Actress and writer Julia Sweeney

Actress and writer Julia Sweeney poses on Monday, April 29, 2013, in her Wilmette home. She is the author of "If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother." (Chris Walker, Chicago Tribune / April 27, 2013)

I had spent all of six minutes with Julia Sweeney when I brought up adult braces.

They're the worst, I said. I had them for two years, I said. They're the worst, I said again — this time with feeling.

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It's an odd thing to say to a person you barely know. Especially a person who lived through cervical cancer, recently lost a brother to alcoholism and nursed another brother through non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which eventually killed him.

Adult braces are, quite obviously, not the worst.

But Sweeney had offered a tidbit about her 13-year-old daughter, Mulan, getting braces. And because I had just read Sweeney's new book, “If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother,” I felt like we were pals.

And because she is a good sport, she reacted like we were.

"Oh, I know!" she said. "A friend of mine had them and when he finally got them off, a year later he started losing his hair. He always jokes, 'I only had one good year! One year when I had hair and good teeth!'"

Of course, she's so much more than a good sport.

"Julia tells the truth," says her friend and fellow comedian and author Merrill Markoe. "Her writing voice is very personal and chatty, like she has called you on the phone to tell you what just happened. Or invited you over for dinner, and now, after a glass of wine, she is catching you up on what she has been doing lately."

Nowhere is this more evident than in "If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother," her charming, droll, at-times heartbreaking account of adopting 17-month-old Mulan from China, and, a few years later, marrying her husband and moving from Los Angeles to Wilmette, where she still resides.

The book is a collection of essays she assembled and edited into a narrative, ostensibly during a month of luxurious solitude when her husband was traveling for work and Mulan was at sleepaway camp.

She writes in the prologue:

I love my job.

Secretly I hate my job.

I love my family.

If only they would disappear.

And they do, for a spell. At which time Sweeney, known both for her "Saturday Night Live" years (1990-1994) and her one-woman shows "God Said Ha!" and "Letting Go of God," invites us to sit for a spell.

"I so did not write this book in a month," she laughs. "All the stuff where I'm looking back, that's from old writings. But I did have a month where I assembled all the chapters. And a lot of the writing was from that month."

The essays delve into Sweeney's life before Mulan — the cervical cancer that robbed her of a uterus, the relationships that did not end in wedded bliss; and her life outside of Mulan — losing her beloved brother Bill to addiction, meeting her husband, Michael.