Review by Maria Duarte
Surviving the Odd by Candi Milo is about the journey of life: this thing we are all trying to figure out, that escapes us while we are living it, but we can only look at it once it has become the past. Surviving the Odd is a memoir that is not just about life, though, but also about surviving childhood, the decisions made by parents, and about Candi Milo finding her own path.
This book engages the reader not only by keeping us on our toes, but also by making us question the decisions taken by Candi’s family, specifically her father Tony Milo. Are people really capable of such decisions? There is a certain alure of reading something that appears impossible or unbelievable. But the reality of each scene is brought to life by the detailed description and honest emotion.
The book concentrates on the Milo family, which struggles with financial woes, and the reader is taken on a journey through the eyes of Candi Milo. While all children see their childhood differently, we are presented with a journey in which Candi’s father, Tony Milo, decides to establish a metal health halfway house for individuals who experience mental health problems. It is through this unusual situation that we find Candi trying to live life as normally as possible.
We try to survive by any means necessary, to keep bringing food to the table and support our families, sometimes those decisions take us to unexpected places. We try to make decisions to keep moving forward, and to make something better out of what we were given. This is what I believe Tony Milo was trying to do, which people can respond to by either bashing him for not doing a better job as the head of the family or praising him for taking a challenge and never giving up.
Tony Milo on his deathbed said, “I did the best I could,” and that is all we can hope to do while we are living. It is apparent through Surviving the Odd that there is no road map to navigate this life and we are all trying to have a purpose. Sometimes the decisions we make can be seen out of the box or unexpected or inadequate, but we are always where we are supposed to be. Tony Milo entered the world of mental health care without really thinking about the consequences of caring for people that could not take care of themselves, but at the end it was all about his family—and “his boys.” Through hardships we learn who we are, through living life, whatever that life looks like, we learn what we are capable of. It took Candi a while to understand her father and the decisions he made.
It took me a good while to realize that even though this memoir was about Candi Milo and the life that she lived with the decisions her parents made, at the end, this book is also about being human, about treating each other with compassion, with respect, and with dignity—about finding our own path no matter where we come from.
Maria Duarte is a poet and writer who received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of California, Riverside—Palm Desert. She has published poems in Verdad Magazine from Long Beach City College and in the anthology The Good Grief Journal: A Journey Toward Healing. She is currently the poetry editor for Kelp Journal.