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Rescuing Patty Hearst: Growing Up Sane in a Decade Gone Mad

3.56  ·  Rating Details ·  954 Ratings  ·  69 Reviews
In 1975, one year after Patty Hearst and her captors robbed Hibernia National Bank, a second kidnapping took place far from the glare of the headlines. Virginia Holman's mother, in the thrall of psychosis, spirited her two daughters to a cottage on the Virginia Peninsula, painted the windows black, and set up the house as a MASH unit for a secret war. A war that never came ...more
Paperback, 244 pages
Published March 5th 2004 by Simon & Schuster (first published February 25th 2003)
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Community Reviews

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Dec 05, 2012 Rebecca rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2012
The my-family-was-crazy memoir ought to be a separate genre in itself -- there certainly are enough of them. "Rescuing Patty Hearst" is a pretty good example. The secret to Virginia Holman's success is that she keeps chapters simple and short, letting the reader (for the most part) pass judgment on her mother's actions. The end result is a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of a woman who created a nearly untenable childhood for this feisty author. Having grown up in the same era as Holman, I esp ...more
Jan 03, 2011 Rebecca rated it really liked it
I’m a little late on this book review, as I finished this a couple of weeks ago, but here goes. This book is set in the mid-1970s—just around the time that Patty Hearst was abducted—and centers on the author’s mother’s late-developing schizophrenia and attempt to set up a camp for a “secret army” of children to be trained.

This memoir is a fascinating portrayal of mental illness—schizophrenia—and the ways in which we are adopted into (sucked into) our parents’ issues and disabled lives. As a mat
Apr 04, 2015 GT rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story here came as a complete surprise to me as I bought it based on the title alone. As someone interested in the local Northern California association with the Hearst family, I assumed the book would add to my understanding of their history. It did, but only in a peripheral way. Basically the Hearst kidnapping was used briefly as a back story to put the author's childhood into the context of the times when she grew up. It was well done, as were the smattering of other references to growing ...more
Kris - My Novelesque Life

