The Woman They Could Not Silence – Kate Moore

“Can [a woman] not even think her own thoughts, and speak her own words, unless her thoughts and expressions harmonize with those of her husband?”

Taking inspiration from the #MeToo movement, Kate Moore delved into the history of women who, more often than not, have been labelled ‘crazy’ and silenced for speaking the truth. Kate wondered if there was a woman whose perseverance, despite everything that was done to discredit her, prevailed.

She found Elizabeth Packard who, in 1860, was taken against her will to Jacksonville Insane Asylum, two hundred miles from her home, because of her “excessive application of body & mind.” The person who was responsible for this injustice was her husband of 21 years and the father of her six children.

The evidence of her so called insanity?

“I, though a woman, have just as good a right to my opinion, as my husband has to his.”

Elizabeth, after being a dutiful wife, mother and homemaker for almost all of her adult life, heard about the women’s rights movement and gave herself permission to think for herself. She also disagreed with her preacher husband about matters of religion and, with her great intellect and her persuasive arguments, he was afraid of the consequences of her speaking her mind.

This was a time when most states “had no limits on relatives’ “right of disposal” to commit their loved ones”, where an insanity trial had to take place before you were admitted to a state hospital (but not if you were a married woman) and where “married women had no legal identities of their own.”

The thought of me living in 1860 terrifies me. I’m certain I too would have been institutionalised and I don’t know I would have been able to sustain the fortitude that Elizabeth displayed. Don’t think that you wouldn’t have also been at risk of such a fate, as

one common cause of committal to an asylum in Elizabeth’s time was “novel reading.”

In the asylum, Elizabeth met other patients, including other sane women who had been trapped there for years, similarly pathologised for their personality. The asylum served as a “storage unit for unsatisfactory wives”. She also witnessed patients being abused by the staff.

Elizabeth was determined to prove that she was sane and secure her release from the asylum. She also wanted to enact change that would see her new friends also released and to protect the mentally ill from abuse. But what Elizabeth wanted more than anything was to be able to parent her children again.

This is a thoroughly researched and well written account of the life of a woman I’m sad to say I had never heard of before but will certainly not forget.

description

So in the end, this is a book about power. Who wields it. Who owns it. And the methods they use.

And above all, it’s about fighting back.

Content warnings include derogatory terms used to describe mental illness and mention of death by suicide, domestic violence, eating disorders, medical abuse, mental illness, racism, slavery, suicidal ideation and suicide attempt .

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Sourcebooks for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

From the New York TimesUSA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Radium Girls comes another dark and dramatic but ultimately uplifting tale of a forgotten woman whose inspirational journey sparked lasting change for women’s rights and exposed injustices that still resonate today.

1860: As the clash between the states rolls slowly to a boil, Elizabeth Packard, housewife and mother of six, is facing her own battle. The enemy sits across the table and sleeps in the next room. Her husband of twenty-one years is plotting against her because he feels increasingly threatened – by Elizabeth’s intellect, independence, and unwillingness to stifle her own thoughts. So Theophilus makes a plan to put his wife back in her place. One summer morning, he has her committed to an insane asylum.

The horrific conditions inside the Illinois State Hospital in Jacksonville, Illinois, are overseen by Dr. Andrew McFarland, a man who will prove to be even more dangerous to Elizabeth than her traitorous husband. But most disturbing is that Elizabeth is not the only sane woman confined to the institution. There are many rational women on her ward who tell the same story: they’ve been committed not because they need medical treatment, but to keep them in line – conveniently labeled “crazy” so their voices are ignored.

No one is willing to fight for their freedom and, disenfranchised both by gender and the stigma of their supposed madness, they cannot possibly fight for themselves. But Elizabeth is about to discover that the merit of losing everything is that you then have nothing to lose… 

Father-Daughter Incest – Judith Lewis Herman

I didn’t originally plan on reading this book. I was actually wanting to read Herman’s Trauma and Recovery, which I’ve heard spoken of as one of the go to books about trauma. I’m not sure if this is a geographical problem or not but when I went to buy a Kindle copy of that book I discovered it didn’t exist. I then decided to see what else Herman had written and came across this book, which was available on Kindle. Thinking there’d probably be significant overlap between the two I decided to dive right in. Without having read Trauma and Recovery yet I can’t say for sure but I’m guessing they’re quite different books.

Although I’ve read quite a few fiction and non-fiction books about sexual assault, I haven’t read a great deal specifically about incest. I often feel as though the gears move almost imperceptibly slowly where sexual assault is concerned, from the attitudes that surround it to practical help for survivors and reforms to the legal system.

I usually read recently published books that explore sexual assault so to encounter things I take for granted as revolutionary ideas was a whole new experience. At once a history lesson and confirmation of how important early studies into taboo subjects are in shining light into the darkness, this might not have been the book I was expecting to read but I still took a lot away from it.

Much of the information I came across in this book, which was groundbreaking when it was first published in 1981, read to me as either common sense or confirmation of information I’ve already come across. I found that encouraging because it proved we are actually making progress, even though it doesn’t always feel that way.

This book came about as a result of two women, Lisa Hirschman and the author, speaking in 1975 about the patients they’d both encountered who had disclosed a history that included incest. Both women contributed to the research but it was Judith Lewis Herman who eventually wrote this book.

Since nothing satisfactory seemed to have been written about father-daughter incest, we were finally driven to write about it ourselves.

