Nikki Dubose: Washed Away

Trigger Warning:  eating disorders, rape, domestic violence, sexual abuse, addiction, self harm, mental illness, obsessive behavior

Washed Away: From Darkness to Light is a memoir that recounts the experiences of model Nikki DuBose as she overcomes a more than seventeen-year battle with abuse, child sexual victimization, eating disorders, psychosis, alcoholism, drugs, depression, suicide attempts, body dysmorphic disorder, and various other mental health issues, all while trying to navigate through the dark side of the fashion industry.

Her journey began as a young, introverted child with a florid imagination growing up in Charleston, South Carolina. By the age of eight she had been sexually, physically, and emotionally abused and had developed an eating disorder. The abuse warped Nikki’s self-perception and sparked patterns of psychosis, depression and destructive behavior that stayed with her into adulthood. In her early twenties she began working as a television host and started a career in modeling. Eventually Nikki attained success, appearing on the covers of magazines such as Maxim, shooting for editorials like Vanity Fair, Glamour and FHM, and appearing in campaigns for Perry Ellis.

Cast into a world of excess, superficiality, and vanity, Nikki traveled the globe and experienced the finest that the material world had to offer, all while feeling empty inside. Her disorders, addictions and mental health issues took her to the brink of mortality and only through a deeply painful inner-battle and her mother’s death was she able to reconnect the lost pieces of her soul and see the person she had so long rejected.

Her recovery from a nearly lifelong struggle with PTSD, psychosis, addictions and eating disorders has left Nikki with a passionate longing to help others who are also suffering by advocating for mental health and self-acceptance. Washed Away: From Darkness to Light will serve as a testimony to others to let them know that they are not alone in their fears, doubts, and frustrations, and that through recovery all things are possible.

 

Remember back when I read Lady Injury, when I told you that I liked a book…but then warned you not to read it? That’s exactly how I feel about Washed Away. In fact, the books are as similar as they are different, just as the two women are. Both books are about eating disorders and extremely severe mental illness. Both books are horrifically triggering and devastating. But, just as no two people are the same, no two mental illnesses are the same–and thus, no two memoirs could be the same either.

Washed Away is the story of two women, actually–not just Nikki herself, but also her mother. Nikki’s story illustrates just how strong the ties of mental illness can be–both nature and nurture. Her life was basically just a boulder rolling down a mountain–there was no way to stop it until the very bottom–and that boulder crushed everything in its path.

And Nikki was crushed by everything imaginable. I don’t often put a trigger warning at the beginning of my reviews, but it was necessary for this one. It is so easy to feel hopeless while reading a book like this because there seemingly is no end to the tragedy that this woman went through in her life. But she found her way out. I cannot imagine how impossible recovery seemed, but her epilogue was full of all the hope that was missing in the rest of the pages. It’s worth reading the rest just for that.

If you are looking for a story about someone who got out, someone who fought through bulimia and mental illness and came out on the other side–maybe look at Nikki’s book. Just be aware that this is a very triggering story, so take care.

I received a copy of this book from Book Publicity Services for an honest review. This post contains affiliate links.

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Roxane Gay: An Untamed State

Roxane Gay is a powerful new literary voice whose short stories and essays have already earned her an enthusiastic audience. In An Untamed State, she delivers an assured debut about a woman kidnapped for ransom, her captivity as her father refuses to pay and her husband fights for her release over thirteen days, and her struggle to come to terms with the ordeal in its aftermath.

Mireille Duval Jameson is living a fairy tale. The strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons, she has an adoring husband, a precocious infant son, by all appearances a perfect life. The fairy tale ends one day when Mireille is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men, in front of her father’s Port au Prince estate. Held captive by a man who calls himself The Commander, Mireille waits for her father to pay her ransom. As it becomes clear her father intends to resist the kidnappers, Mireille must endure the torments of a man who resents everything she represents.

An Untamed State is a novel of privilege in the face of crushing poverty, and of the lawless anger that corrupt governments produce. It is the story of a willful woman attempting to find her way back to the person she once was, and of how redemption is found in the most unexpected of places. An Untamed State establishes Roxane Gay as a writer of prodigious, arresting talent.

I am sitting here watching the snow fall and I just have absolutely no idea what to even say about the book I just read. I was so not prepared for a story of this magnitude.

