This is the kind of book I thought I would never read. By all accounts, Ford and I are worlds apart, and I can’t imagine when our paths would ever intersect. But somehow I was drawn to this book after a recommendation from the vlogbrothers YouTube channel.
From the outset, this book did not click for me. I found Ford’s prose needlessly verbose and I felt deeply unsettled reading about Ford’s childhood experiences. I couldn’t understand why Ford spoke so frankly about her parents’ mistakes, and I wondered whether this book was doing me more harm than good.
I got halfway through the book and set it aside, with no plans to pick it up again. But some weeks later I stumbled across an interview Ford did with Trevor Noah for Comedy Central Africa, in which she explains the message she tried to convey with this book.
When asked why she wrote so openly about her parents’ shortcomings, Ford explains, “One of the things that was important to me was that nobody was truly a hero or a villain.” She explains that she sought to portray her parents in a balanced light – to show that they were not able to provide her with the security that she needed as a child, but also that they tried the best with what they knew. She wanted to dismantle the idea that “all good people have never done a bad thing, and all bad people have never done a good thing”. In this age of social media, cancel culture has taught us to have a one-dimensional view of people, to condemn them based on stand-alone actions taken out of context, where we no longer see the whole person. We expect people to behave like robots, never making mistakes. This seems to be correlated with a marked increase in perfectionism in young people which has been well-documented in recent years. People are no longer innocent until proven guilty, and we no longer see the humanity in those who make mistakes – when in fact, mistakes are what make us human. After all, why is it that we hurt others? It is because we are in pain, and we want the world to notice us when we feel cast aside. Ford sought to tell a human story; humans make mistakes, and human stories are messy, complex and often unresolved.
Eventually I came to understand that Ford’s family shares a fierce love, one that has not always been pleasant. Sometimes you want to change your family, to swap them for somebody else, the picture-perfect family you see on Instagram and Christmas greeting cards. But as it happens, you are stuck with them, for better or for worse. So you’re best off accepting your fate, the cards you’ve been dealt, and trying to see the good in your family. And as you do this, funnily enough, life opens up to you. And maybe you’ll develop a sense of humour along the way too.
Although to all appearances our experiences are vastly different, somehow it seems Ford and I have felt the same way about many of our experiences. Maybe because no matter the distance, no matter the difference, there is something fearfully and wonderfully human about both of us – about all of us.
Somebody’s Daughter is a complicated, necessary book for our time. It creates a space for forgiveness and redemption. It is an antidote to our culture of fear and condemnation.