Shawn Underwood ’79
Five-Star Misadventures, 2010

Don’t have enough money to travel to Europe? Sit down with this humorous memoir by Shawn Underwood and it’s easy to take an imaginary journey to France with Shawn and her family. Shawn and her husband Craig made the decision to live abroad in France for a year with their three children.  Shawn’s sister, Shannon, her husband Rick, and their three children also joined the Underwoods in their experience abroad, and appear often in Shawn’s accounts of day-to-day life in southern France.

Made up of segments with titles such as “More Line Challenges and Language Difficulties,” and “I Still Hate Horses” to “French-Sized Kindling” and “Tennis Torture,” the book relates the various adventures of the Underwood family.  Short observations by Craig and Shannon also add a different, humorous perspective of the events as they occurred. Who knew that trying to accomplish simple tasks such as riding a bike, going to the grocery store, or baking a cake in a foreign country could be so challenging?  With Craig using hand signs to communicate, and Shawn’s less-than-fluent language skills, the two families learn (often the hard way) that life in France is very different than life in the United States.

This memoir obviously falls in the category of “light reading,” and the illustrations scattered throughout the book add to the humorous mood and an artistic touch.  However, readers looking for a more realistic glimpse into the culture and daily life of France might not feel completely satisfied by this book. At times the memoir presents the French people in a slightly negative light, though Underwood admits at the end of her book that “Occasionally bashing the French and their customs served as good humor around the dinner table but the French for the most part were generous, warm people.” And, while Shawn’s trouble with communicating in French is often très amusant, it seems slightly ridiculous that after spending extensive time in another country, the two families are still at a French 101 language level.

The book falls neatly into its predetermined classification of “travel/humor,” as indicated on the back cover, and it tells an interesting story of a family who is not at all prepared for life in France.  The message to readers interested in travel abroad is that it might be tricky getting accustomed to living in a different country, but one should always approach miscommunications and mishaps with a sense of humor.