All That Is Bitter and Sweet: A MemoirAll That Is Bitter and Sweet: A Memoir by Ashley Judd

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I rarely read memoirs, let alone ones written by current celebrities, but Ashley Judd has led a fairly fascinating life.

Of course she’s an actress that comes from a famous (and famously dysfunctional) family, but she has also spent a great many years as a feminist activist, quietly traveling the world with NGOs and coming face to face with the poorest, most exploited people on the planet.

And this memoir balances those two lives, providing insight on the tumultuous personal life that formed her desire to help those who have no voice. I admire her for that. Sometimes she comes off a bit pious and overly sincere–only wisps of humor are shown and the book could have benefited from more.

What’s fascinating about this book, of course, are the glimpses we get at Ashley’s relationship with her famous mom and sister. It’s clear that she’s been on the outside looking in on them for her entire life and that doesn’t seem to have changed despite everything they’ve been through. She speaks openly of how close she’s become to her father and how much she loves her sister but her love for her mother is notable absent (and I can’t blame her as Naomi Judd seems like a nightmare of a mom). Near the end of the book Ashley writes about getting her master’s at Harvard (as part of her dedication to social justice work) and she notes (without passing judgment in an explicit way) that her mom and sister declined to attend just as they had for her undergraduate degree ceremony. It’s clear that despite all her success and hard work? Noami and Wynonna are not interested in events that don’t revolve around them. And ending the book on that note really does bring home the theme of the memoir: often life is bitter and sweet at the same time. And Ashley Judd seems to have learned to live with it and flourish anyway.

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