Chrysta Bilton’s magnetic, larger-than-life mother, Debra, yearned to have a child, but as a single gay woman in 1980s California, she had few options. Until one day, while getting her hair done in a Beverly Hills salon, she met a man and instantly knew he was the one she’d been looking for. Beautiful, athletic, artistic, and from a well-to-do family, Jeffrey Harrison appeared to be Debra’s ideal sperm donor. It wasn’t until Chrysta was a young adult that she discovered just how much her parents had hidden from their daughters—and each other—including a shocking revelation with far-reaching consequences not only for Debra, Chrysta, and her sister, but for dozens and possibly hundreds of unsuspecting families across the country.
The book takes time to find its footing ... Although Bilton says the book is based in part on written records, conversations and photographs, some aspects of Debra’s story seem implausible. Debra catalogs a long list of celebrity lovers and claims her rebuff of a sexual advance by Mick Jagger inspired one of rock’s most famous lyrics, a fact unconfirmed by music historians ... Bilton says she checked the facts of her memoir 'where I could.' Yet she makes some basic errors ... These oversights are regrettable, because when Bilton writes about her own experiences, away from the shadow of her mercurial mother, she shines a much-needed light on the impact of the secretive, unregulated world of sperm donations ... Bilton feels betrayed by her mother’s half-truths and her father’s broken promise, but stops short of examining the highly profitable, largely unregulated fertility industry that allowed a single man to father at least 35 siblings.
[Debra's] antics are described with deadpan humour and a wonderfully brisk pace ... The cast of characters that inhabited their lives could each be the subject of their own book ... shocking stuff, handled gracefully ... At this point I would have liked to have heard more of Bilton’s interior world, but the fallout is reported rather than examined ... After ten years of keeping her distance, Bilton, now 37, opened the door to 35 siblings, inviting them into her house, which she shares with her husband and two children. A string of people turned up in her living room with the same feet, dimples and propensity to leave phones uncharged, but this felt bland compared with what had come before. Which is why I am glad the book ends with her mother, now sober and a devoted grandmother, somehow on 'first name terms with Kamala Harris' and still wearing bright red lips and nails ... This beautiful, warm, funny book is a testament to human resilience, forgiveness and humour. It is also a love letter to an extraordinary mother.