Book Review: The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan

~ Originally posted on my personal blog on February 1, 2006. ~

Title: The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less
Author: Terry Ryan
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from the public library
First line: The ordinarily sleepy town of Defiance, Ohio, emitted an industrious hum on hot days, a subtle pulse of activity – like the buzzing of distant bees.

Goodreads blurb: Evelyn Ryan, wife of an alcoholic husband and mother of ten children, lived in a small town in a time and place when women did not seek jobs outside the home. When finances ran low, feeling desperate, she turned to her parish priest who suggested she “take in laundry.” Ryan had to laugh at the advice because she could barely keep up with her own family’s washing and ironing. A lesser woman might have succumbed to poverty, but she was determined to keep her family financially afloat and to teach her children that the life of the mind was important. In the early 1950s, Ryan started entering contests, composing her jingles, poems, and essays at the ironing board. She won household appliances, bikes, watches, clocks, and, occasionally, cash. She won a freezer, and several weeks later, she won a supermarket shopping-spree. When the family was faced with eviction, she received a $5000 first place check from the regional Western Auto Store. Ryan’s unconventionality and sense of humor triumphed over poverty, and her persistence makes the reader cheer her on.

I googled the title to make sure there weren’t any controversies brewing about it’s truthfulness and I didn’t find any. Not that I was surprised. In the acknowledgements, Ms. Ryan thanks all of her brothers and sisters – nine of them – for help in fact-checking and memory remembering. And this book wasn’t written with the intention of glorifying the author. This book is a love letter to the author’s mother.

Evelyn Ryan, the prizewinner mentioned in the title, lived in a very different world than we do today. It was small-town America, but not today’s small-town America. When I read books like this, I am always amazed at how much society has changed in just the last 50 or 60 years.

Mrs. Ryan lived in a time when spousal abuse and alcoholism was ignored. If the wife dared to speak out about what was happening, the blame was placed on her shoulders. Women were meant to be meek and submissive and keep quiet about their husband’s faults, even if those faults were harming the family.

This woman was a victim, and had every right to curl up in a corner and go to sleep and ignore the world. But she didn’t. She had ten children, and she used her ingenuity and love of words and writing to put food on the table and pay the bills. And win things like TVs, clock radios, cars, and cash. Her husband drank away his paychecks, and yet this family of 12 survived. And the love and gratitude that Terry Ryan feels toward her mother is evident on every page of this book.

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15 Responses to Book Review: The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan

  1. bermudaonion(Kathy)
    Twitter: bermudaonion
    says:

    I read this book years ago and thought it was great too. Evelyn Ryan was a force to be reckoned with!

  2. Laurie C
    Twitter: baystateRA
    says:

    Read this with a book group and loved it! Thanks for reminding me about it. I’ve just read an ARC called Memoir of the Sunday Brunch by Julie Pandl (also from a large family) that is kind of a love letter to her parents, in particular her father, but also her mother, and would probably appeal to readers who liked The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Thanks for the recommendation, Laurie – I’ll have to check that one out!

  3. Ann Holt
    Twitter: mordyth
    says:

    Did you know that the book was made into a movie with Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson in 2005? It’s listed in Leonard Maltin’s book “151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen”.

  4. Ann Holt
    Twitter: mordyth
    says:

    Oh, and on my blog there is a picture of me with a book. Guess what I’m reading?

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Ann – I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I want to. And that’s so cool about the picture of you!

  5. Kathleen says:

    This sounds like a really inspirational read. It is amazing how the family survived through the efforts of such a strong mother!

  6. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread
    says:

    I actually wanted to see this movie. But I really had no idea that it was a true story, or what it was about. I’m re-energized to see if I can get it streaming on Netflix.

  7. Kristi
    Twitter: kristiluvsbooks
    says:

    I read this one quite a few years ago and I really loved it. That mother was so impressive with her tenacity to take care of her family despite what life (or her husband threw at her). You could really see how much Terry Ryan loved and respected her mother. The movie was pretty good.

  8. Beverly S says:

    Thanks for the review of this book. I just found a used copy of it at Amazon for one penny (plus the $3.99 shipping) and ordered it. Can’t wait to read it. Thanks again for hooking me up with a “good” book….now I want to see the movie too (after I read the book). :)

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Beverly – I’m so glad you found a copy – what a great price! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. :)