Midwest Book Review

Ginny East Shaddock

Author - Writing Teacher

Author Ginny East and her husband packed up kids and home and left a secure business to move back to the land in Georgia, choosing a simpler lifestyle over high-priced success. Their move mirrors many, and My Million-Dollar Donkey joins others in following this journey; but unlike any other stories, the sojourn isn't without its emotional, spiritual, and lasting values impacts.

"When some people go through a midlife crisis, they buy a Porsche. Me? I bought a donkey. That probably says something about my personality, but I'd be afraid to find out exactly what. I suppose a girl should expect a touch of disillusionment if she's foolish enough to choose an ass as her life mascot."

Not everyone has a million dollars in the bank from 'cashing out' yet chooses an austere lifestyle; and while the theme of a midlife crisis prompting vast changes and previously-undisclosed dreams is a common one; the compelling piece of any story lies in how it's carried out, presented, and spun - and My Million-Dollar Donkey is truly a donkey of another color.

Chapters are often hilarious and fun to read. They present the emotional seriousness of leaving a consumer-centric American middle class dream for the sake of realigning values with a tongue-in-cheek sense of joie de vivre that is punctuated by Donkey's observations: "Donkey let out a loud bellow as if to add his pro-horse vote to the conversation."

What at first feels like luck and inevitability as a series of efforts falls into place quickly comes to feel like something more darkly fateful as mistakes are made and the entire family struggles to fit into their new lifestyle and changing relationships.

The more one reads, the more one finds to relate to as Ginny and her kin face challenge after challenge and achieve their dream the hard way: through struggles that alter perceptions and reactions to life and question hard-won values systems. As ideals are examined and mirth punctuates the story line, readers might find themselves reconsidering their own ultimate dreams in life and the road to achieving them - and that's the particularly wonderful aspect of My Million-Dollar Donkey.

It doesn't just entertain or enlighten, but weaves both into a side-splitting and heart-sighing memoir that moves far beyond most "back to the land" sagas to closely examine the heart of what changes make a difference in lives and how they are instigated and absorbed in unexpected ways. If these ways ultimately lead to separation, they also open the door to new beginnings. So be forewarned: My Million-Dollar Donkey holds the potential to make readers cry, at different points, as much as laugh.

Happy endings aren't always alike, and thus the story line becomes bittersweet, because dreams changed in a partnership or family structure don't always result in unity and light. Readers who enjoy memoirs, stories of lifestyle changes and strife, and a healthy dose of humor to bind all together won't just relish My Million-Dollar Donkey - they'll see it as a standout in its genre and one which offers a simple message: "There are no limits in life, if you just believe."

Diane C. Donovan, Senior Reviewer