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White Walls: A Memoir About Motherhood, Daughterhood, and the Mess In Between

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Judy Batalion grew up in a house filled with endless piles of junk and layers of crumbs and dust; suffocated by tuna fish cans, old papers and magazines, swivel chairs, tea bags, clocks, cameras, printers, VHS tapes, ballpoint pens…obsessively gathered and stored by her hoarder mother. The first chance she had, she escaped the clutter to create a new identity—one made of o Judy Batalion grew up in a house filled with endless piles of junk and layers of crumbs and dust; suffocated by tuna fish cans, old papers and magazines, swivel chairs, tea bags, clocks, cameras, printers, VHS tapes, ballpoint pens…obsessively gathered and stored by her hoarder mother. The first chance she had, she escaped the clutter to create a new identity—one made of order, regimen, and clean white walls. Until, one day, she found herself enmeshed in life’s biggest chaos: motherhood. Confronted with the daunting task of raising a daughter after her own dysfunctional childhood, Judy reflected on not only her own upbringing but the lives of her mother and grandmother, Jewish Polish immigrants who had escaped the Holocaust. What she discovered astonished her. The women in her family, despite their differences, were even more closely connected than she ever knew—from her grandmother Zelda to her daughter of the same name. And, despite the hardships of her own mother-daughter relationship, it was that bond that was slowly healing her old wounds.


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Judy Batalion grew up in a house filled with endless piles of junk and layers of crumbs and dust; suffocated by tuna fish cans, old papers and magazines, swivel chairs, tea bags, clocks, cameras, printers, VHS tapes, ballpoint pens…obsessively gathered and stored by her hoarder mother. The first chance she had, she escaped the clutter to create a new identity—one made of o Judy Batalion grew up in a house filled with endless piles of junk and layers of crumbs and dust; suffocated by tuna fish cans, old papers and magazines, swivel chairs, tea bags, clocks, cameras, printers, VHS tapes, ballpoint pens…obsessively gathered and stored by her hoarder mother. The first chance she had, she escaped the clutter to create a new identity—one made of order, regimen, and clean white walls. Until, one day, she found herself enmeshed in life’s biggest chaos: motherhood. Confronted with the daunting task of raising a daughter after her own dysfunctional childhood, Judy reflected on not only her own upbringing but the lives of her mother and grandmother, Jewish Polish immigrants who had escaped the Holocaust. What she discovered astonished her. The women in her family, despite their differences, were even more closely connected than she ever knew—from her grandmother Zelda to her daughter of the same name. And, despite the hardships of her own mother-daughter relationship, it was that bond that was slowly healing her old wounds.

30 review for White Walls: A Memoir About Motherhood, Daughterhood, and the Mess In Between

  1. 4 out of 5

    Myrna

    Good nonlinear memoir. Nothing surface level or sugarcoated in this one. It's an introspective novel of Batalion's past influencing her feelings of self, home, pregnancy, and motherhood. The author does discuss her mom's hoarding as the summary indicates but also includes other details like her job abroad and dating life. Glad the author has come to a good understanding of her mother and herself. Good nonlinear memoir. Nothing surface level or sugarcoated in this one. It's an introspective novel of Batalion's past influencing her feelings of self, home, pregnancy, and motherhood. The author does discuss her mom's hoarding as the summary indicates but also includes other details like her job abroad and dating life. Glad the author has come to a good understanding of her mother and herself.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kali