This book is divided into three parts:

  1. Using “survey data, clinical material, anthropological literature, popular literature, and pornography”, the author takes a look at the history of how society has dealt with incest. Spoiler: not well at all. From Freud lying about his own findings to pretty much anyone who could have have a positive influence on the lives of survivors instead discrediting, disbelieving and downright pathologising them, it’s a wonder survivors have had the courage to speak at all.

I know I don’t want to hear it. I have no idea what to do with these cases. And I don’t think I’m unusual.

Quote from a therapist
  1. The author and Hirschman conducted their own clinical study, interviewing forty survivors of incest and twenty women whose “fathers had been seductive but not overtly incestuous”. Yes, I cringed every time I read the word ‘seductive’ in this context.

Consumed with inner rage, they nevertheless rarely caused trouble to anyone but themselves. In their own flesh, they bore repeated punishment for the crimes committed against them in childhood.

  1. Dealing with the “social responses to discovered incest”, this section explores crisis intervention, family treatment and prosecution. This section also talks about prevention.

As long as fathers rule but do not nurture, as long as mothers nurture but do not rule, the conditions favoring the development of father-daughter incest will prevail.

The studies referred to throughout the book are mostly from the 1970’s and those discussed in the afterward, which was written in 2000, were predominantly published in the 1990’s. I’d be interested, now that another twenty years have passed, to find out what else has been learned, confirmed or disproven.

Although I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re still moving in the direction of more openness and less stigma for survivors of incest, I’m also very much aware that this topic remains taboo. It was telling for me when I compared the Goodreads statistics of this book and Herman’s Trauma and Recovery.

At the time of writing this review, Trauma and Recovery has almost 11,000 ratings and over 450 reviews. This book, in contrast, has just over 100 ratings and about a dozen reviews. I wonder if so few people have read this book, which was first released about a decade prior to Trauma and Recovery, or if many readers have chosen not to add this book to their Goodreads shelves, not wanting to admit they read a book about this topic…

The abuses have gone on for too long. Too many survivors have disclosed their secrets. It is too late now to go back to silence.

Content warnings include mention of abortion, addition, alcoholism, death by suicide, domestic abuse, foster care, mental health, neglect, physical abuse, self harm and sexual assault.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Through an intensive clinical study of forty incest victims and numerous interviews with professionals in mental health, child protection, and law enforcement, Judith Herman develops a composite picture of the incestuous family. In a new afterword, Herman offers a lucid and thorough overview of the knowledge that has developed about incest and other forms of sexual abuse since this book was first published.

Reviewing the extensive research literature that demonstrates the validity of incest survivors’ sometimes repressed and recovered memories, she convincingly challenges the rhetoric and methods of the backlash movement against incest survivors, and the concerted attempt to deny the events they find the courage to describe.

The Book of the Baku – R.L. Boyle

Spoilers Ahead! (in content warnings)

There’s only so much horror and pain any living creature can take before it loses its mind.

Sean, unable to speak due to a trauma in his past, is going to live with his grandfather. He knows Grandad used to be a writer but that’s about the extent of his knowledge as they only met two months ago. It is at Grandad’s that Sean learns of the existence of the Baku. He’s going to wish he hadn’t.

While the Baku, a creature otherwise known as the ‘dream eater’, is not a new concept (its mythology spans centuries), the author has brought it to life in an imaginative way, imbuing it with a whole new level of creepy. I can see the appeal of what appears to be an easy way of getting rid of your nightmares but this is definitely not the incarnation of the Baku you want to feed.

For there’s a darkness deep in me,

That feeds on pain and misery.

Give it to me, relinquish dread,

And fall asleep in peace instead.

I felt Sean’s pain throughout the book, both physical and the pain of grief. His underdog status and innate likeability had me empathising with him even more. I wanted this kid to be okay and I hoped everything would work out in his relationship with his Grandad, who I absolutely adored from the get to.

Towards the middle of the book I began to wonder if the story was going to start feeling too repetitive but new elements and additional information about Sean’s past alleviated my concerns. There’s a growing dread as the days progress at The Paddock, something that may even be enhanced by the use of repetition, as you anticipate what’s next for the main characters. The horror is amplified by Sean’s inability to communicate what he’s experiencing to anyone.

It is as though each unspoken sentence dries to create a thicker barrier for those behind it and now his voice is blocked behind an impenetrable concrete wall.

I loved the inclusion of the rowan tree in Grandad’s garden. Given the themes that were explored in the book, the choice of this specific type of tree felt especially significant. Although I want to say more about this tree I won’t because spoilers. However, I will recommend you read about its mythology and symbolism once you’ve read the book so you can see for yourself how brilliantly it all lines up. I particularly like the explanations given here and here.

Content warnings include alcoholism, bullying, death by suicide, death of animals, domestic abuse, drug addiction, gun violence, mental health, physical abuse, sexual assault (off page), slavery, suicidal ideation and verbal abuse, including slurs about a physical disability (no, I didn’t like this at all but the horrible words used were consistent with what I knew of the characters who said them).

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Titan Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A Monster Calls meets The Shining in this haunting YA dark fantasy about a monster that breaks free from a story into the real world.

Sean hasn’t been able to speak a word since he was put into care, and is sent to live with his grandad, a retired author whom he has never met before. Suddenly living an affluent life, nothing like the world of the estate he grew up in, where gangs run the streets and violence is around every corner, Sean spends his time drawing, sculpting and reading his grandad’s stories. 

