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Book Review: What the Eyes Don’t See by Mona Hanna-Attisha (4/5)

25 Feb

This was selected as the Great Michigan Read for 2019-2020. Regretfully, our library just now started reading it so we missed a lot of Dr. Mona’s speaking engagements. I’m still very glad we read it, though. I finished this book on Saturday and wrote the review immediately. My book club met Monday to talk about it so I cut things close!

Cover image via Goodreads

What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City by Mona Hanna-Attisha

Summary from Goodreads:

Here is the inspiring story of how Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, alongside a team of researchers, parents, friends, and community leaders, discovered that the children of Flint, Michigan, were being exposed to lead in their tap water–and then battled her own government and a brutal backlash to expose that truth to the world. Paced like a scientific thriller, What the Eyes Don’t See reveals how misguided austerity policies, broken democracy, and callous bureaucratic indifference placed an entire city at risk. And at the center of the story is Dr. Mona herself–an immigrant, doctor, scientist, and mother whose family’s activist roots inspired her pursuit of justice.

What the Eyes Don’t See is a riveting account of a shameful disaster that became a tale of hope, the story of a city on the ropes that came together to fight for justice, self-determination, and the right to build a better world for their–and all of our–children.

This is a story that hits close to home for me. My parents met in Flint when they were attending General Motors Institute (now Kettering University). I visited Flint during the crisis and I’ll admit that I was ignorant of what was going on. I was visiting a friend at Kettering and stayed in the sorority house where she lived. I brushed my teeth with the water because I didn’t know. I was shocked at the number of people buying shopping carts full of bottled water because I didn’t know. My friend filled me in quickly. I’d heard about the lead in the water when the crisis had first broken but I hadn’t put together the lasting impact on the city. Just because the water source was changed back, the crisis didn’t end. It won’t end until all the pipes in the city are changed. It could be years. This book brought all of that home and punched me in the chest with it. I had tears in my eyes at the end.

Dr. Mona portrayed herself in a very relatable way. She admitted that her job as a mother to her two girls suffered while she tackled the crisis. She admitted her feelings of defeat. She shared her fears and guilt. I felt that she didn’t hold much back in her story and I really appreciated that. There was a lot of opportunity in this book for her to show herself as a fearless warrior and to brush her struggles under the rug but I don’t think she did that. I appreciated her truthfulness.

Marc Edwards was the most interesting person in the book. It seemed odd that someone from Virginia would get so involved in the Flint crisis but his jaded feelings from the D.C. Crisis made him the perfect ally for Dr. Mona and her team. I’m still intrigued by a tall conservative Republican in an animal tie taking on the government. He was a great supporter of Dr. Mona and Jenny during their research and after. I wonder how much he could have contributed if he’d lived closer to Flint.

Dr. Mona was an unlikely advocate but she was just what Flint needed. I think that all too often we don’t feel we’re the right people to stand up and say something is wrong or unfair. We don’t think we can stop something or tell people that they’ve acted wrongly. Dr. Mona struggled with those feelings and what she could do to keep her patients safe. I think her bravery is a wonderful example to anyone who doesn’t think their voice matters. Her voice was a change-maker. it wasn’t easy, but she stood up and said it and that made all the difference.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha
Image via the author’s website

The ending felt a bit rushed, but I adored it. The wins that Dr. Mona and her team had were amazing and made huge differences in the lives of Flint children for years. The people who helped her were amazing partners and I felt she gave them appropriate thanks. I could feel her sense of relief that things had worked out and it helped untie a knot of tension in my chest that this book created. I knew it wouldn’t end well, but there were some things I was hoping had happened and thankfully did.

Dr. Mona’s initial struggles were hard to hear about. It was rough to know she had so many roadblocks thrown up in front of her and so many people denying a problem when one existed. There were so many people trying to tear her down and discredit her. It was a huge personal attack that she had to prepare to fight and it would have been hard for anyone to stand up to that wave.

Doing the right thing is not always easy. Miguel del Toral stood up and lost his job. Marc Edwards stood up and was knocked down as disreputable. Dr. Mona knew she’d face something similar and she did. Sometimes it’s hard to say things that are true, no matter how ridiculous that may sound. Some truths are hard to hear and sometimes you still need to say them.

Writer’s Takeaway: Dr. Mona’s honesty shone in this book. She portrayed the good and bad, ugly and beautiful, and every struggle in between. It came through on every page. She was suffering physically and emotionally from the stress of the situation and how she had to fight through it. She wants other advocates to know that it’s not always easy and sometimes, there’s suffering involved. But she shone through. There is a light, though it may be hard to see it.

An uplifting and needed story. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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(Book Review) What the Eyes Don’t See… by Mona Hanna-Attisha | Fourth & Sycamore