    from kalireads.com: In White Walls: A Memoir About Motherhood, Daughterhood, and the Mess In Between, Judy Batalion recounts growing up amidst stuff. Where normal kids cuddled on their mother’s bed for story time, mountains of detritus left no room for little Judy to snuggle up to mom. Tuna fish cans stacked like a great wall through her kitchen; newspapers, free magazines, and library books towered next to the sofa; records overflowed from shelves onto the floor. Judy’s mother hoards as if fighti from kalireads.com: In White Walls: A Memoir About Motherhood, Daughterhood, and the Mess In Between, Judy Batalion recounts growing up amidst stuff. Where normal kids cuddled on their mother’s bed for story time, mountains of detritus left no room for little Judy to snuggle up to mom. Tuna fish cans stacked like a great wall through her kitchen; newspapers, free magazines, and library books towered next to the sofa; records overflowed from shelves onto the floor. Judy’s mother hoards as if fighting off the deprivation of her history, a woman born to Jewish Polish immigrants struggling for survival as they fled the Holocaust, fled the Nazis, leaving behind friends, neighbors, and their homeland. This isn’t inexplicable hoarding, but hoarding grown out of a time of having nothing, starving in camps, standing in breadlines. Judy finds herself, as a third-generation Jewish woman, separated from the Holocaust’s physical hardships but living amidst its emotional aftereffects. All the dysfunction of Judy’s childhood–her over-anxious and self-absorbed mother, a house filled with so much stuff it had little room for love–bubbles to the surface when Judy, as a successful young woman, finds out she’s pregnant. Although she’s left her home behind, her mother’s mental health is in decline. How can she be there for a mother who has been largely absent? And will Judy, like her mother before her, continue to pass down the trauma she inherited from previous generations? Can she overcome the anxieties of a childhood drowning in unneeded junk, and of a mother (and now grandmother) unlike any other, to her own child? Judy writes pretty prose, posing questions about her own experiences that she answers through relayed experience without extended navel-gazing. White Walls is funny, as Judy, also a comedian, has a crack-up sense of humor and a gift for one-liners. It is tragic at other times, as Judy, along with her brother and father, seek a court order to hospitalize her mother against her will. I’ve read books about crazy moms (Chanel Bonfire, Oh The Glory of It All) and books about hoarding (Coming Clean, Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things) but this one explores the heartbreak of mental illness, a struggle to overcome generational trauma, the shame of hoarding, and the anxieties of motherhood all in one free association, full disclosure, flash-back style relay between motherhood and childhood, between then and now.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Bright

    An entertaining story about how motherhood is richly steeped in the daughterhood we experienced.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Laurie Carlson

    Here's my review! Finally! WOW! This Memoir was quite the emotional read. Just from the description alone you could feel how this entire family lived - as hoarders, ALL of them. This just left Judy Batalion wanting White Walls once she realized her entire family was hoarders. You just could not help but to feel sorry for her especially when she was a little girl, young and growing up inside of a Hoarder’s home because she didn’t know any better. This is how she and her family lived, this is what Here's my review! Finally! WOW! This Memoir was quite the emotional read. Just from the description alone you could feel how this entire family lived - as hoarders, ALL of them. This just left Judy Batalion wanting White Walls once she realized her entire family was hoarders. You just could not help but to feel sorry for her especially when she was a little girl, young and growing up inside of a Hoarder’s home because she didn’t know any better. This is how she and her family lived, this is what she was used to. We are all like that in a way. We are used to living the way we do and when we see things differently and start to learn that we may do things differently at our homes, that the way we live at home is completely different than the way other people live, our eyes have been opened and now we have to deal with a problem if we find one. We can’t just sit around and live with it, and decide what are we going to do because action needs to be taken. I was surprised how emotional of a read this book became. We could relate to how Judy felt through all the stages of her life, well into adulthood. We could relate to her having to confront her mother and try to get her to change, but we all know we can only change if we want to change. I think that was the hardest part for Judy. Read this one! It’s very well worth it! Enjoy! I received this book for FREE and I thank the Publisher, Berkley Publishing Group and NetGalley in exchange to read and write a review about it. "Free" means I was provided with ZERO MONIES to do so, but just to enjoy the pure pleasure of reading it and giving my own honest opinion no matter whether it is positive or negative. I am disclosing this information in accordance with the law set here: http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/wa... The Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255, 16 CFR 255, Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising Federal Acquisition Regulation

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Judy Batalion writes about growing up in Montreal in a house filled with piles of stuff and how she doesn't want to be a hoarder like her mother. She is obsessed with not becoming her mother. Her home is tidy, organized and minimalistic... until she becomes a mother. I enjoyed reading about her walks with her father, as they covered some territory that I was familiar with - my daughter and I climbed Mount Royal and looked out over the city and years later my husband and I walked on Sherbrooke an Judy Batalion writes about growing up in Montreal in a house filled with piles of stuff and how she doesn't want to be a hoarder like her mother. She is obsessed with not becoming her mother. Her home is tidy, organized and minimalistic... until she becomes a mother. I enjoyed reading about her walks with her father, as they covered some territory that I was familiar with - my daughter and I climbed Mount Royal and looked out over the city and years later my husband and I walked on Sherbrooke and visited a park and then dined at a nearby restaurant. It was interesting to read about her years studying and working in London and her social life. At first, I was quite upset when I read Judy Batalion's brash retort to the lady who warned her that drinking an alcoholic beverage while pregnant could cause FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). Batalion replied,"Good news is, I've cut down on my heroine use, so the baby should be OK." Now I am wondering if this was her way of bringing FAS and its cause to her readers attention. As an educator, I have studied about FAS and had children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in my classroom. FAS is preventable, so please DO NOT consume alcohol (wine, beer or liquor) while pregnant. This was an interesting and thought provoking memoir and I enjoyed reading it. 3.5 ⭐️

