St. Louis woman shares her incredible journey
Jean Ellen Whatley's "Off the Leash" is much more than a story about a woman traveling across the country, almost 9,000 miles, with her dog, Libby. It's a true story of a woman, Jean, who after discovering her second husband and father of three of her children was gay and divorcing him — and then attending funerals for her mother and two of her brothers in a short period of time — decided to quit her job, go on a trek and write about it.
This also was after the same ex-husband, a semi-famous newsman and executive at the No. 1 St. Louis television station at the time, had been arrested for a horrendous crime and served time in federal prison.
Her children were grown, she hated her job and she felt like she couldn't breathe. What other choice did she have?
Thus, "Off the Leash," published by St. Louis publisher Blank Slate Press, was born. It is a brutally honest, sometimes hard-to-read — but you have to keep going — portrayal of what happens when a human being just can't take any more.
It's what many people wish they could do once their kids are grown and don't need them as much any more. But most people don't do it — something holds them back. And most people definitely don't write about it for all the world to read.
But the thing you'll learn about Whatley is that she has more courage than most of us could ever hope to have. Her honesty is refreshing. Her faith that all will work out in the end is inspiring — heck, her faith in the kindness of strangers, acquaintances and long-lost family members is rousing. And sometimes, she just cusses like a sailor — it wouldn't be Whatley's book if there weren't a few four-letter colorful words thrown in.
With less than $4,000 to her name and bills and college tuition to pay at home, Whatley set off with Libby to revisit the places of her youth, her young adult life and her married life.
She reconnected with old neighbors and family members, checked in on each of her grown children and found her long-lost brother. She started a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money she needed to continue her journey.
Kickstarter is a website where people can donate money for artists' and writers' projects to help them accomplish their goals. If someone creates a Kickstarter campaign and wants $10,000, even if people pledge to fund $9,999, the artist will not get 1 cent.
On the last day of her campaign, after she had already started her journey, she had enough donations. This is the kind of grit that readers will face page after page after page.
Readers will be shocked at her honesty: There are no coverups. She tells what her ex-husband did to get thrown in the joint.
She reveals her mom's affairs and which of her siblings had different fathers. She uncovers a family secret she kept for many years about her stepfather's sexual abuse. She remembers the awful night that her brother slit his wrists when they were teens.
She lays it all out there for readers to judge or learn from or just experience with her as she treks across the country.
Whatley lives in St. Louis and is busy promoting her book, appearing at several events with Libby by her side. She has a blog and website (http://www.jeanellenwhatley.com), where she shares photos she took along her journey.
Although the troubles Whatley has faced in her life are heavy, she tells her story with humor and grace, and her voice will pull readers right in. "Off the Leash" is a great summer read!
Margo L. Dill is the author of "Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg," a middle grade historical novel. She often reviews books as a columnist for "WOW! Women On Writing" e-zine and her blog, "Margo Dill's Read These Books and Use Them" (http://margodill.com/blog/). She lives in St. Louis with her family.