Let me start by telling you straight out that this is a book about rape. Roxane Gay does not hold back, either. The descriptions are very very vivid. Mireille is kidnapped and held in the most horrid conditions for 13 days–tortured and raped in an attempt to break her will. The result is devastating PTSD and a broken family.

But this isn’t just a story about a kidnapping. Roxane Gay highlights the challenges in interracial marriage, and she forces us to look at privilege in the face of terrible poverty.

Your heart will be in your throat the entire time. I hated to put this down for fear that if I did, Mireille wouldn’t make it to the next page. It’s THAT kind of story. The main character might die if you put it down even for a few minutes.

She also writes extensively about privilege and wealth, culture and poverty. Mirelle’s father grew so rich and callous that he was too scared to risk his lifestyle, and love is nothing without the money to back it. You can nearly smell the shit he feels he is smearing underneath his feet as he walks, and that attitude destroys him and his family.

Don’t put it down. It’s too important that you not miss a single bit of Roxane Gay’s message.

(The only reason this book didn’t receive a full five Book Dragons from me is because of just how many trigger points there could be in the story. I can’t put it on my MUST READS list because not everyone could read this. Otherwise, this book is brilliant. Just please be careful if you are sensitive to rape, sexual assault, or kidnapping. There is a great deal of violence in this novel.)

 

DiversityBingo2017:  Black Main Character Own Voices

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Louise Erdrich: The Round House

One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe’s life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.

While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.

When I mentioned to a Twitter friend that I haven’t read much Native American fiction, she recommended Louise Erdrich, among others. I found I’d had some of her books already on my TBR, I just didn’t realize she was an #OwnVoices author! Well, of course she had to make the list for this month.

The Round House covers some intense topics. Rape is an extreme danger to Native American women–1 out of every 3 will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime (per the author’s note). Erdrich shows just how horrifying that experience can be. Not only are their attackers usually non-native men, but the victims also receive prejudices from law enforcement and hospitals.

“Don’t you Indians have your own hospital over there?”

UGH. Doesn’t that just make your skin crawl? It did mine. I wanted to climb into the pages and smack a bitch.

I did struggle quite a bit to connect to this book. I’m never a huge fan of dialogue-heavy books that don’t use quotation marks–I find that writing style hard to follow. What is speech and what is not? But I don’t think that was really the issue. I think I was just distracted. The last few days have been really news-packed and so it has been hard to pull my eyes away from the Twitterfeed. That is never conducive to heavy reading. Plus, I’ve read some very hard hitters right in a row. This may have to be a book I come back to in a few years and see if I feel differently. For now, though, not my favorite. I still have a few of her books on my list and we’ll see if I have a more positive reaction.

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Khaled Hosseini: The Kite Runner

“It may be unfair, but what happens in a few days, sometimes even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime.”

Amir is the son of a wealthy Kabul merchant, a member of the ruling caste of Pashtuns. Hassan, his servant and constant companion, is a Hazara, a despised and impoverished caste. Their uncommon bond is torn by Amir’s choice to abandon his friend amidst the increasing ethnic, religious, and political tensions of the dying years of the Afghan monarchy, wrenching them far apart. But so strong is the bond between the two boys that Amir journeys back to a distant world, to try to right past wrongs against the only true friend he ever had.

The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, The Kite Runner is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption; and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons—their love, their sacrifices, their lies.

WHY THIS BOOK WAS BANNED:

THE KITE RUNNER WAS BANNED FOR DEPICTIONS OF HOMOSEXUALITY, OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE, RELIGIOUS VIEWPOINTS, AND SEXUALLY EXPLICIT SCENES. (Tolerance.Org)

UGLY CRYING.

My friends warned me. When they found out I was reading this book, they told me how sad it was. But I had tried to read it years ago, and marked it Did Not Finish, so I wasn’t expecting an emotional reaction.

UGLY CRYING.

From the very first, the relationships in this book are special. The bond between Hassan and Amir is so tightly knit and beautiful, even before anything happens in the story, you get sort of weepy at their youth. Maybe it is because boys in America are discouraged from showing that much open affection towards each other. Girls, certainly, but boys…nope. They wrestle and fight, but to love each other in friendship that way–we usually don’t even see brothers that affectionate anymore. So this book resonates with us. It’s healthy, this strong male bond.

UGLY CRYING.

Then things go SO topsy turvy, in the absolute worst ways possible. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong. Reading books like The Kite Runner are so important, because most of our media twisted us into thinking all Afghan people were/are evil. The enemy. But Khaled Hosseini shows how many were victims too. This wasn’t solely a war on Americans–the war started in their home first.

