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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Jennifer Mathieu: Afterward

When Caroline’s little brother is kidnapped, his subsequent rescue leads to the discovery of Ethan, a teenager who has been living with the kidnapper since he was a young child himself. In the aftermath, Caroline can’t help but wonder what Ethan knows about everything that happened to her brother, who is not readjusting well to life at home. And although Ethan is desperate for a friend, he can’t see Caroline without experiencing a resurgence of traumatic memories. But after the media circus surrounding the kidnappings departs from their small Texas town, both Caroline and Ethan find that they need a friend–and their best option just might be each other.

GAH this book will make you HURT. It’s a book about trauma–kidnapping, sexual abuse, PTSD, healing. It tore me up so much that I didn’t write the review immediately because I just wasn’t sure HOW to write it.

I’m still not sure.

Mostly I just felt so much pain for the boys and their families in this story. It’s extremely intense, so be careful with yourselves when you read it.

I’m sorry, this is a hard book to review–it’s beautiful, and heartbreaking. I highly recommend it, but also put a major trigger warning on it.

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This book was awarded in a Goodreads giveaway by Roaring Book Press. This post does contain affiliate links.

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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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Harriet Jacobs: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

The true story of an individual’s struggle for self-identity, self-preservation, and freedom, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl remains among the few extant slave narratives written by a woman. This autobiographical account chronicles the remarkable odyssey of Harriet Jacobs (1813–1897) whose dauntless spirit and faith carried her from a life of servitude and degradation in North Carolina to liberty and reunion with her children in the North.
Written and published in 1861 after Jacobs’ harrowing escape from a vile and predatory master, the memoir delivers a powerful and unflinching portrayal of the abuses and hypocrisy of the master-slave relationship. Jacobs writes frankly of the horrors she suffered as a slave, her eventual escape after several unsuccessful attempts, and her seven years in self-imposed exile, hiding in a coffin-like “garret” attached to her grandmother’s porch.
A rare firsthand account of a courageous woman’s determination and endurance, this inspirational story also represents a valuable historical record of the continuing battle for freedom and the preservation of family.

I could not participate in an event such as #OwnVoicesOctober without reading a personal slave narrative. This country was founded on the backs of women and men such as Harriet Jacobs, and it’s so important to hear their stories. Harriet’s has been in my Kindle for a long time now, and so this was a good week to finally read about her journey.

It’s amazing what you will learn when you open your heart to listen. In my head I know that slavery was awful, all of it was awful, but still sometimes it gets so romanticized that I lose track. The Mammy trope, the stoic, loyal butler. That is a weakness–the ingrained prejudices that come to haunt me. But then I read Harriet’s story, and it slams that door shut so hard. Sometimes I just need a slap across the face, you know? This is that kind of book.

There’s a section of the book where she is talking about her own story, versus that of other slaves. Her master, Dr. Flint, has written a letter to her to convince her to come home while she is in hiding. The slimey bastard talks about how she is family and how if she comes back she’ll be treated like one of their own, she isn’t a slave, not really. It’s pretty gross. And Harriet’s response to us the reader is that yes, she knows that to many people, the perception could be that her life is pretty good at Dr. Flint’s. She doesn’t get beaten, she isn’t working the fields. She eats well, she dresses well, and she has most of her family around her. But she is still a slave. She is still at the mercy of Dr. Flint, who sexually abuses her and thinks it is ok because he owns her. She still has to worry about her children being sold away from her–and used as leverage.

A slave was a slave was a slave. Yes, some masters cared about their slaves and not every one was beaten horribly, but they were still slaves. And we owe it to them to remember that. This is why I read these books every so often. I need the reminder, I need the help. It’s the way I’m going to get that ingrained prejudice out of my system. Constant vigilance.

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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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Toni Morrison: The Bluest Eye

The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison’s first novel, a book heralded for its richness of language and boldness of vision. Set in the author’s girlhood hometown of Lorain, Ohio, it tells the story of black, eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Pecola prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be as beautiful and beloved as all the blond, blue-eyed children in America. In the autumn of 1941, the year the marigolds in the Breedloves’ garden do not bloom. Pecola’s life does change- in painful, devastating ways.
What its vivid evocation of the fear and loneliness at the heart of a child’s yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment. The Bluest Eye remains one of Toni Morrison’s most powerful, unforgettable novels- and a significant work of American fiction.

