At the midpoint of her life, after numerous experiences that had left her with a tough facade and an emptiness inside, Beverly Donofrio seemingly stumbled onto her quest for “Mary,” the mother who could love unconditionally, and who could teach her to be a better mother for her grown son Jason.

Love had disappointed her over and over, and because she had become a mother herself at seventeen, when she had never wanted to be a mother at all, the road to finding love, and ultimately discovering herself, had been a long, futile, and winding one.

Somewhat serendipitously, the journey began when she found an old framed postcard of the Virgin Mary at a yard sale. Her “kitschy” collection grew into something of a shrine until one day, the search expanded, leading her on a pilgrimage, beginning in the Bosnian holy city of Medjugorje and ending in Mexico.

My favorite parts of this story were the “flashbacks,” in which we learned more about the author and her life leading up to this point in time. I had read parts of that story in her first book, Riding in Cars with Boys: Confessions of a Bad Girl Who Makes Good, and could relate to this rebellious girl who persisted in following her dreams, despite the obstacles along the way. It seems completely normal to want more than a life as a teen wife and mother, and feeling trapped and frustrated would be a natural consequence. I liked how she persisted toward her dream, and the fact that she afterward realized that she might have “neglected” her son along the way makes her human and flawed, like the rest of us. Her overwhelming guilt was a by-product of how she grew up. Searching for something to appease the guilt seems logical and inevitable.

Looking for Mary: (Or, the Blessed Mother and Me) (Compass) is Donofrio’s story of that journey, complete with flashbacks of the life that led her on the quest, and how she ultimately transformed that life from darkness into light. Four stars.

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