Review: Part of My World

I thought I already knew everything there was to know about Jodi Benson, the iconic voice of my favorite Disney character, Ariel, from The Little Mermaid. When I found out she was releasing an autobiography, I expected it to contain the same stories I'd already heard in interviews, live performances, and word of mouth. As it turns out, I was wrong. Part of My World: What I've learned from The Little Mermaid about love, faith, and finding my voice is an intimate and revealing account of everything that went on behind the scenes of Jodi's life, and not all of it is pretty. This book humanizes this smiling upbeat role model for princess fans and musical theater ingenues and shows us that she is a real person with real problems just like everyone else. Reading Part of My World made me feel closer to Jodi Benson than I ever have, even after meeting her in person. I highly recommend this book to all fans of musical theater and animation.

Part of My World: What I’ve learned from The Little Mermaid about love, faith, and finding my voice by Jodi Benson

Part of My World was like catching up with an old friend. I knew all the names, events, and locations recounted in the book, but I didn't know how they were all connected or the struggles that went on behind the scenes. For instance, even though I had met Paige O'Hara, the voice of Disney's Belle, who wrote the book's foreword, and knew that she and Jodi were friends, I did not know that they met before getting hired by Disney or that Jodi had been pushing for Paige to get cast as Belle. Prior to her role as Ariel, I knew that Jodi had performed in a short-lived musical called Smile and sang a beautiful song called "Disneyland." I did not know that the musical was staged at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, where I would see the Broadway production of The Little Mermaid years later, or that Jodi had formed a strong relationship with Howard Ashman through that show that caused him to request her for the role of Ariel and help her find the nuances to make her work better for animation. It's a well-known fact that Jodi is married and has two children, but I had no idea she met her husband by performing the song "Tonight" from West Side Story in a theater group, impressing their future colleagues.

While Jodi is an upbeat and positive person, she does not stray from the hardships of reality in her book, something that left me feeling satisfied because I knew it wasn't the "Disneyfied" version of her life. In fact, the book itself has nothing to do with Disney. It was released by Tyndale, a Christian publisher that had been bugging her to release a book with them for a while. Jodi has always been a devout Christian, but it felt like the book followed certain protocols that were too routine to be natural, such as a call to action at the end of every chapter about believing in God and a large number of quotes from the bible. As a non-Christian, most of these things didn't bother me with the exception of one rather disturbing chapter where Jodi describes becoming physically ill after being coerced into converting to her future husband's denomination and being told that it was her body trying to fight off evil spirits. Regardless, I knew this book was written from Jodi's heart because she has always been very serious about her religious beliefs.

Though the book has a positive overall message, almost every chapter described an event that caused Jodi to question her faith, and it was these moments where I felt like I got to know the real Jodi Benson. I was surprised to learn that she had a rocky relationship with her husband, nearly breaking up twice, and suffered a miscarriage before giving birth to each of her two children, McKinley and Delaney, who she regularly dotes upon on social media. It was also eye-opening to read such candid descriptions of the life of a struggling actor. I don't have a lot of experience with acting, myself, but I know some people in the industry and am very much aware of the cutthroat lifestyle of surviving from audition to audition, never knowing where your next paycheck will come from. Even though Jodi has had an immensely successful career and later had people calling and begging her to come to auditions, she reached that point by surviving in a tiny New York City apartment with her husband on a shoestring budget turning down ensemble roles in the hopes she might make it big one day. As a fan of shows like Smash, I appreciated this honest account of show business. I loved that every chapter in the book was named after a song lyric or line from a movie, almost all of which I was able to identify immediately!

After all these years of loving and relating to Ariel, Part of My World gave me a chance to love and relate to Jodi Benson on an entirely different level. I was only a child when The Little Mermaid came out, so I was able to appreciate the fantasy and wonder of the fairy tale. Now, as an adult, I am able to appreciate the struggles and realities of Jodi's actual life. Maybe it's not a fairy tale like the stories she's played it, but I have a great deal of admiration for this woman who overcame so many obstacles and remained faithful even when everything seemed hopeless. If you were on the fence about reading this book like I was when it was first announced, I can assure you that it is worth every penny. This is a complete recounting of the life of an actress, mother, and Christian with nothing held back.

Comments

Sugar said…
Wow, I didn't know I shared beliefs with this actress...sounds like a good book.
By the way, I wanted to ask you, do you like webtoons? (free online color comics) I have seen several with elements of fairy tales "The house of stars" is finished.
Lisa Dawn said…
Thanks! I read them occasionally, but I get frustrated having to wait a week or longer between chapters.
jar1234 said…
I loved your review of Jodi Benson's book. It sounds like she had a most interesting life!

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