I have been having a lot of discussions lately about why diverse cultural representation is important in media, and The Bluest Eye is the exact book to prove such a point. Toni Morrison’s entire theme is based on the fact that not only do white people think black people are ugly, but black people believe it to be true as well. Only blonde-haired blue-eyed little girls are considered perfect and beautiful. Everyone with dark skin deserves to be designated as “less-than” and their lives too.

Through that terribly sad filter, we see those “less-than” lives:  the poverty, the brokenness, and as a plot-driver–the pedophilia. Morrison puts a very human face on this subject, both on the abuser and the victim. I don’t think her point is to make us sympathize with Cholly, but to show us the dangerous path one can go down. She doesn’t release him from the responsibility of what he does. His actions are cruel, harmful, and unforgivable. But I wonder if she is asking, “Could this have been preventable?” It’s a difficult question to answer, and one I am not sure of.

Morrison’s writing is legendary. Trigger warning on this, for obvious reasons, but if you can read it, please do. There are lessons here that absolutely should not be missed. Everyone needs Toni Morrison in their lives, she is an author that cannot be replicated. I only hope that by encouraging more diversity in publishing, we find more out there with just as much talent as she.

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Review: In One Person

A New York Times bestselling novel of desire, secrecy, and sexual identity, In One Person is a story of unfulfilled love—tormented, funny, and affecting—and an impassioned embrace of our sexual differences. Billy, the bisexual narrator and main character of In One Person, tells the tragicomic story (lasting more than half a century) of his life as a “sexual suspect,” a phrase first used by John Irving in 1978 in his landmark novel of “terminal cases,” The World According to Garp.

In One Person is a poignant tribute to Billy’s friends and lovers—a theatrical cast of characters who defy category and convention. Not least, In One Person is an intimate and unforgettable portrait of the solitariness of a bisexual man who is dedicated to making himself “worthwhile.

I picked this book up because of the LGTBQA+ characters, and shortly after I did, #DiverseAThon was announced. Perfect timing! I could use it for my first book of the week. Sounded like a great plan at the time…

…Unfortunately, doing so turned out to be the biggest cautionary tale of reading #OwnVoices books of all time. John Irving is not gay. He is not transgender. And it shows in the writing of this book. Be careful when you are picking “diverse” books. Try to pick books by actual POC authors, LGBTQA+ authors, mentally ill authors. Don’t only pick authors who are writing about those characters.

The following is unpleasant, so I’m going to put a trigger warning on it. But I want to illustrate WHY you should be careful about reading books by authors who actually come from the cultures you are reading about. I’m going to gray out the triggering stuff. Skip that, if you need to.

This is not a book that is kind to transgender people. The narrator is so conflicted about his own sexuality and desires that while he is not completely homophobic–he IS sort of transphobic. He is sexually attracted to those he calls “she-males” and “transexuals.” At one point he dismissively tells us that he won’t use the term transgender because they didn’t ever call them that and so why should he change now? 

…Are you cringing yet?…

He speaks about the transgender women in his life cruelly, as if they are something Other. He does not understand them, why they would want to change the bodies he finds perfect and is offended by that need. They are his playthings and not people he totally respects. 

Now, the narrator was extremely unreliable. Probably one of the most unreliable narrators I have ever read, even against Harry Potter. We are completely in this guy’s head. But I still don’t find that as an excuse for such awful narration.

The other stomach churning thing about this book is the multiple adult-youth sexual relationships. The only reason I call them that and not the abuse they actually are is that the narrator sees them as consensual relationships. He sees them as seduction. He has his own, after hearing about two of his friends having them…but again, unreliable narrator…he does not realize how uncomfortable his friends are, and how not seduced they were.

I stopped reading this book about 3/4 of the way through. As the narrator grew older, the story only grew worse, and less interesting. I left him in Europe bullying a vomiting, anxious friend.

I get the general idea of where Irving was headed with his novel, and why he wrote this the way he did. But it was too disgusting to finish.

 

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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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