Book Review: The Woman I was born to be by Susan Boyle Bantam Press Paperback ISBN 978-0-552-16367-5

Reviewed by Shirley Ward

I just couldn’t put this book down! It is a MUST read book. I started reading early evening and closed the covers at 2-30am! Very few people have not heard of Susan Boyle. After the audition of Britain’s Got Talent in April 2009 the YouTube video received 100 million hits, catapulting her to global fame, captivating hearts and fans everywhere.

In this courageous, heart-warming and inspiring account Susan tells the story of her life and the challenges she has struggled to overcome. Her mother’s family were Irish Catholics descended from the turn of the century Irish escaping from the grinding poverty of Donegal and the West of Ireland. Susan was born April 1st 1961 by emergency caesarean in hospital. She was the tenth child in the family, delivered by a difficult birth during which she was briefly deprived of oxygen, resulting in Susan later having learning difficulties. She was later also diagnosed as hyperactive and was slower at learning things because she was easily distracted. It would probably be diagnosed as ADHD today but in those days hyperactivity was treated as a mental illness. She speaks about her uncle who suffered from learning and emotional difficulties who was sent to a special school and then kept in an institution for most of his life.

This book is filled with pathos and humour. It is frank, honest, warm, funny, heart-breaking and triumphant. This moving account had me laughing out loud and then brought tears to my eyes at the burden of what is known in life experiences as ‘disabilities’. In telling the story of her childhood it stimulated memories of my own childhood. Her indomitable spirit in the face of hardship and knock-backs and her determination to never let bullies define you, gives great hope. If you are bullied tell someone, and don’t let the bully get power over you, is her message to her readers. Her experience shows how bullying can cause long lasting hurts at school when you are different from the ‘norm’. Having suffered from being bullied Susan is very sensitive and aware of other people’s problems. She struggled to find her place in the world where difference, or disability as an advantage. Susan, by her determination and love of singing, has turned her ‘disability’ into ability.

With not much money in the family, holidays were not part of family life but she writes of two memorable times spent on holiday in Ireland, to Donegal and along the Antrim coast. Her mother was often singing Irish songs around the house and are very much part of Susan’s own repertoire today. Her own Catholic faith has brought her great strength and one of her greatest fans is Cardinal Keith O’Brien who persuaded her to sing for Pope Benedict XV1 in Glasgow in September 2010. She wrote that this would be a privilege and an honour so profound I could never have dreamed of wishing for it.

Susan’s talent has spiralled and within weeks her first album was number one in the bestselling  CD charts around the world. She has been hounded by the paparazzi, toured many countries, had her own TV special with Piers Morgan, sang a duet with Elaine Page, met her childhood idol Donny Osmond. She sang in the legendary Budoken stadium in Japan and does not know what the future holds but always stipulates that you should always focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do. Susan is not short of courage. Courage is not being without fear. Courage is being afraid but going on anyway.

Susan’s own words to her readers are an inspiration for parents, teachers, children, teenagers, health care professionals, anyone dealing with people with learning difficulties, psychotherapists, clients and casual readers – there is a message here for everyone.

Susan wrote:-

“I’m telling my story to try and show that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover; that you shouldn’t just look at the label – you must look at the whole person emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. I hope that it will show dreams are not impossible if you’ve got courage and a willingness to go on, no matter what the circumstances.”

May this book continue to inspire those who read it, and help them turn disability into ability. Perhaps we can question the true meaning of humanistic and integrative psychotherapy and learn from this woman with true humility, care and compassion.