UGLY CRYING.

This book has everything you’d expect from one set in a war torn country:  abuse, execution, rape. But it also has an enormous amount of compassion. And that is what will make you so emotional–not the shock and violence, those alone just make me sick, but the passion and love that the characters continue to carry throughout.

UGLY CRYING.

This was the perfect book to end Banned Books Week and kick off #OwnVoicesOctober. I have a few ARCs, but otherwise I will be reading almost all books like The Kite Runner–books written by authors with the same experience. If you have suggestions for books written by POC, LGBTQA, or authors with mental illness, please let me know.

Who are you reading for #OwnVoicesOctober?

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The Heiress Bride

The thrilling conclusion to the bestselling romantic Bride trilogy that began with The Sherbrooke Bride and continued with The Hellion Bride. Joan Winthrop Sherbrooke–Sinjun–is on the verge of spinsterhood, so when the opportunity to wed a handsome Scottish earl arises, she jumps at the chance. Little does she know of the danger that awaits her at Vere Castle.

I can’t remember where I picked this up–it may have been in a freebie box somewhere, but it’s been on my shelf for awhile now. I figured it was finally time to give it its due.

I really wish I hadn’t.

Right from the beginning there were red flags all over the place. The prologue talks of the laird having to take a wife for money and “oh well, if I don’t like her I can just beat her and lock her in her room.”

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From there it only got worse. The heroine might have been the strangest character I’ve ever read in a bodice ripper–both airheaded and borderline mean. For reasons unknown, she all but gives herself away, inheritance included, to a man she doesn’t know and runs away to Scotland with him. Surprise, surprise, he rapes her on their wedding night. Her brothers burst in to save her, and she kicks them out and protects her husband…who just violated her.

WHAT THE WHAT?

This is apparently the continuation of a three part series. Definitely won’t be going back to find the others–I can only imagine what happens in those. Quick check to my TBR to make sure I don’t have anything else by this author. Hello, rape is not sexy, empowering, or loving. Not even including a BUY HERE link in this review because…obviously.

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Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:

Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

Liane Moriarty and her deadly good story-telling strikes again. I haven’t seen Women’s Fiction this good since My Sister’s Keeper (really, nothing I’ve read by Jodi Picoult has measured up to that one, although I still have a great many of her books yet to read). Now that I’ve read four in a row, I’ve really seen just how far her reach can go. Every single plot was meticulously mapped from the beginning, and gone over with a fine-toothed comb to match every single detail.

Big Little Lies is now my favorite of the four, perhaps because it has a different mapping than the other three. With the others, we knew what was happening, but the characters didn’t. We were almost omnipresent–watching the characters figure out the details. The stories were far from boring, however, because we still had to pick together the pieces of how everything fit.

In Big Little Lies, however, we know someone has died at school trivia night. We know there has been some huge conflict between the parents, and between the children. We just don’t know who or what yet. The scene is set via Moriarty’s ability to break apart the chapters with both multi-person narration and other writing devices to see outside the box–in this book she uses a journalist’s interview with the parents to get multiple POV.

The story is super thrilling. I mentioned in one of my previous reviews that her books feel like a master laying dominos down, and Big Little Lies is a perfect illustration of that. She waits patiently for us to THINK we know what is about to happen and then *clickclickclick* down they all come.

She also covers a lot of BIG topics in this one. Bullying. Sexual assault and date rape. Domestic violence. PTSD. The sexual trafficking of children. They are wrapped in a women’s fiction/thriller, but Moriarty is making some very clear points here. Don’t let those go unnoticed.

I’ve added everything from her Goodreads page to my TBR, and I’m following her now too. I can’t stand to miss a single thing this woman puts out. It’s bound to be keep me falling off the edge of my seat.

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I received a copy of this book from Berkley Publishing via Twitter Contest.

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The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava—in all other ways a normal girl—is born with the wings of a bird.

In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naïve to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the Summer Solstice celebration.

I wouldn’t have wanted to be the one to write a summary of this book. That one really does it no justice at all. Ava Lavender spans 3 (plus a ghost) generations of women. The main narrator is Ava, mentioned above, but she goes back in time to explain her family’s story first. It seems like a normal immigration tale, with just a hint of witchy wonder hidden in the gene pool.

