Committed – Adam Stern

“Patients are people. We are people. Be a person with your patients, and you are already halfway there.”

Committed provides an overview of what it’s like to be a resident psychiatrist, from imposter syndrome to applying textbook knowledge to patients’ lives. Dr Stern was one of 15 residents in “The Golden Class” at Harvard Medical School, the “highest ranked class in the history of the program”. In this book, he explores the highs and lows of these four years in three Parts (years three and four are combined).

There was a greater focus on the other members of the class than I had expected. I loved Feelings class, where the residents were able to bond, process the emotions they experienced as interns and learn to “never worry alone”. I also hadn’t anticipated the amount of time dedicated to Dr Stern’s dating experiences during his internship. It was probably because of her name but it started to feel like I was in an episode of Friends when Dr Stern was figuring out if he should ever kiss Rachel. I did eventually get sucked into the ‘will they or won’t they?’ though.

“Always find out about the people behind your diagnoses. That’s the most important part of this whole deal.”

I enjoyed Dr Stern’s writing style and would be interested in reading about patients he treated after his time as an intern. I felt I got to know Jane reasonably well and loved her, although I’m not sure if it was because of or despite her constantly challenging Dr Stern.

When I read Lori Gottlieb’s Maybe You Should Talk to Someone I couldn’t help becoming emotionally invested in the lives of her patients. While I was interested in Dr Stern’s other patients’ stories, I didn’t become invested in most of them. Much of this could be put down to the transitory nature of residency; oftentimes Dr Stern would be introduced to a patient, start to treat them and then move on to a new rotation, not knowing how the patient fared over the long term himself.

Content warnings include bullying, child abuse, death by suicide, eating disorders and mental health.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Grey’s Anatomy meets One L in this psychiatrist’s charming and poignant memoir about his residency at Harvard.

Adam Stern was a student at a state medical school before being selected to train as a psychiatry resident at one of the most prestigious programs in the country. His new and initially intimidating classmates were high achievers from the Ivy League and other elite universities around the nation. Faculty raved about the group as though the residency program had won the lottery, nicknaming them “The Golden Class,” but would Stern ever prove that he belonged?

In his memoir, Stern pulls back the curtain on the intense and emotionally challenging lessons he and his fellow doctors learned while studying the human condition, and ultimately, the value of connection. The narrative focuses on these residents, their growth as doctors, and the life choices they make as they try to survive their grueling four-year residency. Rich with drama, insight, and emotion, Stern shares engrossing stories of life on the psychiatric wards, as well as the group’s experiences as they grapple with impostor syndrome and learn about love and loss. Most importantly, as they study how to help distressed patients in search of a better life, they discover the meaning of failure and the preciousness of success. 

Stern’s growth as a doctor, and as a man, have readers rooting for him and his patients, and ultimately find their own hearts fuller for having taken this journey with him. 

Breaking & Mending – Joanna Cannon

I learned that returning a life to someone very often has nothing to do with restoring a heartbeat.

In this memoir, Joanna Cannon invites readers to experience key moments of her time in medical school and as a junior doctor. This quick read has short chapters but they provide insights on her highs and lows, as well as the patients that have stayed with her. I found her writing style engaging and I could easily picture what Joanna was describing.

Burnout is an unlikely phrase, because it implies that the effects are loud and obvious, raging like a fire for everyone to see.

Most burnout, however, is quiet and remains unseen. It exists behind a still and mirrored surface, deep, out of reach, unnoticed by everyone – even, sometimes, by the one who is burning.

While some of the factors that contributed to her ‘breaking’ are fairly clear in my mind, the details of the ‘mending’ remain fairly vague to me. Sure, I know that being able to work in psychiatry, which was the reason Joanna was in medical school in the first place, was integral to her recovery. However, unlike the lead up to her burnout, the recovery process didn’t really come alive on the page for me.

I was impressed by Joanna’s ability to hold on to her compassion, even as her work as a junior doctor was taking a physical and psychological toll on her. What I will take away from this read, though, is the kindness and courage of so many of her patients, despite their circumstances.

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, mental health and self harm.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

“A few years ago, I found myself in A&E. 

I had never felt so ill. I was mentally and physically broken. So fractured, I hadn’t eaten properly or slept well, or even changed my expression for months. I sat in a cubicle, behind paper-thin curtains and I shook with the effort of not crying. I was an inch away from defeat … but I knew I had to carry on. 

Because I wasn’t the patient. I was the doctor.”