But his grandad has secrets of his own in his past. As he retreats to the shed, half-buried in his treasured garden, Sean finds one of his stories about ‘The Baku’, a creature that eats the fears of children. 

Plagued by nightmares, with darkness spreading through the house, Sean must finally face the truth if he’s to have a chance to free himself and his grandfather from the grip of the Baku.

We Are Inevitable – Gayle Forman

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

“Twenty-six letters and some punctuation marks and you have infinite words in infinite worlds.”

The author calls this book a “love letter to books, and to booksellers” and there are so many bookish delights:

📖 I got to read about other people who love books as much as I do.

📖 The chapter headings are book titles! Why didn’t I think of that?! [Must steal borrow this idea if I ever write a book…]

📖 Bookish references in abundance! Books within books are one of my top five favourite bookish things. Book titles are casually scattered throughout the book. Storylines of well known books are mentioned. Movies that began their lives as books are discussed (the book was better).

“Seriously? It was also a book first?”

“Seriously.”

“Are all movies books first?”

“Just the best ones.”

If you’re like me and likely to panic around the halfway point when you wish you’d been making a list of all of the books that have been mentioned, don’t worry; there’s a bibliography at the end.

📖 Independent bookstores! We get to hang out in not one, but two of them! With booksellers who desperately love books and about making sure the book the reader needs finds its way to them.

“Tell me: What’s the last book you read that you loved?”

📖 The main bookstore has genres grouped together in a way that makes so much sense.

I could happily spend my entire review talking about the books, bookstores and booksellers but there’s more to this book than books. We also come face to face with some pretty difficult topics. Multiple characters are dealing with addiction, either their own or a loved one’s. Likewise, multiple characters are grieving. Chad, my favourite character, is living with a spinal cord injury.

I adore Chad, although I expect I wouldn’t have been a huge fan of him before his accident. He’s had some pretty impressive post traumatic growth and his attitude is amazing. I could have done without him saying “dawg” and “son” all the time but I guess no one’s perfect.

Speaking of not being perfect, Aaron (our main character) is definitely a work in progress. I really didn’t like him at all for a good portion of the book, during which he basically treats everyone around him like garbage. He did begin to make more sense to me as I got to know him but until then, ugh!

I loved Aaron’s father, Ira, because he loves books so much. The fact that he’s still so passionate about them, despite grief, anxiety and depression, made me love him even more. He truly comes alive when he talks books and that resonated with me.

I liked the Lumberjacks, getting to know Ike the best. He came up with my favourite line (pardon his French):

“Fudge a duck on a hot sidewalk!”

You might be interested in this book because of the romance, which is pretty insta, but it’s not the main focus of the book. Aaron, a young man who doesn’t like music, falls for a young woman who’s in a band.

Every time I see her, I feel that thing: the inevitable.

The thing is: I don’t trust the inevitable.

I mean, what has inevitable done for me?

Ruined my life is what.

I was ready to love Hannah but never formed an emotional connection with her. Her purpose seemed to be to act as a mirror for Aaron. I didn’t feel like I got to know Hannah that well and her bandmates are even more of a mystery to me. I really wanted to find out more about Jax, especially when it looked as though they were going to become more integral to the story, but pretty much all I know for sure about them is their pronouns (they/them).

A few things didn’t make sense to me. If Aaron’s brother’s addiction cost their family so much (and right now I’m only talking about the cost to their finances), how did he ever manage to collect such an extensive collection of rare vinyls? Wouldn’t he have spent that money on drugs? Even if he did manage to accumulate so many, in the grips of addiction, wouldn’t he have sold them? I know he gave them to Aaron but that only explains the final five months of his life.

Also, early in the story we learn that Ike’s wife’s fibromyalgia symptoms stopped her from being able to come to the bookstore years ago. Towards the end of the book she’s at the bookstore several times. It is mentioned once that she has a walker but it didn’t ring true to me. If she‘s well enough to be at the bookstore now, wouldn’t she have already been there before the renovations began?

“Are the answers to all life’s questions in books?”

“Of course,” he says. “That’s what makes them miracles.”

Content warnings include mention of addiction, disability, grief, mental health and suicidal ideation.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

‘I got this whole-body feeling … it was like a message from future me to present me, telling me that in some way we weren’t just bound to happen, that we had, in some sense, already happened. It felt … inevitable.’

So far, the inevitable hasn’t worked out so well for Aaron Stein. While his friends have gone to college and moved on with their lives, Aaron’s been left behind in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, running a failing bookshop with his dad, Ira. What he needs is a lucky break, the good kind of inevitable.

And then he meets Hannah. Incredible Hannah – magical, musical, brave and clever. Could she be the answer? And could they – their relationship, their meeting – possibly be the inevitable Aaron’s been waiting for?

What Happened to You? – Bruce D. Perry & Oprah Winfrey

As you move through the experiences of your past, know that no matter what happened, your being here, vibrant and alive, makes you worthy.

You alone are enough.

Sometimes a book will come into your life at exactly the right time. Traumas, both from childhood and more recent times, have been making themselves known to me with an urgency I haven’t experienced before, at a time that seems more inconvenient than pretty much any other time in my life. Although I’d love to push it all to the side, with a ‘Not now! Can’t you see I’m busy reading?’, there’s also a knowing that there’s never going to be a good time and that maybe, just maybe, there’s a reason it’s all coming up for me now.

