I picked the Duggars’ book up from the library on my way home from work on Friday, and finished reading it on Sunday morning (and keep in mind that I was out of the house most of Saturday). It is a very quick read. I only wish that I had taken notes while reading, because there were some things that I thought when I came across them that I wanted to mention in a review, and of course now I’m probably forgetting some.
The book isn’t really a how-to guide for families. There’s a little of that, but it’s mostly about the Duggars’ background and how their family came to be in the position we now see it. It starts with Jim Bob and Michelle’s childhoods – Jim Bob’s family was always struggling, his parents had different jobs all the time, and he just had a very difficult life. When he was five years old, an older kid convinced him to steal a box of Cracker Jacks from a store, he was caught, and he turned his life around, or something. Michelle had a more comfortable life growing up, but one time she took some money out of a lady’s purse at a pool and was going to spend it at the snack bar when she was caught, and turned her life around. They didn’t meet until they were in high school (different schools), and they married as soon as Michelle graduated because her family was moving out of state.
The next few chapters follow their lives and growing family. They started out selling cars, then added a towing business, ran a convenience store for a while (which was nothing but trouble), bought and sold some real estate, and eventually bought the 20-acre property where their current home is located, which also includes a former chicken hatchery that they rent out as storage space. They moved houses several times during this period. Most of their early years were spent living with a whole bunch of kids in a 900 square foot home on their used car lot, but then they moved to the house they lived in during their first TV special, and on TV we saw them move from there to a rental, and finally their kajillion square foot home where they live today. They gained some recognition during Jim Bob’s time in the state legislature and his run for Senate, their story caught the eye of TLC, who wanted to do a TV special on the family, the show became one of the most popular things on TLC and Discovery Health, and the rest is history…
One of the main ideas that’s stressed in their story is basically to stick to your convictions and things will work out for you. They don’t say it this way of course (they just emphasize their convictions, which you are recommended to follow), but I’m interpreting it this way. They believe in living debt-free, so even though there have been times when they could have gotten what they needed by borrowing some money, they didn’t do it, and instead some other opportunity came up where they got what they needed without having to borrow. Any time they want or need anything they pray about it, and whatever they needed magically turns up (a blanket, someone to help with laundry, a piano, trucks full of dirt, whatever).
My number one biggest complaint about this book is that it’s written mostly in first person singular (though sometimes it’s first person plural, and occasionally third person) and the “narrator” switches back and forth between Jim Bob and Michelle, with no way to tell who’s “speaking” at any given moment, until they clarify it with a line like, “Then I (Michelle) did such and such.” There were several times I found I was reading in the wrong “voice,” and that’s just inconvenient.
My number two biggest complaint, which is also a really huge complaint, was the horrible layout of the book. Every page is broken up with captioned photos, side stories, recipes, Q&A, which are so annoying when you’re trying to read straight through, and also are rarely even related to whatever the topic of that page/section is. I think the recipes stuck everywhere were the worst. It would have been much better, in my opinion, to include a recipe section in the back with all their other “resources.” Instead, they’re in highlighted boxes throughout the text, and it’s very disconcerting to be in the middle of reading about potty training and then bump into a recipe for pot roast, or to have the story of Jim Bob almost getting murdered by car thieves interrupted with a recipe for “Lemonappleade.” Also, that makes it hard to go back and find a recipe if you decide you want to try one. I never would. Almost every ingredient is a canned vegetable, or something pre-made and packaged like barbecue sauce, tuna, candy bars, etc. The infamous Tater Tot Casserole recipe is in there, as is a very similar Hash-Brown Casserole, which I actually thought was the same recipe, until I came to the TTC later in the book. On one hand, this is horrible, but on the other hand, at least those girls aren’t also tasked with chopping veggies and whatnot. They set up an assembly line with their little brothers to open the cans instead. (The only fresh produce I remember seeing was chopped onion that was used as a topping for chili, and potatoes that they roast in the oven and call French fries.) Ugh, the worst recipe was probably the Chili-Frito Pie, which consists of a pile of Fritos on a plate, topped with canned chili beans and cheddar cheese – they serve this when friends come over to help them move. Also, the servings are totally inconsistent – some of the recipes serve 4-6, some serve 20, some just say “serves a crowd.”
The one useful tip that I may actually utilize in my own life is Michelle’s system for organizing during a move. (However, it’s not actually her own system, she got it from another book.) Boxes are color-coded and numbered, and contents of each box are listed on a color-coded and numbered index card. All the cards are kept together, so you know exactly where every item is, and where each box goes in the new house.
They really gloss over any unsavory aspects of their lifestyle, but the one that bothered me most was the constant references to “training” and “correcting” children. Training is something you do with a dog, yet Jim Bob and Michelle train their children to happily and immediately respond to any command given by them or god. (Oh yeah, did you know that when you feel like you have to go to the bathroom, it’s actually god telling you you have to go, so you need to obey immediately so there’s no accidents? That’s part of their potty training.) Correcting for them seems to be a synonym for punishment, but they don’t really go into how they correct their children, which leads me to believe that it’s too awful to write about. I’ve heard things, but it’s all just rumor and speculation. (For example, Michelle writes about blanket training, but there’s no mention of the “hitting with wooden spoons” part of the system.) I don’t even want to mention their “schooling” – as a quick summary, they learn to read from alphabet workbooks, then they’re pretty much on their own for most subjects, and all the children come together to study the IBLP Wisdom Booklets for history, science, law, and medicine (with lessons about Biblical “character qualities” woven into each topic). I hope the kids end up making real estate transactions as lucky as their parents, because otherwise I don’t know what types of careers they’ll be able to have that let them keep all their extremely conservative standards, never spend any time away from their families, and afford and care for herds of children.
One thought that occurred to me as I read, was in response to the speculation that Jordyn-Grace (Duggar #18, unborn at the time the book was written [but still included in the 20 total Duggars in the title]) might be the last child born. I didn’t really notice it myself, but a lot of people mentioned that Michelle seemed extra sad on the show when she mentioned the possibility of having more kids, and it’s possible the doctor really recommended she not have any more, or that she had to have some sort of emergency hysterectomy or something. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if Michelle knew she couldn’t have any more kids after Jordyn-Grace, because any subsequent kids wouldn’t be included in the 20 referenced in the book title, and wouldn’t even be mentioned in the book. For a family so concerned with not leaving anyone out that they gave 18 kids names starting with the letter J, it would be weird to leave someone out of the family book (even if they weren’t yet conceived).
There’s a lot of photos with captions in this book. Most of them you’ve probably already seen if you are out and about on the internet. There were a couple older ones that caught my eye, though. In one, Michelle is in a zebra-stripe lame top while pregnant with John David and Jana. In another, Jinger and another sister in the background are wearing some sort of pants/pantaloons while Jim Bob is working on a floor tile project (it looks like they’re wearing long t-shirts over them).
So overall, I’m glad to have read it, but also glad I didn’t spend any money on this book (not even buying used and saving the difference).
Here’s another review of the book from Duggars Without Pity – fostersmom really makes a lot of the same points I do and has the same types of comments.