"In 1975, one year after Patty Hearst and her captors robbed Hibernia National Bank, a second kidnapping took place far from the glare of the headlines. Virginia Holman's mother, in the thrall of psychosis, spirited her two daughters to a cottage on the Virginia Peninsula, painted the windows black, and set up the house as a MASH unit for a secret war. A war that never came. The family -- captive to her mother's schizophrenia and a legal system that refused to intervene -- remained there
This wasn't the story I was expecting, I was expecting the story of the years Virginia Holman's mother took her and her little sister to the family cottage to wait for a secret war that was never coming. Her mother believed that she was chosen to set up a field hospital at the cottage and take in the children of the secret war. Holman doesn't get in depth about their years at the cottage, she writes more about her cousins and friends from school than her mother. She tells of the time that her mo ...more
Mar 20, 2010 Kimberlee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is about a girl growing with a mother who had schizophrenia. Apparently the laws then required the person to have cut themselves or someone to be committed. her mother kidnapped her and her older sister to live in their family's very old and run down summer cabin. She believed she was in a secret war and had to set up a field hospital for orphaned children who would be sent to her. She prepared the hospital, studied and made her daughter study medical stuff and practice night maneuvers ...more
May 20, 2012 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rescuing Patty Hearst is one of those books that is hard to describe in terms of why someone should want to read it. The very short summary: it's Virginia Holman's account of how her family survived her mother's mental illness--schizophrenia that didn't become symptomatic until after she had children and a husband. Holman's prologue begins as follows: "Nineteen seventy four was a bad time to go crazy." She goes on to relate the paranoia that pervaded daily life and the fear and confusion that ca ...more
Kressel Housman
Lest the title confuse you, let me clarify that this book is NOT about Patty Hearst, except insofar as the author identified with her. The book is the author's memoir of growing up with a schizophrenic mother. When the author was eight years old, her mother became possessed by the delusion that she was on a mission to set up a children's hospital for a secret war. The mother recruited the daughter into the mission, and because she was so young, it took her a few years to realize the whole thing ...more
Patricia Murphy
Jun 12, 2014 Patricia Murphy rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
The strongest feature of the book is the use of dialogue. It's really difficult to re-create the dialogue of sane people, so it's a large challenge to write dialogue for the insane. The downfalls of the book for me are one, the title. The Patty Hearst reference not only was not the true focus, it also felt forced in many places. Two, the childhood life in the cottage seemed repetitive. I also felt that selling this as a kidnapping story was not entirely accurate.
Anna Andersen
Jun 04, 2016 Anna Andersen rated it liked it
The book intrigued me and I couldn't put it down!! What a disturbing illness and I wanted to read more about the interesting ways she acted and what was experienced. Scary as a child to experience that and then to have some normalcy after that.. what an adjustment! Great read and sad that some people develop this illness.
Aug 02, 2009 Kess rated it liked it
Shelves: psychology
Found this quick read at the library on Friday and devoured it over the weekend. Although not the best book in history, it was a retreat from the heavier nonfictions I'm currently reading. It is a reality-inspired work of fiction. From a psychology point of view, it is interesting to see mental illness from a child's perspective as well as the toll mental illness takes on families. I only gave it three stars due to the fact that the book promised to focus on her view of "being kidnapped by her p ...more
Jun 26, 2014 Cherie rated it really liked it
I picked up this book due to the title and was a little bit disappointed that it really didn't have much to do with Patty Hearst. This is a wonderful book about a women coming to grips with her mother's schizophrenia.
Feb 23, 2015 Erin rated it it was ok
I'd give it a 2.5. I would have liked it a lot more if the author focused more on her family life. I agree with one of the other reviewers that the book focused too much on friends and not enough on home life.
May 24, 2010 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Trying to understand mental illness, much less live with it or someone else is difficult, to say the least. And to try and do it during a time when psychiatry didn't have the tools, or medication, it has now is even more challenging. I found this book interesting in the author's struggle to understand her mother through the lens of her illness. Most people don't do that because acknowledging mental illness as a chronic condition means that you are challenged to treat it as such, and our society ...more
Sep 23, 2015 GB rated it liked it
So close to being amazing, but since it is a memoir it is lost in what the author wanted to tell, not what the reader wanted to read. Not that you can fault the author for that!
Lisa Mcbroom
Mar 17, 2014 Lisa Mcbroom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book tells of Virginia Hoffman and her younger sister growing up with a mentally ill mother and a father who is in denial of the illness.
Jan 05, 2014 Elaine rated it it was amazing
Not only an astonishing window onto the world of a young girl whose mother slips wildly into schizophrenia (in the early 70s), kidnapping her and her baby sister for a delusional war effort, but an amazingly well-crafted memoir. Built with short, lyrical, yet devastating chapters, Rescuing Patty Hearst remains one of my favorite memoirs. I'm teaching it again this semester.
Aug 17, 2012 Mary rated it really liked it
Recommended to Mary by: This American Life
Very straight forward account of an incredible family situation. I think that is what is so engrossing as Holman just puts it all out there no matter how difficult it must have been to do so. This was the mid-1970's so there was virtually no legal way of getting her mother real, long-term help and welfare of the children just wasn't considered. I think anyone would like this but especially those in the social and medical sciences would find it interesting to see what has changed and what hasn't ...more
Jun 14, 2008 Erin rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Very interesting book by Holman, whose mother was schizophrenic. Focuses mainly on a three year period when Holman, her mother and her sister lived in a cabin in eastern Virginia, preparing for a "secret war". Holman's situation wasn't as bad as I had feared - she went to school, had friends and her father and other relatives were a constant presence. The book didn't try to explain the disease, but merely bore witness to Holman's upbringing. If you are interested in the subject, it's worth a rea ...more
Jan 07, 2009 Anastacia rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir, 2009
I didn't dislike this book at all, but from what I had heard I thought it was going to be more...more. An easy read on a difficult but interesting subject. Read in a day.