So, here I am, trying to figure out what healing will look like for me and having conversations with people who are seeing my resilience from the outside in vastly different ways than I’m perceiving it from the inside. Then this book, which covers the trifecta of what my brain has decided is my priority right now (trauma, resilience and healing), makes its way into my world.

The shift from asking ‘what’s wrong with you?’ to ‘what happened to you?’ is something I’ve yearned to hear for most of my life. Western society is so fixed on labels, which I know have their place and can be useful, but all too often pasting a diagnosis (or multiple diagnoses) on someone marginalises them more than it helps them. If we don’t get to the core of why a person behaves the way they do then we’re really missing the point, and the opportunity to best support them.

All of us want to know that what we do, what we say and who we are, matters.

Dr. Perry’s work in understanding how the brain’s development is impacted by early trauma helps explain why we behave the way we do, for example, why some people lash out in anger and others withdraw into themselves.

There’s science in this book but it was explained in a way that made sense to me, someone who hasn’t formally studied science since high school. Even if you don’t understand a concept the first time it’s mentioned it’s okay as it will be referred to in later conversations. If words like ‘brainstem’, ‘diencephalon’, ‘limbic’ and ‘cortex’ make you want to disengage, I’d encourage you to hold on because how the science relates to someone’s life will be explained. This, in turn, will make it easier to apply what’s being said to your own life. You’ll read about people Dr. Perry has worked with, people Oprah has interviewed and about Oprah’s own experiences.

Knowledge truly is powerful and simply having an understanding of why a smell or sound (‘evocative cues’) can cause people with PTSD to have flashbacks, making them feel as though they’re right back in that moment, feels like half the battle. If you’re not caught up in judging yourself for your brain responding the way that it does, then it frees up so much energy that you can use to regulate yourself.

I learned about how our view of the world becomes a “self-fulfilling prophecy”, why self harm makes so much sense to the people who do it (even though it baffles the people who don’t), the importance of rhythm in regulation, how vital connections with other people are to healing and why I need to learn more about neuroplasticity.

I gained a much better understanding of flock, freeze, flight and fight. Dissociation, which I thought I knew all about from personal experience, make much more sense to me now, as does why I find reading so helpful in my everyday life.

I love facts and there were some that really put what I was reading into context for me.

During the first nine months, fetal brain development is explosive, at times reaching a rate of 20,000 new neurons ‘born’ per second. In comparison, an adult may, on a good day, create 700.

This book isn’t about blaming anyone for your trauma and it’s not giving you an excuse for bad behaviour. It does explain why you react the way you do and can help silence the voice inside you that tells you there’s something wrong with you because of it – your reaction is reasonable given your history but there is also hope; you can heal.

I would recommend this book to so many people. Before I’d even begun reading I’d recommended it to my GP and would not hesitate in recommending it to anyone who works in a profession that brings them into contact with young children and their families or trauma survivors.

To this day, the role that trauma and developmental adversity play in mental and physical health remains under appreciated.

I would recommend it to trauma survivors, although with a few caveats: that they stay safe while reading (some of the content is bound to be triggering), read at their own pace and make good use of their support system as needed. Loved ones of trauma survivors will find explanations for why their friend or family member behaves the way that they do and ways they can help.

I’m not someone who usually listens to audiobooks but if there’s a book that would be more suited for that format than this one, a series of conversations between Dr. Perry and Oprah, I can’t think of it. Of course, having grown up with Oprah, I heard everything she said in her voice as I read anyway but I’m definitely planning to reread via audiobook.

It takes courage to confront your actions, peel back the layers of trauma in our lives and expose the raw truth of what happened.

But, this is where healing begins.

Content warnings include mention of addiction, alcoholism, bullying, death by suicide, domestic violence, foster care, gun violence, mental health, murder, neglect, physical abuse, physical health, poverty, racism, self harm, sexual assault, slavery, suicidal ideation and traumatic loss.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Bluebird, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Through wide-ranging, and often deeply personal conversation, Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Perry explore how what happens to us in early childhood – both good and bad – influences the people we become. They challenge us to shift from focusing on, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ or “Why are you behaving that way?,” to asking, ‘What happened to you?’ This simple change in perspective can open up a new and hopeful understanding for millions about why we do the things we do, why we are the way we are, providing a road map for repairing relationships, overcoming what seems insurmountable, and ultimately living better and more fulfilling lives.

Many of us experience adversity and trauma during childhood that has lasting impact on our physical and emotional health. And as we’re beginning to understand, we are more sensitive to developmental trauma as children than we are as adults. ‘What happened to us’ in childhood is a powerful predictor of our risk for physical and mental health problems down the road, and offers scientific insights in to the patterns of behaviours so many struggle to understand.

A survivor of multiple childhood challenges herself, Oprah Winfrey shares portions of her own harrowing experiences because she understands the vulnerability that comes from facing trauma at a young age. Throughout her career, Oprah has teamed up with Dr. Bruce Perry, one of the world’s leading experts on childhood trauma. He has treated thousands of children, youth, and adults and has been called on for decades to support individuals and communities following high-profile traumatic events. Now, Oprah joins forces with Dr. Perry to marry the power of storytelling with the science and clinical experience to better understand and overcome the effects of trauma.