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    Judy Batalion grew up in a house that her mother filled with her hoarded "deals." As soon as she could she escaped from the hoarding and clutter, even meeting and marrying a man who's mother was a hoarder too. But, when she gets pregnant she freaks out about how to raise this child when she didn't really have a childhood of her own. She's also seen her grandmother and her mother spiral into mental illness and hoarding and doesn't want to follow in those footsteps. I was interested in the hoardin Judy Batalion grew up in a house that her mother filled with her hoarded "deals." As soon as she could she escaped from the hoarding and clutter, even meeting and marrying a man who's mother was a hoarder too. But, when she gets pregnant she freaks out about how to raise this child when she didn't really have a childhood of her own. She's also seen her grandmother and her mother spiral into mental illness and hoarding and doesn't want to follow in those footsteps. I was interested in the hoarding aspect of this book, but a large chunk of it is more about the author's failed relationships and her struggle into adulthood. That kind of bogged down the book for me and wasn't as interesting. Overall, it was OK, but not one I would recommend.

  7. 4 out of 5

    ❄️✨ Kat ✨❄️

    I'm not usually one for memoirs, but I particularly enjoyed this one. The format is different; she incorporates two different time periods in one chapter. The first part is usually more recent happenings, and then she follows with something relating to it that happened in the past. We learn how she dealt with her mother's hoarding and psychological issues while trying to keep a calm, clutter-free environment, and how these issues affected her when she became a mother. We learn about her horrible I'm not usually one for memoirs, but I particularly enjoyed this one. The format is different; she incorporates two different time periods in one chapter. The first part is usually more recent happenings, and then she follows with something relating to it that happened in the past. We learn how she dealt with her mother's hoarding and psychological issues while trying to keep a calm, clutter-free environment, and how these issues affected her when she became a mother. We learn about her horrible miscarriage experience with her second child, and how she persevered through it, determined to have another. This is a great read for mothers and daughters who enjoy memoirs about both topics.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Michele

    It is inevitable (or at least it should be) that as we grow a family we will look within ourselves to see how our family of origin will impact the kind of family of origin we are handing to our kids. While the details of our experiences were very different, I found so many of my own conclusions mirrored Judy’s in this introspective, funny and beautifully written memoir. This was a dollar store find for me, so maybe my expectations were low, but I was intrigued by the beautiful cover, the promise It is inevitable (or at least it should be) that as we grow a family we will look within ourselves to see how our family of origin will impact the kind of family of origin we are handing to our kids. While the details of our experiences were very different, I found so many of my own conclusions mirrored Judy’s in this introspective, funny and beautifully written memoir. This was a dollar store find for me, so maybe my expectations were low, but I was intrigued by the beautiful cover, the promise of a story about difficult parental relationships and the the trickle-down impact that being a Holocaust survivor has on future generations. Judy is brilliant—intelligent, hard-working and hilarious, but still down-to-earth, making the book easy and enjoyable to read. Nothing felt sensationalized or sugar-coated, just a good, solid perspective and one that I identified with, immensely.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nikki Glassley

    I love a quality memoir and this one is truly quality. Judy Batalion writes about growing up in a line of Holocaust survivors and how that informed her grandmother's life, her mother's life, her own life, and now her daughter's life. I loved the narrative style, which alternated between her first pregnancy and her life from childhood to marriage. The connections she drew between the two, how the struggles of her childhood and particularly with her mother's mental illness and hoarding impacted he I love a quality memoir and this one is truly quality. Judy Batalion writes about growing up in a line of Holocaust survivors and how that informed her grandmother's life, her mother's life, her own life, and now her daughter's life. I loved the narrative style, which alternated between her first pregnancy and her life from childhood to marriage. The connections she drew between the two, how the struggles of her childhood and particularly with her mother's mental illness and hoarding impacted her relationship to her pregnancy was fascinating. It could have been heavy-handed, but Batalion knows where to stop and let readers draw their own conclusions. Really well done.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Laural

    Fascinating! A compulsive mother-hoarding-and the effects on her daughter-possibly compulsively purging as a result. There were lots of hard times and lots of soft spots. Mostly what I appreciated was the frankness of everything. No glossing over her feelings, her mothers, or anything. I loved it.

