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4.75 stars for Our Lady, Queen of the Highways by @CoonanTim #memoir #roadtrip #comingofage #books

Title: Our Lady, Queen of the Highways

Author: Tim Coonan

Genre: Travel Memoir, Road Trip, Coming of Age

Book Blurb:

Our Lady, Queen of the Highways is a memoir about growing up Catholic in California during the 1960s and 1970s, told through recollection of cross-country driving trips to the Midwest and the East. Each chapter describes a geographic leg of those transcontinental journeys journey, and explores the significance of these places to the family’s growing understanding of this country’s natural and cultural history as well as their Irish-Catholic roots, and ultimately to the author’s own life experiences, many of which occurred in these locales. The family’s route followed the Mother Road, Highway 66, and so the narrative is sprinkled with references to the landmarks of that classic route. Significant stops along the way are given longer treatment: his mother’s upbringing in Illinois; his father’s roots in Massachusetts and time at Notre Dame, where three of the six kids also attended college, and where the author’s dad proposed to his mom. The book ultimately explores the impact of these places and experiences on the author’s professional and personal growth. And as all journeys must come to an end: the book is also a reflection on the nature of the past, on our experiences and memories. Including the paths not taken.

My Review:

Presented as a road trip book, this book is much more than that. This is an ode to a quieter and gentler time. A time when you rode in a car and looked out the window. A time when you did activities and didn't have a phone in your pocket or hand. Reading this book should inspire people to take a chance. Walk out of your home and walk around the block without your phone. Then try to walk another block. Look at the birds, look at the buildings. See other people. This book proves that there is a world outside the tiny screen people are addicted to.

The aside about ‘mailbox baseball’ brings to mind the consequences once suffered. A victim of the practice, tired of paying for destruction, made up a concrete impersonation of his mailbox. The kids came by and swung the bat...the bat shattered and the would-be hitter got two broken wrists and a dislocated shoulder. That is the price of fun that should be paid to many who think breaking things is fun.

The story of the road trips makes for very interesting reading and the reader gets caught up in the travels of the family. A technical issue is the digressions that pop up. When the author digresses and puts in a lengthy part about something 20 or 30 years later, it completely takes the reader out of the story. This style is not conducive to a good flow. This leads to a disjointed feeling in a reader and memoirs need all the help in the world to capture and keep a reader's attention.

Any Notre Dame alum will love this book. Golden Domers unite and buy this book immediately. The true tales of life on the campus at South Bend will just make any alum smile. If you attended another college but thought of life at Notre Dame, then you will enjoy this book too. The stories of tailgating and other collegiate adventures are conveyed in a very readable manner.

A road trip book, a memoir, a tribute to a family. This book is a lot and can be enjoyed for many reasons. A real tribute to the American family of that bygone era of road trips and atlases and maps. Recommended to those who wish to appreciate the old days. Recommended to fans of American family journeys. Perhaps even good for fans of Vacation films.

My Rating: 4.75 stars

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Author Biography:

Tim Coonan was born during the Eisenhower administration and grew up during the 60s and 70s, a fact which greatly influenced his consistent and questionable sense of hair style. He and his twin brother (who became a priest for a while) were the oldest in a large Irish-Catholic family growing up in southern California, from which their family made the epic family station wagon trips retold in this book. Tim’s dad went to Notre Dame, and thus Tim and his siblings grew up as Fighting Irish fans in hostile USC Trojan country, a siege mentality that no doubt affected his decision to leave idyllic southern California for the frozen tundra of northern Indiana, to attend college at Notre Dame (two of his brothers did, as well). Driving home from ND one spring, Tim passed through Flagstaff, Arizona, a Highway 66 town which he fondly remembered from family road trips, and he decided to attend grad school there, at Northern Arizona University, because, well, it was pretty. This led to a love of wildlife, wildlife biology and conservation, and several summers spent as a ranger at Canyon de Chelly National Monument. The rest, as they say, is history. Tim ended up spending 30 years as a wildlife biologist for the National Park Service, chasing bighorn sheep in Death Valley and getting bitten by island foxes in the Channel Islands. In fact, Tim, along with his ex-wife, wrote the definitive (all right, the only) book about that unique and rare endangered species, the island fox of the Channel Islands. Tim now teaches science to impressionable Catholic kids in Ventura, which means he has, ironically, come full circle, being a product of 16 years of Catholic schooling himself. Tim has two grown daughters and lives with a German shepherd and two cats. Tim has spent most of his life trying to be outdoors, and hates wearing shoes, except when hiking (he also wears shoes when teaching).

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Author’s website:

Reviewed by: Mr. N


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