In conversation throughout the book, the two focus on understanding people, behaviour, and ourselves in the context of personal experiences. They remove blame and self-shaming, and open up a space for healing and understanding. It’s a subtle but profound shift in our approach to trauma, and it’s one that allows us to understand our pasts in order to clear a path to our future – opening the door to resilience and healing in a proven, powerful way.

Grounded in the latest brain science and brought to life through compelling narratives, this book shines a light on a much-needed path to recovery – showing us our incredible capacity to transform after adversity.

The Book of Hope – Jonny Benjamin & Britt Pflüger (editors)

This book introduces you to the lived experience of 101 contributors, people whose experiences run the gamut of what it means to be human but who have all struggled with hopelessness and found reasons to hope. Rather than attempt mini reviews for each contributor, instead I will share my favourite quote from each of the book’s eleven sections.

Always Hope

To me, hope is a gentle bridge between what is and what could be. A bridge that if crossed will lead you from desire, to belief, to knowing. Knowing that tomorrow will be different and can be better. Hope is the understanding that things will change and that life will eventually move for you, too.

Jada Sezer

Acceptance

This is some of the best advice I have had: to take each day as it comes. Just focus on the next hour and reach for support if you need it, from people or helplines. Don’t suffer in silence as you are never truly alone, even if it feels that way.

Eleanor Segall

Peace

It’s ok to not be ok. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or a bad person. Admitting you’re unwell is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Oliver Kent

Tool Kits

It generally feels better when you say it out loud. It enables you to reality check your thoughts and feelings, to shine a light on them and test them out, rather than keeping them hidden in the echo chamber of your mind. Above all, it gives you the chance to connect with others and to realise you are not alone.

Benna Waites

Compassion

For it is people who create hope; it is people who give us the strength to carry on.

Dick Moore

Courage

Imparting hope is profound and may just be enough to save a life.

Erin Turner

The Right Words

Trying to avoid it, because you’re scared of how it will make you feel, will only make things worse. So instead you let the feeling be. ‘This is me,’ you can say to yourself, ‘experiencing grief.’ Does it hurt? Yes. Will it kill you? No. Will it pass? Yes. Is it serious and important? Yes. Is it also just a feeling? Yes.

Aaron Balick

Inspiration

So here’s my first piece of advice: be gentle and forgiving with yourself, as if you were talking to someone you loved. It’s OK to be weak and fallible, or at least just human, to have limits. It’s OK to stop and take a moment for yourself.

Frank Turner

Resilience

And yet hope is determined, hope is always there, even if you can’t see it or hear it. It’s in the tiniest of moments, shining its dim light, hoping you notice it. And hope is potent stuff, you only need the smallest glimmer, the tiniest drop, to make a difference.

Jo Love

Kindness

‘You don’t have to wait to be in a crisis to get help,’ Leah said, thirteen soothing words that finally granted me permission to speak.

Amy Abrahams

Connection

Everyone’s feelings make sense once you get to know their story.

Martin Seager

There are plenty of darkness and light analogies, things that contributors would like to tell their younger selves and many writers who mentioned the importance of good nutrition and getting enough sleep and exercise. I know we all know the importance of these in maintaining both our physical and mental health but there’s something about hearing things you already know from people with lived experience that make you want to pay attention. If they helped these people, then maybe, just maybe, they might work for you too.

Some contributions had sections that read a bit like a Hallmark card, although I’m not certain that that’s a criticism; Hallmark haven’t made bajillions by telling people things they don’t want to hear. It wasn’t always clear to me why specific contributions were included in a section.

One of my favourite contributions was from David Wiseman, whose descriptions of what life looks like from inside PTSD are some of the most authentic that I’ve ever come across. I highlighted more of David’s words than any other writer. I can’t choose a favourite passage so I’ve chosen the shortest one that I highlighted.

Living with PTSD means having to have a busy mind because a relaxed mind will automatically fill with things you don’t want to think about. It means being tired all the time because that amount of thinking takes energy.

Content warnings include mention of addiction, bullying, death by suicide, domestic violence, eating disorders, homophobia, mental health, racism, self harm, sexual assault, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Bluebird, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

There is always hope, even when we cannot seem to seek it within ourselves.

From the best advice you’ll ever get to the joy of crisps, the 101 brilliant contributors to The Book of Hope will help you to find hope whenever you need it most. Award-winning mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin, MBE, and co-editor Britt Pflüger bring together people from all walks of life – actors, musicians, athletes, psychologists and activists – to share what gives them hope.

These 101 key voices in the field of mental health, from the likes of Lemn Sissay, Dame Kelly Holmes, Frank Turner and Zoe Sugg, to Joe Tracini, Elizabeth Day, Hussain Manawer and Joe Wicks, share not only their experiences with anxiety, psychosis, panic attacks and more, but also what helps them when they are feeling low. This joyful collection is a supportive hand to anyone looking to find light on a dark day and shows that, no matter what you may be going through, you are not alone.

Sheets #2: Delicates – Brenna Thummler

You never know what’s going on inside someone else’s head – how they’re hurting – even if you put the hurt there yourself.

Marjorie, who felt like a ghost in Sheets, has recently started the eighth grade. In order to fit in, she hides who she really is from her new friends. Marjorie and her family are, each in their own ways, grieving the death of her mother.

Eliza is an outcast who is repeating the eighth grade.

