Patrik Henry Bass of Essence Magazine reviews “Pieces of My Mother” by Melissa Cistaro in The Book Reader.

Generally speaking, seeing the words “Mother” and “Memoir” on a cover usually gives reader’s pause. It mainly boils down to lousy parenting skills, lovely human. Been there. Read that.

So I was taken by surprise at how moved I was reading the endlessly absorbing story “Pieces of My Mother” by Melissa Cistaro.

The book starts with a heartbreaking ending: On a warm summer afternoon, Mikel, Melissa’s mother, packs all of her belongings into her Dodge Dart and leaves her children—two sons and her only daughter—-ages four, five, and six—behind to be raised by their father.

Mikel’s decision, to many of us, is an unthinkable act thought out and executed. And although their mother will visit with her children twice a year throughout much of their awkward adolescence and stormy teenage years, we never quite arrive at why. Why did she abandon her children? We near that answer when the author, now an adult and raising her own children, receives a fateful call during Christmas a few years ago.

Mikel, now living in Olympia, Washington, is dying. Ever the dutiful daughter Cistaro races to get to her mother a final time, before she leaves, forever. It is a powerful moment that is only topped by the author’s discovery of stacks and stacks of letters her mother never mailed. It is in these letters—which thread throughout the narrative—that we receive a full portrait of a brilliant and tortured soul; craving freedom from demons inherited from her own shattered childhood.

Cistaro, who could’ve easily gone the fiction route with this gripping tale, proves a writer to watch. Reading Mikel’s intensely personal letters, you understand where she possibly inherited her talent.