The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio introduces Evelyn Ryan, an enterprising woman who kept poverty at bay with wit, poetry, and perfect prose during the "contest era" of the 1950s and 1960s. Evelyn's winning ways defied the church, her alcoholic husband, and antiquated views of housewives. Graced with a rare appreciation for life's inherent hilarity, Evelyn turned every financial challenge into an opportunity for fun and profit. The story of this irrepressible woman is told by her daughter Terry with an infectious joy that shows how a winning spirit will always triumph over poverty. (Amazon)
Reviewed by Julie, Children's lit enthusiast and pop culture geek
Terry Ryan recounts her childhood as the daughter of "THE PRIZE WINNER OF DEFIANCE, OHIO." In the "contest era" of the 1950s and 60s, Evelyn Ryan combated poverty by entering competitions. Writing jingles, slogans, and ads, Evelyn used her wit and talent to turn every opportunity into a chance for success.
This thoroughly charming memoir is told with equal parts humor and bittersweet nostalgia. Terry Ryan does a wonderful job emphasizing the life, talents, and lessons of her mother, Evelyn Ryan. Ryan's determination and passion for everything she did in life (even if it made her seem "too happy") are inspiring and amazing. For instance, one year, Ryan "earns" Christmas presents for 10 children--all through
contest winnings! In a time when women were not expected to be breadwinners, Evelyn Ryan seemed to represent the impossible. It is also impossible not to love the way Terry Ryan portrays her mother. Near the end of the memoir, I couldn't hold back my tears, which I think is a testament to how touching and real her story is.
I particularly like the humor of this novel. (I loved a scene in
which the author is left to care for her siblings--and has to deal with an overflowing bathtub, a mattress set aflame, and a cat who opens doors and enters the home repeatedly and without shame). Also, I appreciate the role of Terry's father, Kelly. She portrays his alcoholism in a very fair way: she doesn't gloss over the bad parts, nor does he portray him as a villain. The result is thoroughly enjoyable and relatable memoir that any member of the Ryan family can be proud of.
Market: Adult nonfiction, memoir
Adult Themes: Family relationships, alcoholism, financial hardship