Book review: How Was I Supposed to Know? by Lorna Lee

LornaLorna Lee has achieved something unusual in her first non-fiction book.  She has taken the material of her life, a life that will be recognisable to many readers, and made of it both a poignant coming-of-age tale and a vigorous thriller.

How Was I Supposed to Know? The Adventures of a Girl Whose Name Means Lost is the story of her childhood growing up in a trailer in rural New York State after the mysterious disappearance of her father; through marriage, motherhood, academic success and illness, and a marvellous second chance.

An accomplished academic writer, Lee’s ease and authority on the printed page transfers readily to the world of non-fiction. Her voice – comic, poignant, interrogative – handles the often-challenging material with a rare assurance. And she pulls no punches.

Lee deals with the alcoholism of her teens and 20s with great courage and candour; so too, the realities of motherhood and a husband who increasingly withdraws to the recliner downstairs during the course of their marriage. There will be many women too, who, like me, will recognise the painful, awkward truth about the bargains we thought we were making in the area of sex that were not bargains at all.

Lee has discovered the secret of all the best memoirists: make it as local as possible and it becomes universal. She recreates the details of her schooling at the “St Morris Catholic School for the Incessantly Damned”, otherwise known as the “St Morris Catholic School for the Eternally Miserable”, with a vividness that transports the reader back to the age of 10 with disconcerting efficiency.

I grew up in a country on the other side of the world from Lee’s, and many of our experiences differ. However, reading this book brought my own history before me in a way that I cannot remember another book doing. It is a testament to Lee’s skill and sensitivity that one feels adequate to the survey.

As the final chapters unfold, the mystery of Lee’s father is revealed after more than 40 years, and the book ends on a deeply satisfying and triumphant note.

I highly recommend Lorna Lee’s memoir, How Was I Supposed to Know? The Adventures of a Girl Whose Name Means Lost. It is the account of the life of a courageous and indefatigable woman that will have you laughing and crying, and looking at the clock in disbelief, “Have I really been reading for hours?”


To purchase Lorna’s book, go to Amazon here:

To read more about Lorna and her adventures, go to her blog here:


3 thoughts on “Book review: How Was I Supposed to Know? by Lorna Lee

  1. I am speechless. That’s pretty rare from me, as you well know from my too-long blog posts and this whopper of a memoir!

    Thank you so much for this wonderful and heartfelt review. If my aim was to connect to my readers with my words, you reassured me that I have. For that I am so grateful. I respect you so much (and so do many others), so this review mean more than you can possibly know. :)


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