Building a Life and a House





by Fran Withrow
If you tossed me some tools and told me to build a two-story house, using a crew of three teenagers and a small child, I would laugh in your face and say, “Impossible!”


But that was before I came across Cara Brookins, a strong and capable woman who decides to build her own house after leaving her husband. Reading her story is an inspiration to women everywhere who think they can’t rise above their circumstances, follow a dream, wield a hammer.


Or construct a home.


Brookins, along with her four children, leaves a horrifically abusive marriage, one that leaves her physically and emotionally shattered. Her husband struggles with severe mental illness and the story of how he terrorizes his family is heartbreaking. Brookins decides that building a house with her children will be a means of rebuilding her family, creating their own safe haven as the walls go up and the roof goes on.


The house she and her children choose to build is no little one-room cabin. I kept staring at the two-story home, pictured on the back cover, wondering how on earth she managed to pull it off. Even after I finished the book, I continued to study that picture in astonishment. What an achievement.


Brookins shares all the gritty details, weaving the sad tale of her marriages (she is twice divorced) into the description of her committed struggle to lay foundation blocks, put in windows, and install plumbing. With the help of YouTube videos and occasional support from her parents, Brookins’ many months of determined effort finally pay off. Despite mistakes, injuries and exhaustion, as well as the ever-looming deadline for her bank inspection, Brookins perseveres. “Have I mentioned I’m an optimist?” she queries at one point. Well, yeah, because only an optimist could face a task so daunting and not run quickly in the other direction.


While I found her account of building a house utterly fascinating (pictures are included and I spent a long time studying them), equally gripping is Brookins’ narrative of dealing with her second husband and his mental illness. Chapters alternate: “Rise” chapters focus on house construction, while “Fall” chapters discuss her marriages. As heroic as Brookins is, I was equally impressed by her children, who manage their schoolwork while spending nights and weekends doing this difficult manual labor. I found it uplifting to watch how the children grow stronger in every way as the house takes shape. Particularly compelling to me is the transformation of her son, Drew, who does a lot of the heavy lifting, using a nail gun with increasing prowess and gaining confidence and self-assurance along the way.


Ultimately, of course, this book is not about building a house. It’s about never giving up, never losing hope, and the power of love to heal a family. Brookins’ story is a testament to what people can do in the face of what seems impossible. Her success will fill you with joy. And you might even be inspired to go out and pick up a hammer.


“Rise: How a House Built a Family”

by Cara Brookins


St. Martin’s Press

320 pages


About CharlesM 269 Articles
North of the James, is an award-winning general interest publication with a regional focus that has been serving the region for over 20 years. North of the James presents business profiles, book and restaurant reviews, a calendar of events, and much more

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