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From the book, we realize that when Stephanie Cassatly was eighteen years old, her mother was shot and killed in a convenience store robbery in New Orleans; changing every preconceived notion she had about the world and what it meant to feel safe. Twenty years later, she found her mother’s killer and forgave him, just before he died in the notorious Angola State Penitentiary. It was then that she realized she had been as much of a prisoner as he had been. With searing honesty that will make readers’ hearts both ache and sing; Notice of Release chronicles her traumatic and at times dangerous childhood as an expatriate in South America, her shift from grieving college student to high-powered ad-executive, and how she reconciled her deep connection to her own children with her fear of being taken prematurely from them. In this memoir, she proves that shedding the weight of the past can unlock a brave and beautiful future, and comes to see that finding and forgiving her mother’s killer is ultimately a journey to find herself.
This book is more than an engaging memoir of a daughter’s life journey to forgive her mother’s killer. It is also a beautifully written story, chronicling a journey of self-discovery while eloquently describing the complexities of human relationships with an honest examination of how we inadvertently create obstructions to those relationships. Ms. Cassatly connects with the reader from page one and you will find it difficult to put the book down. A great selection for book clubs as it creates numerous threads of discussion to explore.
Her life changed forever nearly 40 years ago when her mother was murdered in a New Orleans liquor store. Eighteen-year-old Stephanie Cassatly was about to graduate from Emory University in Atlanta with a bachelor’s degree in business when aunt Joy and brother Stephen showed up at her dorm to deliver the news. “It was a big shock,” Cassatly says. “It’s still like being in a dark cave when I talk about it.” Yet she talks about it a lot. The Jupiter resident recently wrote a memoir documenting the senseless crime, and now she speaks publicly of her journey to forgive the killer. “I forgave him in 2000,” Cassatly says of Charles Hodges, the man who was sentenced to life in prison at the infamous Louisiana State Penitentiary. Notice of Release takes readers through the halls of the maximum-security facility she visited as part of her research. Chapter 30 describes her act of forgiveness, which began when a piece of paper fell to the floor as she was paging through a file folder. On it was the number of the prison chaplain. “On impulse, just out of the blue, I picked up the phone and called,” Cassatly says. Father Joel LeBauve answered. “I’m calling to inquire about one of your inmates who killed my mother 20 years ago,” Cassatly said. “Let me ask you, what is it you want to accomplish?” LeBauve asked. “I’m considering… Thinking about trying to find a way to forgive him, but I don’t know if I can,” Cassatly answered. LeBauve relayed the message to Hodges, who was wheelchair-bound with a terminal illness. “I’m struck by your timing, my dear,” LeBauve said. “That over a 20-year period, you call now.” Cassatly, sitting in her living room overlooking the Loxahatchee River, remembers the moment she received the certified piece of mail notifying her of Hodges’ death. “I’m standing in the driveway, holding this letter to my chest, thinking, ‘He had been released, and I had been released,’” she says. “I said, ‘That’s going to be the name of the book.’” The 57-year-old wife and mother started out writing Notice of Release for her daughters. “I hadn’t really told them the whole story,” Cassatly says. The undertaking involved not only visiting the prison but also poring through pages of court documents and contacting Hodges’ family. “After I forgave him, I realized, ‘Wow, something big just happened here,” Cassatly says. “It was like someone changed the dial on my radio.” She shelved her bachelor’s degree and earned a master’s in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Letting her fingers loose on her laptop has become a passion and priority. “I feel like it’s the only way I can make sense of my own life,” Cassatly says. “It’s like an anchor.”
A story of love and forgiveness that sends a powerful message Regardless if one has lost a loved one in a brutal tragedy as Stephanie Cassatly did, this book sends a message that can and does apply to all people who have been fearful of the foibles of everyday life that can influence our ability to live fully and experience joy and love. This is a book of great courage and strength written apparently by a person who is authentic and real. It is also a book that makes you feel like you are actually living the experiences described as opposed to a passive read based upon Cassatly’s skills to honestly, authentically and fully tell her story. The book sends a powerful message that life can be lived fully if we have the strength to embrace it with forgiveness being the key. It may make you cry as I did or at some points laugh because it is so real. It also may make you think about your precious memories of loved ones and the premise that the person holding anger and hurt is doing damage to themselves and can be released if allowed.
A memoir that reads like a novel, it is brilliantly written since grabs on to your heart and does not let it go. I would be lying if I did not say that I shed more than a few tears. It is impossible not to become emotionally involved, this story is remarkable and intimately told. In some ways it’s like I know Stephanie better than people that have been in my life for many years. She is that good. This book is certainly about Stephanie’s journey and forgiveness, but so much more. It delicately discusses complicated family challenges, love, relationship struggles and flawed human beings. It is about compassion. It does not preach but leaves you with a joyful feeling that there is something out there greater than us. I look forward to sharing and discussing with my book club friends.
“Could you forgive your mother’s killer?” Don’t let this compelling hook fool you: This is a multi-layered memoir with so much heart; you’ll find yourself rooting for the author as she moves through the jolting process of forgiving her mother’s murderer. Her complicated family dynamic, including her mother’s family’s attempts to shield her from the details of the tragedy until she was old enough to absorb it properly, is so well written; you’ll find yourself admiring Cassatly for more than her ability to forgive the unforgivable, but for her ability to write so candidly and unabashedly about her own life, warts and all. No matter who you are and what you’ve been through, you’ll find something in this story that speaks to you.
Notice of Release explores the boundaries of grief and, just as importantly, forgiveness ultimately finding common ground between the two. Cassatly untangles the threads of the actions of the man who killed her mother, revealing connections to family dynamics, culture, class, and identity. Any good book about death is reminding the reader about the nature of mortality. Notice of Release combines the certainty of death with the uncertainty of forgiveness. Cassatly travels a great emotional distance to find empathy, and her journey is all the more powerful for that. This is a beautiful, very human book. Stephanie Cassatly’s redemptive memoir is a great gift to humanity. Chronicling her mother’s life and death and the progression of her own forgiving heart, the book moves from capsizing grief to a place of hope, healing and strength; this compelling transformative narrative is important reading for anyone seeking to make meaning out of trauma, deal with unresolved pain or simply better understand the healing power of forgiveness.
In summary, Stephanie Cassatly’s Notice of Release is a memoir that reads like a novel, and it will touch you deeply. As she has learned, she will then teach you to search for the innocent in people, even those who’ve done the worst possible deed; that you’re much stronger and more resilient than you think you are; that you have reserves of courage that you aren’t aware of; that when you forgive, you set yourself free. I strongly felt every emotion that Stephanie conveyed; I could picture nearly every scene. Her descriptions are vivid even as her writing is soothing and succinct. There’s power in this book…the power of events from our parents’ pasts in shaping our lives, the power of the spirit in all of us to repair their damage and our own, and the powerful healing of one of life’s hardest lessons, forgiving.
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