In this powerful memoir, Joanna Cannon tells her story as a junior doctor in visceral, heart-rending snapshots. 

We walk with her through the wards, facing extraordinary and daunting moments: from attending her first post-mortem, sitting with a patient through their final moments, to learning the power of a well or badly chosen word. These moments, and the small sustaining acts of kindness and connection that punctuate hospital life, teach her that emotional care and mental health can be just as critical as restoring a heartbeat.

In a profession where weakness remains a taboo, this moving, beautifully written book brings to life the vivid, human stories of doctors and patients – and shows us why we need to take better care of those who care for us.

The Minders – John Marrs

Spoilers Ahead! (in the content warnings)

Click here to start your life again.

The most important thing I need to tell you about The Minders is that it is set in the same world as The One and The Passengers.

While you could technically read this book as a standalone, ginormous spoilers are included in this book about characters and events from the other books. Make sure you read them in publication order if you’re ever going to read more than one or you risk ruining your reading experience.

Now that we’ve seen firsthand the complications that can come from meeting your one true love and been chauffeured around by driverless cars, it’s time to turn out attention to classified information. Conspiracy theorists could only dream of gaining unrestricted access to everything their government has been hiding from them.

Due to very credible threats to national security, technology has been developed to hide these cover ups, secrets and misdirections in a brand new way – implanted into the heads of a select group of people.

We need to protect ourselves and make sure we are future proof. Our freedom depends upon it.

We follow the stories of five Minders:

Flick is really struggling as a result of the events that unfolded in The One and her connection with two of its characters.

Charlie has anxiety and is into conspiracy theories. This should be right up his alley.

Sinéad’s husband is a domestic abuser. If you happen to imagine a piano falling on his head while you’re reading, I won’t judge you.

Emilia only knows her name.

Like Flick, Bruno is also one of John Marrs’ secondary victims. He was personally impacted by the big action scene in The Passengers.

This was my fifth John Marrs read and the first one I could actually put down. I’m not entirely sure what the problem was but I didn’t connect with any of this book’s Marrs victims and wasn’t invested in the calamities they faced.

Maybe I wasn’t in the right headspace this week? Maybe it was because I didn’t get to spend a great deal of time seeing the characters living their lives before they became Minders? I don’t know, but because I’ve loved all of the others I’m going to classify this book as an anomaly and look forward to my next John Marrs read.

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, domestic abuse, mental health and self harm. There’s also a derogatory term used by an Echo that raised my hackles (this may not bother other readers but I felt like they could have gotten their point across without saying that specific word).

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Del Rey, an imprint of Random House UK, Cornerstone, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Five strangers guard our secrets. Only four can be trusted …

In the 21st century, information is king. But computers can be hacked and files can be broken into – so a unique government initiative has been born. Five ordinary people have been selected to become Minders – the latest weapon in thwarting cyberterrorism. Transformed by a revolutionary medical procedure, the country’s most classified information has been taken offline and turned into genetic code implanted inside their heads. 

Together, the five know every secret – the truth behind every government lie, conspiracy theory and cover up. In return, they’re given the chance to leave their problems behind and a blank slate to start their lives anew.

But not everyone should be trusted, especially when they each have secrets of their own they’ll do anything to protect …

Witness – Louise Milligan

An analysis by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald newspapers of sexual assault statistics published in September 2019 found that of the 52,396 sexual assaults reported to NSW Police between 2009 and 2018, charges were only laid in 12,894 cases.

Of the 12,894, 7629 went to court. Of those, 2308 were dropped at trial, 1494 found not guilty. The remaining 3827, or roughly 50 per cent of the total that went to court, were found guilty. That’s just 7 per cent of the cases that originally went to police.

I’m one of the 39,502 whose report to the police resulted in no charges being laid. Because there were no witnesses. Because the detective who took my statement didn’t even know how to classify the crime that was committed. [I checked. Section 61I of the Crimes Act 1900 No 40 says it has a name. It’s called sexual assault.] Because the second detective I spoke to didn’t believe me. Because the entire police investigation consisted of the second detective asking my psychologist if I had a mental illness that would cause me to make something like this up.

After reading this book I’m grateful that my retraumatisation was only at the hands of the police, that I never had to experience cross-examination in court, where

complainants and witnesses are treated like they are the villains, in order to defend the accused.

This book was an eye-opener in the most brutal way. I already knew the court system in Australia didn’t do any favours for people who have experienced violent crimes. I didn’t realise it was this bad.