“Sometimes I feel like a ghost, but maybe a ghost in the wrong place, you know?”

Eliza spends her time trying to capture ghosts on Lorraine, her camera (named after Lorraine Warren), for her paranormal portfolio. Being herself has resulted in Marjorie’s new friends bullying her, while Marjorie stands by, visibly uncomfortable but not intervening.

Marjorie spending time with her new friends means she doesn’t have as much time to spend with Wendell, her favourite ghost.

description

He’s missing his friend and feeling left out. He is trying his best to deal with both his life and life after death.

I loved Eliza. Anyone who dresses up as a Ghostbuster for Halloween and wears different coloured socks is my kind of person. I ached for her as I watched her cross back and forth between being too visible and invisible.

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I always look for fun background details in graphic novels. My favourite find in Delicates was the names of the movies playing at The Rubin – The Ghost Wears Prada and What a Girl Haunts.

As I’ve come to expect from Brenna Thummler, the artwork was absolutely gorgeous. The characters’ expressions often speak louder than their words and, although it’s been a long time since I last read Sheets, the colour palette immediately drew me back into its world.

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“You should never have to hide who you are.”

Content warnings include bullying, depression, grief, racism and suicidal ideation.

Thank you very much to NetGalley and Oni Press for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Marjorie Glatt’s life hasn’t been the same ever since she discovered a group of ghosts hiding in her family’s laundromat. Wendell, who died young and now must wander Earth as a ghost with nothing more than a sheet for a body, soon became one of Marjorie’s only friends. But when Marjorie finally gets accepted by the popular kids at school, she begins to worry that if anyone learns about her secret ghost friends, she’ll be labeled as a freak who sees dead people. With Marjorie’s insistence on keeping Wendell’s ghost identity a secret from her new friends, Wendell begins to feel even more invisible than he already is.

Eliza Duncan feels invisible too. She’s an avid photographer, and her zealous interest in finding and photographing ghosts gets her labeled as “different” by all the other kids in school. Constantly feeling on the outside, Eliza begins to feel like a ghost herself. Marjorie must soon come to terms with the price she pays to be accepted by the popular kids. Is it worth losing her friend, Wendell? Is she partially to blame for the bullying Eliza endures?

Delicates tells a powerful story about what it means to fit in, and those left on the outside. It shows what it’s like to feel invisible, and the importance of feeling seen. Above all, it is a story of asking for help when all seems dark, and bringing help and light to those who need it most.

Eggshell Skull – Bri Lee

The term ‘eggshell skull’ refers to the legal principle that a victim must be accepted for who they are individually, regardless of where their strengths and weaknesses place them on a spectrum of human normality. If you strike a person whose skull happens to be as thin as an eggshell, and they break their head open and die, you can’t claim that they were not a ‘regular’ person. Full criminal liability – and responsibility – cannot be avoided because a victim is ‘weak’.

This was a really drawn out read for me – almost three months have passed since I read the first chapter. Part of this snail’s pace can be put down to bad timing; I’d finished reading Louise Milligan’s Witness less than two weeks before I started this book and it had already solidified my feelings about the way the Australian legal system chews up and spits out sexual assault survivors.

‘But what if the legal system is unfair?’

Reading about the cases that came across Bri’s desk while she was working as a judge’s associate became overwhelming at times. Some of the details were vividly described so if sexual assault is a particularly difficult topic for you, please take good care of yourself if you choose to read this book.

Bri’s experience working in the legal system offers her a different perspective than most survivors. Yet even she is not able to prepare herself for the emotional toll that her own case of historic sexual assault will have on her.

Bri is unlike so many survivors for a number of reasons.

She has the full support of her loved ones throughout the process. Many survivors do not have that luxury, having to go it alone.

She is confident that the people she tells about the sexual assault she experienced will believe her. So many survivors have not been believed when they’ve had the courage to speak out.

She reports the sexual assault to the police. “Less than one in three Australian women who are sexually assaulted ever go to the police.”

The police charge the perpetrator in Bri’s case, while “fewer than one in five sex offences reported to the police result in charges being laid and criminal proceedings being instigated.”

While I wished for less details at times when Bri was explaining the cases she worked on as a judge’s associate, I found myself wanting more details about her own court case. With such a build up throughout the book, I felt like I only managed a quick glance around the courtroom for much of the trial.

Content warnings include alcohol and other drug use, child abuse, domestic violence, eating disorders, mental health, self harm, sexual assault and suicidal ideation.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

EGGSHELL SKULL: A well-established legal doctrine that a defendant must ‘take their victim as they find them’. If a single punch kills someone because of their thin skull, that victim’s weakness cannot mitigate the seriousness of the crime. 

But what if it also works the other way? What if a defendant on trial for sexual crimes has to accept his ‘victim’ as she comes: a strong, determined accuser who knows the legal system, who will not back down until justice is done?

Bri Lee began her first day of work at the Queensland District Court as a bright-eyed judge’s associate. Two years later she was back as the complainant in her own case. 

This is the story of Bri’s journey through the Australian legal system; first as the daughter of a policeman, then as a law student, and finally as a judge’s associate in both metropolitan and regional Queensland – where justice can look very different, especially for women. The injustice Bri witnessed, mourned and raged over every day finally forced her to confront her own personal history, one she’d vowed never to tell. And this is how, after years of struggle, she found herself on the other side of the courtroom, telling her story.