Note: Only giving two stars because, while I liked the book, it was just okay for me. I'm not sorry I read it and it wasn't a waste of time, but I probably won't remember it. There needs to be an option for no stars, in my opinion, because two stars makes it seem like this book seem like it was awful, but it wasn't.
Feb 24, 2016 Mirra rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-psa
she had a really enjoyable style of writing and i enjoyed reading this book. I love memoirs, what can I say. The author writes successfully through her eyes of a 9 year old when her mother kidnaps her when a full psychotic episode comes on...and later on as a teenager and an adult trying to make sense of her life and her mother. I picked up the book because I love patty hearst and figured anything that references her is something I can love (not true but ambitious non the less)
Mar 18, 2010 malic rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir
I first heard a section of this book on This American Life, and wrote it down as a must read.

However, the book was pretty disappointing. Each chapter is a short vignette, which i found hard to follow. Not that the book was hard to read, just that a solid narrative never formed. Because the book also lacks deep insight on her childhood and her relationship with her mother, I never felt like I really understood what the family dynamics were like or how it felt for Virginia.
Oct 04, 2010 Sandra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: rory-s-book-club
This was such a sad book. I would have loved to have taken Gingie and her sister to live in my house if i had been her aunt!

Mental diseases are a traumatic illness for all who are involved.

But, I am glad I read this book, it helped me so much to be more tolerant of others because you don't know what their life consists of.

Thanks Virginia Holman for sharing your story and thanks to GGirls for putting this in one of your episodes to make me curious about it!
Elizabeth Rose
Jul 31, 2012 Elizabeth Rose rated it really liked it
Shelves: bio-and-history
As the author notes in her novel, people who suffer from schizophrenia usually exhibit symptoms before they have children. That makes this novel all the more insightful, as the author shares her unique experience of living with her schizophrenic mother. Each short chapter alternates in moments in time as Holman shares anecdotes from the past and reflections from different moments in her life. The story is tragic and honest and heartfelt. Highly recommended.
Feb 27, 2010 Lisa rated it liked it
Recommended to Lisa by: book club
Shelves: biography-memoir
This easy to read book has nothing to do with Patty Hearst, so don't let the title fool you. This is the story of a family with a severely mentally ill mother told from the perspective of the daughter. It is somewhat reminiscent of The Glass Castle, but less compelling, shorter, and not as well written. The setting is Tidewater area of Virginia, which I found very interesting because I have lived in that area--although not in a cabin.
Jul 08, 2009 Jane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ms. Holman writes of her life with her mother who has schizophrenia in Rescuing Patty Hearst. She presents a brutally honest and painful look into the effect of severe mental illness on her family. It is heartbreaking, yet true. An excellent book for any family member of someone with mental illness. Although Ms. Holman's story is more tragic than most, it captures the anger, pain, guilt, love, and compassion that a family member endures.
Nov 07, 2011 Kristen rated it it was amazing
WOW. What an interesting experience, albeit eye opening. Virginia Holman reflects on her own mother's schizophrenic episodes and the effect they had on her and her younger sister, being kidnapped and raised under the delusion their mother built for her self and pulled her children into. i love Holman's reflections on the experience and use of her letters to her mother, this piece is a very heavy read, but a recommended one.
Mar 01, 2014 J. rated it really liked it
Virginia Holman's memoir about her mother's schizophrenic decline in the late 70s uses flashback and flashforward to show the long-term fallout of mental illness. Child Virginia is understandably confused by her mother's fantastical and fanatical delusions as well as the helplessness of the other adults in their lives including long suffering Dad and well-meaning Aunt Lisa. A quick lyrical read but not a light one.
Jul 11, 2013 Juliette rated it really liked it
A beautifully written crazy-mom memoir, reminiscent of Mary Karr and Jeanette Walls. There is brutal honesty, forgiveness and lovely prose in this memoir-and it doesn't read like a guts & warts tell all. I am surprised this memoir wasn't a bigger hit-it's really that well written. Additionally, I love the author's comparisons to and fascination with Patty Hearst/Tania, one of my favorite icons of the 1970s.
Dec 27, 2011 Michelle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not about Patty Hearst-this is one family's story about living and coping with a mother who is schizophrenic. It is daughter and author, Virginia Holman, who tells her family's story. 1974 is the year her mother got ill-the Patty Hearst and Watergate era. I thought the book was intriguing, heartbreaking, devastating, mixed with some humor and lots of love. It had me from the get-go!
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