The way Valerie Biden Owens views it, Growing Up Biden: A Memoir (Celadon Books, 2022), is about the magic of family.
“Yes, my brother is president of the United States, but I think the threads that made up the fabric of our family— commitment, loyalty, love, heartbreak, disappointment and loss—are the same threads that make up many middle-class American families,” Owens says.
On tour to promote her memoir, Owens was recently interviewed by Mika Brzezinski at Mitchell Hall on the University of Delaware campus.
Would the public be as interested in her memoir if the family wasn’t named Biden? It’s hard to say because Owens laces the narrative with an insider’s look at the race to the New Castle County Council, the U.S. Senate and the White House.
In short, there is no separating the Bidens from politics because, as Owens puts it, “We believe that all politics are personal.”
Although Owens has three brothers, she and Joe have shared a bond since she was born, she says. “In various profiles of Joe over the years, I have been called ‘the Biden Whisperer,’ and that isn’t wrong,” she writes in the book. “We can finish each other’s sentences. With just a glance, we know what the other means.”
He trusted the high school teacher to run his campaign for a New Castle County Council seat in 1970. (“When he asked me to help run his campaign, my first reaction was ‘There’s a County Council?’ she writes.)
When he ran for the U.S. Senate, Owens cleverly rallied students to campaign for change. She was 26—young and female in a room often full of men. Owens was unfazed; her brother had treated her like one of the guys since she was a child.
The strategies behind the campaign process make for good reading—Biden started as an underdog. Those years of campaigning in Delaware were good practice for national presidential campaigns. “In many ways, Delaware is a microcosm of America,” she notes. “And in the ’70s, the demographics of the state—from race and gender to socioeconomic status—reflected those of the nation almost to a percentage point.”
Delawareans, however, will appreciate the many references to the places and people in their state. For instance, the Bidens’ first Delaware home was in Brookview Apartments, a working-class development in Claymont.
When the family moved in, the courtyard community was still under construction. However, before the buildings were razed, the community had become crime-infested. The land is now home to Darley Green.
Owens attended Holy Rosary School in a blue uniform from her former school in Scranton.
“As a result, I wasn’t just the girl who came in the middle of the school year, but also the blue girl in a field of green,” she writes in the book. “An awareness of that feeling of being singled out, left out, has always stuck with me.”
Northern Delaware residents will appreciate that she calls Arden a “Sherwood Forest” and mentions the old Pig ’n’ Whistle, a cottage store with everything from penny candy to perfume. She sipped milkshakes at the Charcoal Pit and attended Ursuline Academy wearing a pleated skirt and lace-up Cordovan “clodhoppers.” At the University of Delaware, first-year students wore beanies.
However, the memoir is not all tinged with nostalgia. Owens does not skip over the death of Biden’s first wife, Neilia, and daughter Naomi in a car accident and her motherly role as “Aunt Val” to Biden’s sons, Hunter and Beau, who were injured in the crash. In 2015, Beau died from glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive brain cancer.
While she handles these tragedies with elegance, she is not one to mince words on other pages. Donald Trump is “a bully, pure and simple—a narcissistic, incompetent, and incomplete man.”
The Bidens were on a mission to make Joe the next president, regardless of the gossip. In the ’70s, many voters thought Biden was too young for the Senate. Now some say he’s too old for the White House.
“My answer to people who underestimated my brother then is the same as the answer now,” she says. “Watch him!”