Bri Lee has written a fierce and eloquent memoir that addresses both her own reckoning with the past as well as with the stories around her, to speak the truth with wit, empathy and unflinching courage. Eggshell Skull is a haunting appraisal of modern Australia from a new and essential voice.

Consent – Vanessa Springora

Translator – Natasha Lehrer

Every so often I read a blurb and just know a book’s contents are going to make my blood boil. This is one of those books.

In her memoir, Vanessa (V.) tells us about G.

G. is Gabriel Matzneff, a French author who, in his books, never attempts to hide his sexual assaults (he calls it love) of underage girls and his trips to the Philippines to sexually assault even younger boys. G. is someone who has won awards for detailing his crimes.

After they met at a party, G. quickly turned his attention to Vanessa.

I had just turned fourteen. He was almost fifty.

The fury for me came in waves, each time someone who could have (and should have) protected Vanessa failed to do so.

Her father is physically and emotionally absent; he doesn’t act on the outrage he feels when he learns of Vanessa’s ‘relationship’ with G.

Her mother allows it, even casually having dinner with her daughter and her rapist. Sure, her mother “consulted” her friends about him but none of them were “particularly disturbed”. This is the woman who made a deal with the devil:

Whatever the reason, her only intervention was to make a pact with G. He had to swear that he would never make me suffer.

The police are notified on a number of occasions but their efforts can hardly be accused of being an investigation.

Then there’s Emil Cioran, a philosopher and friend of G., who came up with this gem:

“It is an immense honor to have been chosen by him. Your role is to accompany him on the path of creation, and to bow to his impulses.”

I’m so glad that Vanessa has used writing to tell her truth, the very medium that her abuser used to distort her experiences with him.

This was a quick but difficult read. I spent a significant amount of time wanting to throw the book against a wall, mostly because the people who were infuriating me weren’t conveniently standing in front of me.

The fact that so many people essentially gave this man their blessing to continue being a serial predator astounds me. Because books are such an integral part of my life I feel justified in being personally offended that G. was encouraged to continue writing about his sickening behaviour, both by the French publishers who continued to print them and the people who actually paid to read them.

G. was not like other men. He boasted of only having had sexual relations with girls who were virgins or boys who had barely reached puberty, then recounted these stories in his books. This was precisely what he was doing when he took possession of my youth for his sexual and literary ends.

This is a well written book. Just make sure you have a punching bag handy when you read it.

P.S. This NY Times article has given me a glimmer or hope that G. may get to see the inside of a jail cell. Maybe all of his published books will be good for something after all: evidence.

Content warnings include domestic violence, gaslighting, grooming, mental health, paedophilia and sexual assault.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Already an international literary sensation, an intimate and powerful memoir of a young French teenage girl’s relationship with a famous, much older male writer – a universal #MeToo story of power, manipulation, trauma, recovery, and resiliency that exposes the hypocrisy of a culture that has allowed the sexual abuse of minors to occur unchecked.

Sometimes, all it takes is a single voice to shatter the silence of complicity. 

Thirty years ago, Vanessa Springora was the teenage muse of one of the country’s most celebrated writers, a footnote in the narrative of a very influential man in the French literary world.

At the end of 2019, as women around the world began to speak out, Vanessa, now in her forties and the director of one of France’s leading publishing houses, decided to reclaim her own story, offering her perspective of those events sharply known.

Consent is the story of one precocious young girl’s stolen adolescence. Devastating in its honesty, Vanessa’s painstakingly memoir lays bare the cultural attitudes and circumstances that made it possible for a thirteen-year-old girl to become involved with a fifty-year-old man who happened to be a notable writer. As she recalls the events of her childhood and her seduction by one of her country’s most notable writers, Vanessa reflects on the ways in which this disturbing relationship changed and affected her as she grew older. 

Drawing parallels between children’s fairy tales and French history and her personal life, Vanessa offers an intimate and absorbing look at the meaning of love and consent and the toll of trauma and the power of healing in women’s lives. Ultimately, she offers a forceful indictment of a chauvinistic literary world that has for too long accepted and helped perpetuate gender inequality and the exploitation and sexual abuse of children.

Women of a Certain Rage – Liz Byrski (editor)

There’s so much for women to be angry about … Discrimination because of your sexuality, race, ability, gender. The treatment of asylum seekers. Climate change. The inaction of politicians on any number of issues. People refusing to hear you or take you seriously because you’re a woman.

Yet, as women, it’s likely we grew up internalising our anger, swallowing it down, because to be visibly angry is not considered feminine. When we did speak up, our voices were silenced, our experiences minimised, our reality dismissed. Is it any wonder we’re angry?

Even though I’ve been an adult for longer than I was a child, I’ve yet to become comfortable with anger. Anger, when I was growing up, equalled violence and that’s not the manifestation I’m looking for. I want anger to spur me on to action, to propel me to right wrongs, not cause destruction.

In this collection, twenty women write about rage. Among them are writers, teachers, activists and medical professionals, and they range in age from 20’s to 80’s. They have diverse backgrounds but they’re all Australian.

Like other anthologies, some contributions spoke to me more than others. Reneé Pettitt-Schipp’s description of a young asylum seeker’s hope brought tears to my eyes. Goldie Goldbloom’s recollections of Max made me wish I knew him personally. Carly Findlay’s words hurt, as I imagined each scenario she described, but they also left me with hope because there are women like Carly who speak truth into the lives of others.

