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While You Were Out by Meg Kissinger

While You Were Out

by Meg Kissinger

Quick take

An equal parts moving and dark-humored evocation of mental illness and the ways it can root itself into a family tree.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SocialIssues

    Social issues

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_FamilyDrama

    Family drama

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SuburbanDrama

    Suburban drama

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_NoQuotationMarks

    No quotation marks


Growing up in the 1960s in the suburbs of Chicago, Meg Kissinger’s family seemed to live a charmed life. With eight kids and two loving parents, the Kissingers radiated a warm, boisterous energy. Whether they were spending summer days on the shores of Lake Michigan, barreling down the ski slopes, or navigating the trials of their Catholic school, the Kissingers always knew how to live large and play hard.

But behind closed doors, a harsher reality was unfolding—a heavily medicated mother hospitalized for anxiety and depression, a manic father prone to violence, and children in the throes of bipolar disorder and depression, two of whom would take their own lives. Through it all, the Kissingers faced the world with their signature dark humor and the unspoken family rule: never talk about it.

While You Were Out begins as the personal story of one family’s struggles then opens outward, as Kissinger details how childhood tragedy catalyzed a journalism career focused on exposing our country’s flawed mental health care. Combining the intimacy of memoir with the rigor of investigative reporting, the book explores the consequences of shame, the havoc of botched public policy, and the hope offered by new treatment strategies.

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Content warning

This book contains scenes that depict suicide and child abuse.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of While You Were Out.

Why I love it

There’s something about a book that completely entrances you, making the rest of the world fall away for the time you’re reading it. With Meg Kissinger’s memoir While You Were Out, that’s exactly what happened to me. I read this powerful story in one sitting, cover to cover, and barely felt the time pass.

While You Were Out tells the story of the Kissinger family: one rarely rooted in physical location, but always in each other. Kissinger expertly brings her family members to life—you can feel the chaotic energy of her large family bursting from the page. Whether in the suburbs of Chicago or Connecticut, the eight Kissinger children and their parents seemed, from the outside, to live in a state of constant excitement and contentment. Secretly, though, they lived surrounded by unspoken alcoholism, suicide, and hospitalizations. Through the ups and downs of growing up in the throes of mental illness, Meg’s signature humor still shines through, making you feel a part of her family, as if you’re hearing this story be told across a kitchen table. Later, Kissinger’s childhood experiences led her into a journalism career, which gave her a platform to confront her past and dig deep into the issues of the United States’ mental health care.

While You Were Out is both an intimate story and daring exposé of where public policy has failed our most vulnerable. And while often gut-wrenching, Kissinger’s beautiful writing and journalistic flair make it a singular and important read.

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Member ratings (971)

  • Marcy F.

    Perkasie , PA

    Heartbreaking and at times achingly hard to turn the pages. However, the author pens an incredible memoir that leaves room for hope. A must read for anyone who has a family history of mental illness.

  • Debra L.

    Apex, NC

    Well-written and informative memoir about mental illness and suicide. It was difficult for me to read because my son was a victim of mental illness and suicide. The author is tells it like it is. Sad.

  • Stephanie W.

    Hope Mills , NC

    This was emotional. It talked about a family that dealt with mental illness. They lost two siblings with mental illness. There were six siblings left and one of them, Meg, came out told their story.

  • Jodi F.

    Chicago, IL

    Heartbreaking. Sibling guilt never goes away but it does get easier over time. I grew up in the same time and place as the author. There was so much that I could relate to. Her work is incredible.

  • joan l.

    castaic, CA

    This is a book we all need to read. It’s heartbreaking and funny. She is honest and openly writes about her family and their struggles. The lack of mental health care still major issue today.