Copyright 2010 Life with Ben. All rights reserved.
LIFE WITH BEN A Story of Friendship and Feathers
By Jessica Hagedorn
Reviewed by Bettie Corbin TuckerMarch 6, 2011As an individual whose home has always been shared with one or more dogs as well as a few cats, I was intrigued and a bit intimidated by the idea of a pet Amazon parrot. Jessica Hagedorn, the author of Life With Ben, becomes the owner of such a pet, and her story is multifaceted as it entertains, informs, and offers help to those who suffer from anxiety and depression. Readers follow her as she leaves her home in Milwaukee to attend college which is about a two-hour drive from her home. From there it is on to graduate school at a university near her home, and finally she begins working as a teacher at a day-care center. The job is a stepping-stone because her goal in going to school was to become a counselor; however, even though she has a master's degree in educational psychology she needs to work under supervision for two years in order to be a licensed counselor. To be truthful, she is confused about where her career will take her, but she knows that with Ben by her side, she can handle the challenges ahead. In reading the above paragraph, readers would have no idea of the struggles that Jessica faced while getting her education--especially before visiting Ben, the Amazon parrot that she saw in a pet store and instantly bonded with. He was different than the other parrots as he sat in the middle of his cage, not playing or making screeching sounds like the others. He was a very shy bird--twitching his head which had yellow and blue feathers splattered across it. He cautiously moved his green body to the corner of the cage so he could get a better look at her. Ben's former owner had passed away so he was in the pet store as he waited for a new home. Jessica and Ben--it was an emotional connection that both of them needed. The stress of college life and being away from home had been difficult for Jessica--she didn't make friends easily and missed her family. After hitting rock bottom, she sought help and it came in the form of psychologists, medication, and her kinship with Ben. It was visiting Ben, the parrot, at the local pet store that gave her the most relief. Of course, she loved all the animals and birds, but she and Ben, with his twitching head, had become inseparable as she visited him at the pet store as often as possible. At the same time she began doing research on the various species of parrots, learning what all would be involved in taking care of them. She knew that adopting a parrot would be a lifetime commitment as they live nearly as long as humans. Jessica desperately wanted to buy Ben and take him home after finishing college; however, it would take some convincing to get her mother to agree. They already had a dog, cat, and a parakeet but an Amazon parrot would be way too much responsibility. But as you readers surely know by now, the mother changed her mind and purchased Ben for Jessica as a graduation gift. Once Ben is finally home, readers will truly appreciate the author's gift of writing as she explains all the happenings as Ben adjusts to his new surroundings. Her description is vivid, and I feel her emotion as she expresses just how much Ben means to her. Some of his antics are very humorous such as when he is in the shower with her, also when he is swooping down on her mother who was just a bit fearful of him in the beginning and, of course, his behavior toward the other family pets. His eating habits are intriguing and Jessica learns how quickly he can destroy a book. There is so much that readers will learn and enjoy about Ben, especially seeing the difference he makes in Jessica's life as she continues to deal with her anxiety and depression. Also, Ben is no longer a shy parrot. Although Jessica advises readers not to purchase a parrot without understanding all the responsibilities involved, I do advise them to purchase a copy of this heartwarming and interesting book. I give it my highest recommendation.Reviewed by Feathered Quill Book ReviewsFebruary 4, 2011A shy orange-winged Amazon parrot with a nervous twitch stands motionless on the center of his perch, in a room full of birds at a pet store. While other birds play and squawk, he does nothing but silently watch the customers walk by him. Brought to the store after his owner passed away, Benvolio (a.k.a. Ben) seems sad and alone. But that all changes the day Jessica Hagedorn walks into the store. Two souls in need of love and understanding, they have an instant connection. Life With Ben is the touching story of how a plucky little parrot pulled his owner out from beneath the almost daily struggle with anxiety attacks. Heading off to college in the Fall of 2002, Jessica found herself with few friends and near constant worry about test scores and papers to write. Taking a hint from her grandfather, a former zookeeper, Jessica sought solace in animals. At first the young college student walked dogs at a nearby shelter, and then, at the suggestion of one of the college psychologists, Jessica headed off to a local pet store. The fish, hamsters, reptiles, rabbits and birds of all sorts helped Jessica deal with the stresses of college life. As Jessica's college career continued, so to did her visits to the pet store. During one visit, she noticed a green parrot sitting quietly in his cage, in sharp contrast to the boisterous birds all around him. "Something about his cautious yet dignified stance on the perch caught my attention, and I found myself kneeling on the tile floor next to his cage and talking softly to him." (pg. 23) While it might seem that Ben would come home with Jessica right away, Jessica first wanted to discover all she could about Amazon parrots. Learning about their demanding behaviors and their tendency to scream, she realized that bringing a parrot into her apartment was irresponsible. When her mother said that their house was also not going to be home to a screeching parrot, Jessica resigned herself to playing with the bird until he was sold. Fortunately, no other customers were interested in Ben, and after spending months at the store, a blizzard and a loving mother come together to bring Ben into Jessica's life. The bulk of Life With Ben focuses on the bond that Jessica and Ben build as Jessica learns to live with a demanding, opinionated, but loving parrot. There is much humor in this book as Ben learns about his new home and dealing with things such as the family dog and cat. Always a clever little parrot, Ben liked to keep the household guessing at what his next action might be. For example, Ben seemed to sense Mrs. Hagedorn's fear of flying birds and one day swooped and hovered over her as she dropped to the floor. Leaving his owner in hysterics, he continued his silly ways and continued to wiggle himself into her heart. Ben also learned to get along with (sort of) Jack, the family's little budgie and how to properly greet ants as they marched across the dining room floor. Although this book tells the tale of Jessica's love of Ben and their daily exploits, it is really the story of a young woman's struggle with anxiety and depression and how a feathered friend rescued her. Never sad, the author doesn't wallow in her misfortunes but rather looks for the positives in her life. While the writing is at times a bit clunky, "Just like Ben, I did not deal well with change either..." (pg. 91), the story is well worth reading, particularly for those with a love for birds. Quill says: Parrot owners will see their bird's silly quirks in Ben while those considering life with a parrot would be well advised to read this book to see just what living with a parrot is really like.