I’m not quite sure what to say about this book. I feel weird judging someone’s experiences so I won’t be doing that. Instead my rating and review will be based on the way the book made me feel. I’ve read a lot of books, including memoirs, with the experience of and recovery from sexual assault as an overriding theme but unfortunately this book wasn’t a good fit for me.
Bouncing between journal entries, poetry, stories told in third person where the author refers to himself as ‘he’ or ‘the boy’, letters from teachers and comments about the author from his friends, the reading experience felt disjointed to me. I had this strange sense of feeling guilty for reading the journal entries. The scattered input from teachers and friends had the feel of testimonials or letters of recommendation and seemed to come out of nowhere.
The graphic descriptions of sexual assaults and Grindr hookups were prevalent for a lot of the first half of the book. The Grindr hookups were ultimately explained as part of trauma induced sex addiction and while I understand trauma impacts I couldn’t stop myself from internally screaming for the author to please don’t go into the home of the stranger he just met. I’m not victim blaming here; I just wanted the author to know at the time that they deserved better.
I applaud the author’s transparency and expect his story will be helpful for men in the LGBTQIA community, particularly those who have been sexually assaulted by men. However, because so much of this book is highly triggering and the first half in particular feels like one traumatic experience after another without any respite or hope (that comes later), I worry that the people who would potentially benefit the most from this book may not make it past the flashbacks and descriptions of traumatic events.
Personally I felt so drained and depressed by the trauma of the first half (maybe even as much as the first 60% or so) that my brain wasn’t as receptive to the message of healing. Had there been some sort of integration of the traumatic and recovery sections this may have helped. I think ultimately the style of writing didn’t make me want to keep reading and the trauma content felt so constant that I struggled to finish it.
So far all of the reviews on Amazon have been 5 stars but the majority appear (I could be wrong) to be friends of the author and have mostly only reviewed one or two books. One reviewer in particular had the same first name as one of the friends quoted in the book which raised my suspicions, although I admit I could be wrong about that too.
I don’t want to turn you off reading this book but if you have experienced sexual assault, please hear me when I tell you that there’s a high likelihood this book will trigger you. Please be safe while reading it.
Content warnings include sexual assault, an eating disorder, mental illness, self-harm and suicide.
Thank you to NetGalley and BookBuzz.net for the opportunity to read this book. I’m sorry but after high hopes, this one just wasn’t for me.
Once Upon a Blurb
In his debut book, Austin tells his story of emerging into young adulthood while surviving sexual violence and living with mental illness. His story is narrated through journal entries, poetry, and short stories.