on one hand, on the other, Heart Berries is little more than a highly intelligent Fuck Off note. Rather than respond with my own vitriol, I’m just going to stuff it back into the pages of this book and move onto the next.
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LibraryThing member hikatie
This book cracked me open - it's such a bravely, beautifully, precisely written story of working through trauma and being a child and a mother and Native woman.
LibraryThing member MM_Jones
A therapeutic memoir by a Pacific Northwest Native. She writes of her dysfunctional upbringing and her suicidal thoughts. I did not appreciate the book as I was unable to relate to her heritage or her mental illness.
LibraryThing member Allison_Krajewski
“It’s an Indian condition to be proud of survival but reluctant to call it resilience. Resilience seems ascribed to a human conditioning in white people.”

Terese Marie Mailhot’s Heart Berries was small, but it packed an emotional punch. In her memoir, Mailhot doesn’t hold anything back as she presents her life about everything from her dysfunctional upbringing to her stay in a mental hospital, from the birth of her son to her relationship with his father, from the pain of her present and how memory is affected by the past.

Heart Berries was told in a fragmented, stream-of-conscious style series of essays. I did have a little trouble getting into the writing style, but once I fell into a rhythm, it was easier to follow Mailhot’s voice and thoughts.

Mailhot is an interesting woman who has been through so much. This is one memoir that I can see myself reading again and again – and getting something new out of it each time.

Thank you to LibraryThing and Tantor Audio for a copy of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review!
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LibraryThing member villemezbrown
I like how the author puts words together. It's very poetic at times. Unfortunately, I'm not a big fan of poetry as it tends to be vague and obtuse, much like this memoir. I'm detail oriented and found myself frustrated by all the unanswered questions I have.

Also, the author goes on and on about her heartbreak and bad relationships to such a degree that at a certain point in the book it just started to feel to me like nonstop whining. By the time she was ready to share about other aspects of her life, I was already detaching from the work.

In the end, I still find value in reading about a perspective so different from my own and admire Mailhot's abilities as a wordsmith
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LibraryThing member kglattstein
Heart wrenching. I listened to the book and was drawn into the author's lyrical storytelling as well as story. As I heard more of her story I was sometimes lost in her remembrances versus timeline of events. She plugged at my heart, but I found that the connection of her circumstances and her past more difficult to follow through the end.… (more)
LibraryThing member flying_monkeys
"Memoir, for me, functions as something vulnerable in a sea of posturing." (from the Afterword)

Finding one's truth and taking ownership and authorship of one's story are life-changing! In recent memory I cannot think of a book, fiction or non-fiction, which illustrates this power as deeply or as profoundly as Mailhot's memoir. She bravely reveals her journey in all its horror and beauty. I've said it many times, but I have great respect for women who have the guts to open themselves up so fully to a public that has not exactly proven warm and receptive.

"As an Indian woman, I resist the urge to bleed out on a page, to impart the story of my drunken father. It was dangerous to be alone with him, as it was dangerous to forgive, as it was dangerous to say he was a monster. If he were a monster, that would make me part monster, part Indian. It is my politic to write the humanity in my characters, and subvert the stereotypes. Isn't that my duty as an Indian writer? But what part of him was subversion?"

The language she uses is... I cannot find the perfect word at the moment.

"I know the limit of what I can contain in each day. Each child, woman, and man should know a limit of containment. Nobody should be asked to hold more."

An essential read for Indigenous women, yet I would recommend this to everyone, especially those with trauma in their past -- or those who aren't the picture of pristine mental health. Not that a white woman could ever walk in the same shoes as an Indigenous woman, but because there are parallels between the experiences in coming of age, mental illness, broken hearts, deep-rooted parental scars, and what it takes to begin healing.

5 stars
(I love that her author photograph was credited to her son, Isaiah.)

"Love is tactile learning, always, first and foremost."

"I don't feel liberated from the governing presence of tragedy. The way in which people frame our work, and the way our work exists, or is canonized--we are not liberated from injustice; we're anchored to it. It feels inescapable and part of the zeitgeist of Indian in the twenty-first century, or every century since they came, which doesn't limit me, or us, but limits the way we are seen and spoken about. It's unfortunate, and real to me." (from the Afterword)
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LibraryThing member Romonko
This is a very difficult book to read and even more difficult to critique. Terese explains that she was a young girl growing up in a severely dysfunctional family. Her home was located on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Her childhood experiences caused her profound pain, and she found herself as a young woman in a mental institution with bipolar disease and PTSD. Her quest to find herself leads her on a panful journey of remembrance. /She has now found herself a place in the world as a mother, wife, educator and author. The language in the book is absolutely beautiful, and even with the dreadful subject matter, quite poetic. But I found that there was a lot of jumping around in time, so I found it difficult to get to the heart of the matter. The book probably realistically portrays her bumpy ride as she tries to deal with all of her issues, and that maya explain the dichotomy, but it was still difficult for me to follow the timeline. It is very difficult to read about Terese's struggles to find herself and finally come to a place where she can acknowledge and accept all the horrors of her life, and then build from there to finally discover the real Terese buried under all the memories.… (more)
LibraryThing member KWharton
I found this book too personal. I couldn't help wondering how Ms Mailhot's family would feel about it, and how she might feel about it in a few years.
LibraryThing member quondame
A memoir of moving through madness and it's roots by a Native American woman. Not at all an easy read, and possibly containing some triggers, certainly I had to keep my own emotional history from raveling my attention from each sentence as it sliced into me during the first two sections. Then I had to wonder what sort of man left messages on his computer and phone to be found by the lover (he implied) he wanted to keep. Perhaps I was distracting myself from the real pain on the page. Not a feel good life with those close to nature yarn.… (more)
LibraryThing member brangwinn
I’ve never read a memoir like this. The author grew up in an abusive and dysfunctional family on a Native American reservation. The story may be short, but don’t count on finishing it quickly. There’s lots to think about and reread. The essays can be disturbing but bring insight into how women are treated and how they can work to heal themselves.… (more)
LibraryThing member BonnieLymer
A coming of age memoir of an indigenous woman in British Columbia.
LibraryThing member readergirliz
I had a hard time with this book. The content did not bother me, though it was a rough read (trigger warnings for abuse of all varieties). I also appreciated a book that explored the hardships and stigma of being an Indian woman and having mental health problems. I think that Mailhot's word choices were often beautiful, but the writing often felt disjointed to me. Perhaps she wanted to convey how she felt from day to day in this way, but she seemed to skip from one harrowing story to another almost randomly. It made this very short book feel long, but not in a good way.… (more)
LibraryThing member obtusata
This is a beautiful and powerful memoir in essays. So much of it is heart wrenching, and yet it exudes the authors strength and perseverance.
LibraryThing member Dreesie
I listened to this on Hoopla, and have to say I did not much enjoy the narrator. Her voice sounded way too young (like 16-20 to me), and I found her enunciation too deliberate. It was almost hard to listen to--I would not have lasted through a longer book. So my experience of this book may be swayed by this poor listening experience. So much of audiobooks is about the narrator.

This book is a memoir, of Mailhot's experience an an indigenous Canadian with childhood abuse, mental illness, hospitalization, motherhood, her relationship with a white man, and the experience of being accepted to and studying at the Institute for American Indian Arts in New Mexico. The last section of this book was a Q&A, and since I was listening I was a little confused. But I wish that section had been first, as for me, it filled in so much about her life. (Was she severely mentally ill or suffering from PTSD from the abuse she suffered during childhood? Did her time in New Mexico bring her closer to her own culture, her own art, and did the experience of meeting other indigenous people from around North America help in her own healing?)
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