Rather than tell you what I thought of each contribution I’m going to instead share quotes with you.

Introduction by Liz Byrski

Let us go forth with fear and courage and rage to save the world. – Grace Paley

A Door, Opening by Victoria Midwinter Pitt

Anger is a state of opposition.

It is not merely intellectual, or philosophical. It’s personal.

It is the direct, visceral, spiritual experience of being at odds with something.

Quarantine by Reneé Pettitt-Schipp

Time and time again, it has been proven to me that we either honour the depth of each human emotion, maintaining the fullness of our capacity to feel, or we cut ourselves off and, in walking away from anger and heartbreak, turn our backs on the possibility of our most expansive expression of being a human in this world.

Waiting on the Saviour by Nadine Browne

I wouldn’t be the person I am, nor would I have had the resilience I have, without these women. But nothing we thought or did was ever any good unless it was certified by a man. The path to God itself was through a man. I’m still shocked by how these women can negate their own power, simply by the fact of their gender.

My Father’s Daughter by Jay Martin

I’m still sad, though, that the world that shaped my dad – and still shapes so many men – to believe that their value is in being providers, teachers, knowers of things. It meant I never got to know all of the vulnerabilities, dreams, passions and fears he must have harboured that made him who he was.

Regardless of Decorum: A Response to Seneca’s ‘Of Anger’ by Julienne van Loon

One of the things that makes me angry about Seneca’s ‘Of Anger’ is how bloody reasonable he is throughout.

The Girl Who Never Smiled by Anne Aly

Rage creeps up on you. It’s stealthy like that. Rage has to beat you down first and then, when you’re exhausted and you think you can’t possibly rage any more, it lingers beneath the surface, ready to pounce again. You can see it simmering behind the eyes of the downtrodden, the oppressed and the frustrated – but only if you look hard enough. Rage shadows you.

The Club by Sarah Drummond

The white road markers are plastic and so, instead of a row of smashed wooden posts where he ploughed them down, they flipped back into upright position after the accident like nothing had happened. For some reason, I found this inanimate insouciance disturbing. How dare those posts stand up again. Didn’t they know what had happened here?

Stuck in the Middle by Carrie Cox

Mark Twain, a man who apparently spent his whole life tossing pithy sayings at a sea of scribes, has been credited with comparing anger to an acid, one that can do far more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured. This is how I feel about anger today.

To Scream or Not to Scream by Olivia Muscat

What makes me most upset is that I know where most people’s ignorance is coming from. It’s fear.

Fear of the unknown.

Fear that they may end up like me.

To the Max by Goldie Goldbloom

Goldie remembers how Max would introduce her to them as ‘the love of my life’. Whenever she sold a story, he would grip her forearms and say, ‘The cream always rises to the top.’

The Thief by Nandi Chinna

I found it impossible to articulate the magnitude and intensity of my inner experience and carried it around in my body like a ball of barbed wire that scratched and tore at my insides.

Write-ful Fury by Claire G. Coleman

Fury. It can flow hot and fast like fire dancing along a trail of petrol; it can flow cold, slow and relentless like a glacier; or as cold and breathtakingly fast as an avalanche, leaving me breathless and dying. Either way, when fury passes it’s hard to imagine anything in its path surviving.

Love More by Jane Underwood

Rage sits, like a bulky body part, ready to detonate, able to cause maximum damage. It’s not like the white-hot adrenal flash we call fury, that’s here and gone: you can relieve fury with an upraised middle finger. It’s not like anger – curl up the corner of anger – only sadness and fear there. If you can shift the bulk of a rage – find some squashed high-grade injustice there.

#AustraliaBurns: Rage, a Climate for Change by Margo Kingston

Rage begets action.

The Body Remembers: The Architecture of Pain by Rafeif Ismail

We cannot negotiate with our oppressors without relinquishing part of our own existence.

Everything is Awesome! by Mihaela Nicolescu

The notion of a ‘fair go’ disguises the reality of an unfair system and places the blame on the individual when that system fails them. A genuine ‘mate’ does not judge you for going through a hard time. And an evolved society places more value on the rights of all citizens to have their basic needs met than on the rights of a few citizens to accumulate ridiculous wealth (while one in six children live in poverty).

Uluru Statement from the Heart by Fiona Stanley

I think that in today’s world of corporate, political, bureaucratic and individual corruption and lack of care, we need to convert our anger to action more than ever.

Vicarious trauma: I Was You and You Will Be Me by Carly Findlay

Ableism starts with you.

And it can stop with you, too.

Seen and Not Heard by Meg McKinlay

And what is buried, of course, doesn’t always remain so; when conditions are right – or wrong? – it will vent, even erupt.

Women of a Certain Rage? by Eva Cox

Angry. Cranky. Mad. Can you think of any context when applying these words to a woman would be positive?

Content warnings include ableism, attempted suicide, death by suicide, domestic violence, eating disorders, homophobia, medical negligence, mental health, racism, self harm, sexism, sexual assault, xenophobia and war.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

This book is the result of what happened when Liz Byrski asked twenty Australian women from widely different backgrounds, races, beliefs and identities to take up the challenge of writing about rage.

The honesty, passion, courage and humour of their very personal stories is engergising and inspiring. If you have ever felt the full force of anger and wondered at its power, then this book is for you.