  11. 5 out of 5

    FuR

    3.5 stars

  12. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    Boring and depressing, I just hated this book and I'm annoyed with myself for wasting my time reading it. Boring and depressing, I just hated this book and I'm annoyed with myself for wasting my time reading it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Quixoticmeg

    3.5 out of 5 stars// This book was an enjoyable memoir about Judy, a hilarious, anxious and hyper-organized Jewish-Canadian woman and her experience as a daughter of a woman with hoarding behaviours and mental illness. The book is also about Judy’s journey into motherhood and touches on her family history of holocaust survivors. The book is non-linear and jumps around throughout her life but this doesn’t seem to take away from the story and it’s quite easy to follow. Judy is humorous and candid 3.5 out of 5 stars// This book was an enjoyable memoir about Judy, a hilarious, anxious and hyper-organized Jewish-Canadian woman and her experience as a daughter of a woman with hoarding behaviours and mental illness. The book is also about Judy’s journey into motherhood and touches on her family history of holocaust survivors. The book is non-linear and jumps around throughout her life but this doesn’t seem to take away from the story and it’s quite easy to follow. Judy is humorous and candid and overall a really likeable person. It made me laugh out loud at points. The downside to this book for me was that it kind of trailed off towards the end and I wish it examined some of the dynamics of the family more thoroughly. I felt like parts of the book lacked depth and that her humour sometimes overshadowed really important information for the reader. As much as this book often felt just OK to me, there were some powerful moments in this book and those make the book a worthwhile read. // “I was her first home, the background against which her identity would be formed, the grounding that would enable her to launch into the world and let herself go. I could help make this girl- who’d grown in my interior- comfortable in her own skin.//

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    I loved this book. It wasn't an easy read, but it spoke some powerful truths. Batalion is at once funny, prescient, and incredibly kind through lens of her own pain and growth (in a way that I am not sure I could be). At first, I felt that framing the book around the progression of her pregnancy was sort of a cheap trick or a weak framing device. I mean, of course one takes stock of things at that moment - the real challenge is the constant stock-taking, the keeping and the discarding of all the I loved this book. It wasn't an easy read, but it spoke some powerful truths. Batalion is at once funny, prescient, and incredibly kind through lens of her own pain and growth (in a way that I am not sure I could be). At first, I felt that framing the book around the progression of her pregnancy was sort of a cheap trick or a weak framing device. I mean, of course one takes stock of things at that moment - the real challenge is the constant stock-taking, the keeping and the discarding of all the things, seen and unseen. A drawback to the pregnancy pacing was that it made the pace of the end of the book feel rushed, uneven, and a little gaping. If the first 90% of the book was in the sorting and sifting, then the last 10% really focused on the peace-making and boundary-setting. I would have liked to hear more about that negotiation (which I suppose is really a work in progress). That said, Batalion writes so poignantly about the helplessness, the pathologies that enable and disable, and her evolving relationship with her parents. This is a book I would, indeed, press on others (and have).

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I thought this memoir would be interesting because it deals with hoarding. The mother is a Holocaust survivor and apparently hoards as a result of her traumatic past. If the book had focused on the mother and her past, it might have been fascinating. Unfortunately, the bulk of the memoir focuses on the daughter's routine, pedestrian concerns about ultrasound, breastfeeding, impending motherhood, etc. I kept wanting to hear more about the mother, but the author kept the spotlight on herself. What I thought this memoir would be interesting because it deals with hoarding. The mother is a Holocaust survivor and apparently hoards as a result of her traumatic past. If the book had focused on the mother and her past, it might have been fascinating. Unfortunately, the bulk of the memoir focuses on the daughter's routine, pedestrian concerns about ultrasound, breastfeeding, impending motherhood, etc. I kept wanting to hear more about the mother, but the author kept the spotlight on herself. What a shame. Yet another book ruined by a narcissism that is so prevalent in American writing these days.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Betsy