Honestly, I wasn’t near as interested in Ava’s character as I was Henry’s. Sure, Ava is the “weird” one, with her wings–but I don’t think that makes her the main character or hero in this story. Henry is autistic (though they only call him quiet), and his special focus charts the map of the story right up to the very end. Leslye Walton writes Henry into the background so perfectly that unless you are paying close attention, you won’t catch up until it is too late. And that is really the whole dang point.

The book is a bit of a slow starter, but once the family history gets rolling, it picks up. Give it 50 pages and you won’t be sorry. This snowball gets big quick.

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1Q84

The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo.

A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.

HOLY MOLY. Where do I even start??

This is the kind of sciene fiction that makes you question the entire world around you. Am I one of the ignorant ones living in 1Q84 unaware of the second moon? Should I worry about the Little People climbing into my puppy and placing a bomb? If I take that stair case, will I enter, or leave the world I’m currently in? (And is that really a bad thing?)

So many questions. And really, like in Tengo’s ghostwritten book Air Chrysalis, not very many answers. The only thing I can think to compare this to is the Lord of the Rings. Not because 1Q84 is anything like LOTR in substance. NOT HARDLY! But it gives you that drowning feeling, where even when you don’t fully comprehend the world you’re in, you can’t leave it. You cannot put the book down until it is finished, no matter how confused or uncomfortable you feel.

And you WILL feel uncomfortable with this. There is violence, and child rape. Even sort of male rape, in a way? I don’t know how to feel about Tengo and Fuka-Eri, except icky. I could accept Leader being a rapist and his paralysis as an excuse/lie/etc. It made me feel completely sick to my stomach, of course, but as a part of the character, it made sense. But to watch it happen to Tengo? Is he still a pedophile? He very much tried to push those urges down. Disgusting urges, but he did not want them. What happened to him was almost as victimizing to him as the other way around. I am sure many people will disagree with me–there’s a lot of me that disagrees with myself, and that may be the point of this section. It’s just altogether complicated and horrible.

I found this image on Goodreads and it is SO accurate. This is my first Murakami novel, but for 1Q84 it fits perfectly.

Breakdown of a Murakami novel

 

I feel…uncomfortable about this book. The writing is well done, enough to capture my attention, and it’s incredibly detailed and thought out. The subject matter bothered me a lot, but I think that was the whole point. I would like to read another of his books to see how they play out, but I will give myself a breather for now.

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Charlie is a freshman.

And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it.

Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But he can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.

Well, um. That was definitely not the story I expected.

Really, all I knew about this book are the images from the movie trailer. You know the ones I mean. The kids standing up outside the car “flying” like they are free and happy.

Yeah.

This book is NOT about being free and happy.

This book is about mental illness. And homosexuality. And rape. And abortion. And bullying.

It’s about all the things that really go on in high schools that we all know about but try to hide from. This book is about reality. It’s sad and strangely beautiful, if you can stand to really look at it.

And you should. You should really look at it.

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I Let You Go

In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world descends into a nightmare. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of a cruel November night that changed her life forever.

I’ll be honest, I almost gave up on this one. I Let You Go starts out really slow, and at first seems like just a stereotypical romance novel. Girl has tragedy. Girl moves to remote cottage on island. Girl makes friend with female leader of island. Girl gets dog. Girl meets attractive male leader of island and falls in love.

We’ve all read those kinds of stories. They are nice, but after so many of them…a bit dull. This one also kept flipping perspectives between Jenna’s story and the “homefront”–a police procedural plot that followed the casework of Jenna’s original tragedy. While the perspectives changed at each chapter break, they weren’t labeled, so my brain switch really had to be on.

However, as I scrolled through Goodreads for the summary, I saw 5 star review after 5 star review talking about the twists of this amazing thriller!

Wait…

…What? Am I reading the right book?

It took until about the 45% mark, but yep. Thriller. Once I got to the top of that plot hill, it reeeeeeeeeally started tumbling down fast. It was still a little bit predictable to someone who reads a lot of books like this, but the pace did pick up quite a bit, and there were a few turns that made me think twice a few times.

This is quite a dark book. Be prepared for domestic violence, rape, and death of a child. It’s a pretty scary rendition of just how far abuse can go, and how hard it is to fight back. It also answers the question, “Why didn’t you call the police?”

No really–the police actually ask that question. You will get an answer. Pay attention to it. And apply it to real life every single time it pops into your head from then on.

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NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. Releases May 3.

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