Book review by Julia Ammon
In her debut book Out With It, Katherine Preston gives a refreshingly honest memoir of her journey of living with a stammer, how she found her voice and changed her life forever, cleverly weaved with information and quotes gathered through interviews with celebrities, researchers and ordinary people who stammer.
The book is separated into two sections, the first taking the reader on a journey through Katherine's childhood. She tells of how she devised cunning plans to stop her stammer and gives vivid descriptions of how stammering felt as a 10 year-old. She describes her first experiences of therapy and how family friends would give so-called 'advice'. These experiences all struck a chord with me, and I believe will do with many others who stammer. But beyond that, they give a new perspective to those who are unfamiliar with this complex condition.
When describing her teenage years, Katherine touches on perfectionism, denial and the competitive drive to move away from stammering. I could relate to all of those, always feeling the internal pressure to be better in other areas to compensate. Katherine vividly tells of her typically awkward teenage experiences, from chatting with her friends after class and never being able to get the timing of a funny story spot on, to the art of flirting. Here Katherine offers realism to the female stammering experience which I don't think has been expressed in words so eloquently before.
The memoir shifts, half-way through, from being merely a perspective on the individual experience, to a journey of self-acceptance. Katherine tells of her baptism of fire during a journalism internship and how she shifted careers to a somewhat safer option, a point after which everything unravelled with her speech. She relives a crisis moment in her stammering journey: a simple phone call that suddenly spiralled into panic, resulting in Katherine in tears in the office toilet, raw with emotion and realisation that her stammer was an unaddressed issue in her life. This acts as a catalyst for the starting point of her journey for self-acceptance, a quest for answers.
The second section explains how Katherine handed in her notice and went off to travel around America, interviewing people who stammer including celebrities like Emily Blunt, and shares their stories. She gives a voice to a qualified psychologist who works as a cleaner simply because taking the oral section of her practicing exam is too much to bear; the professional who was told after 18 years climbing the corporate ladder that he wasn't promoted because of his stammer; and of the nurse whose compassion was heightened by her understanding of suffering from her experiences of stammering.
The last few chapters tell of how Katherine found love in the most unlikely of places and the challenges that being in a relationship with another person who stammers can bring. She talks about her struggle with being open about her stammer, culminating in a climax where she finally addresses the topic of stammering with her parents; a touching scene that I am sure will touch the hearts of all readers.
Out With It is a unique book and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who stammers, knows someone who stammers, or simply wants to know more about this often misunderstood condition. It made me laugh out loud, gave me deep positive revelations about the stammering experience, and simply made me appreciate the journey a little bit more.
Out With It is published by Simon & Schuster UK and is available to buy from www.amazon.co.uk.
From the Spring 2013 issue of 'Speaking Out', page 20