    I thought this was a weird title for a book, especially one about motherhood, but now that I've read it, the title makes perfect sense. Judy Batalion is a writer I've recently discovered - and I think I'll read more. This memoir was perfectly delightful I understand the emotions behind the book, even if I didn't have a similar situation. Batalion moved from her relationship with her mother to her relationship with her older daughter by, really, examining the life in between. Despite the subtitle I thought this was a weird title for a book, especially one about motherhood, but now that I've read it, the title makes perfect sense. Judy Batalion is a writer I've recently discovered - and I think I'll read more. This memoir was perfectly delightful I understand the emotions behind the book, even if I didn't have a similar situation. Batalion moved from her relationship with her mother to her relationship with her older daughter by, really, examining the life in between. Despite the subtitle, I don't see it as a "mess," but rather as an interesting, and self-affirming story. Good book. I'll read more of her work.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    Oof. What a read. The story is woven together in a clever manner, showing how past experiences shape our new ones, and how we can either despair, overcome, or embrace all that has happened and all that has shaped our personalities and our choices. It's a moving book, intending to do nothing but share one woman's life experience, but done in such a way where we can all relate. It is a thought-provoking and emotional read, with its fair share of wisdom and humour. I highly recommend it. Oof. What a read. The story is woven together in a clever manner, showing how past experiences shape our new ones, and how we can either despair, overcome, or embrace all that has happened and all that has shaped our personalities and our choices. It's a moving book, intending to do nothing but share one woman's life experience, but done in such a way where we can all relate. It is a thought-provoking and emotional read, with its fair share of wisdom and humour. I highly recommend it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Well-written, engaging family memoir. I liked the pacing and the interspersed chapters from past and present. Her comedic sense (she's done stand up comedy) comes out mostly in parenthetical asides. It's primarily an honest thoughtful exploration of her Jewish Canadian childhood with a paranoid, hoarding mom and her coming of age far from home (in England). For a random book plucked from a little free library, it was a great story. Well-written, engaging family memoir. I liked the pacing and the interspersed chapters from past and present. Her comedic sense (she's done stand up comedy) comes out mostly in parenthetical asides. It's primarily an honest thoughtful exploration of her Jewish Canadian childhood with a paranoid, hoarding mom and her coming of age far from home (in England). For a random book plucked from a little free library, it was a great story.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Alyssa Prettyman

    Actually really enjoyed this book and the overall premise. Especially very interesting to analyze the story from a behavioral standpoint in order to understand the “why” behind the characters’ emotions and actions. I listened to this on audiobook format and I highly recommend listening. I felt the narrator was a perfect match for the both the story and the main character.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Awwwtrouble

    This was a pretty standard memoir of a neurotic Canadian Jewish woman who grew up with a hoarding mother. There were some interesting points (the part about trauma reverberation for 4 generations) but I just felt like it didn't dive deep enough for me. This was a pretty standard memoir of a neurotic Canadian Jewish woman who grew up with a hoarding mother. There were some interesting points (the part about trauma reverberation for 4 generations) but I just felt like it didn't dive deep enough for me.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sherri Westbury

    At times there was great insight and raw emotion. At other times there was a too much overthinking. Nonetheless it was an interesting read if only from the perspective of seeing development progress, change and react to influences.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Susan Novack

    Loved this book...author gives us a better understanding of hoarding and her attempt to separate herself from it by creating a physical distance between herself and her mother.. moves to London, New York in trying to create her own space.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Agnes

    I almost quit 3 pages into it because she seemed so pretentious, but I'm glad I stuck with it. I almost quit 3 pages into it because she seemed so pretentious, but I'm glad I stuck with it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tiffanie

    I finished this to the end but it was difficult.

  25. 5 out of 5

    S

    3.5 A little self-indulgent. Groan-worthy punnish wordplay scattered throughout. Some interesting insight into growing up in a dysfunctional home.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jolie

    I didn’t finish the book because it was just too boring. There’s no conflict or even really a plot line.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jenny Cox

    All over the place. Hard to follow and hard to pick up and continue reading. Not a fan.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lynnie

    I loved this memoir...every page, I highly recommend it.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rivka

    Author is an excellent speaker.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mallory Lutz

    While the book was well written I found the author self-indulgent and very materialistic, which put me off. The topic of mental illness within a family is a serious issue for all. Having suffered the suicide death of a family member, reading this book brought on a lot of anxiety but I did appreciate the author's constant reminder to herself that her mom was sick. While the book was well written I found the author self-indulgent and very materialistic, which put me off. The topic of mental illness within a family is a serious issue for all. Having suffered the suicide death of a family member, reading this book brought on a lot of anxiety but I did appreciate the author's constant reminder to herself that her mom was sick.

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