I learned about the culture within the legal community, ensuring barristers are seen as not having been affected by the horrific offences they are defending. Without being able to acknowledge their own vicarious trauma or get help for it, barristers disregard the impact of trauma on victims they cross-examine in their courtrooms, making it easier to dehumanise them and rip holes in their testimony.

This is a system where teenagers are called ‘madam’ to make it sound as though they are older than they are. Where children are not allowed to take teddy bears with them when they testify because their presence would remind the jury that the victim is a child. Where the accused has a lawyer protecting their rights in court but the victim doesn’t. Where barristers behave towards victims in ways that would get you fired in pretty much any other job, but it’s mostly allowed because in court it’s all about establishing reasonable doubt.

And that’s where we come to that oft-repeated phrase from victims – that the cross-examination was as bad, if not worse, than the original abuse.

Psychologist Michelle Epstein says her patients who go through the court process generally say they would recommend others not to do it.

My take-away from this book?

If you’re sexually assaulted in Australia and your case is one of the few that actually makes it to court, you’re likely to wish it hadn’t. There you can expect to be traumatised at a level on par, if not more so, than the abuse you experienced to get you there in the first place.

This is a real indictment on the legal system (I almost said justice system but it appears justice is but a pipe dream for most survivors). Until real change occurs (and this is a system that moves imperceptibly slow, so don’t hold your breath), I predict that fewer survivors will feel safe enough to report what happened to them and perpetrators are going to keep on perpetrating, knowing, statistically, they’re very unlikely to be punished for their crimes.

‘It’s like you are alive, and you’re having an autopsy done on you.’

Julie Stewart

People who actually have the power to make a difference need to read this book immediately! Well written as it is, it made me feel so sad and angry, and utterly powerless. Now that I’m suitably dejected and disillusioned, I’m going to take a much needed mental health break. If you’d care to join me, I’ll be floating on a cloud made of cotton candy and hanging out with some unicorns.

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, mental health, sexual assault and suicidal ideation.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

From the best-selling author of Cardinal comes a searing examination of the power imbalance in our legal system – where exposing the truth is never guaranteed and, for victims, justice is often elusive. 

A masterful and deeply troubling expose, Witness is the culmination of almost five years’ work for award-winning investigative journalist Louise Milligan. Charting the experiences of those who have the courage to come forward and face their abusers in high-profile child abuse and sexual assault cases, Milligan was profoundly shocked by what she found. 

During this time, the #MeToo movement changed the zeitgeist, but time and again during her investigations Milligan watched how witnesses were treated in the courtroom and listened to them afterwards as they relived the associated trauma. Then she was a witness herself in the trial of the decade, R v George Pell.

She interviews high-profile members of the legal profession, including judges and prosecutors. And she speaks to the defence lawyers who have worked in these cases, discovering what they really think about victims and the process, and the impact that this has on their own lives. Milligan also reveals never-before-published court transcripts, laying bare the flaws that are ignored, and a court system that can be sexist, unfeeling and weighted towards the rich and powerful. 

Witness is a call for change. Milligan exposes the devastating reality of the Australian legal system where truth is never guaranteed and, for victims, justice is often elusive. And even when they get justice, the process is so bruising, they wish they had never tried. 

See What You Made Me Do – Jess Hill

We talk a lot about the danger of dark alleys, but the truth is that in every country around the world the home is the most dangerous place for a woman.

If you only ever read one book about domestic abuse, please make it this one. While I’d like everyone to read it, I think it should be mandatory for so many professions, including anyone involved in the judicial system, medicine, politics, teaching and counselling.

Domestic abuse is not just violence. It’s worse. It is a unique phenomenon, in which the perpetrator takes advantage of their partner’s love and trust and uses that person’s most intimate details – their deepest desires, shames and secrets – as a blueprint for their abuse.

I thought I knew a lot about domestic abuse already. I’ve experienced it firsthand. I’ve read plenty of fiction and non-fiction books that talk about it. I have a psychology degree. I worked in a women’s refuge for a short time. Yet I learned so much from this book.

What should surprise us about domestic abuse is not that a woman can take a long time to leave, but that she has the mental fortitude to survive.

When the author introduced Biderman’s ‘Chart of Coercion’, saying there are parallels between the experiences of returned prisoners of war and domestic abuse survivors, I admit I was a tad wary. Even as someone well versed in the experience of domestic abuse, I wasn’t sure how the two would or could line up. The way the author outlined the techniques, step by step, sucked me in though. It all made perfect sense and it was horrifying, but I was learning something new and I needed to find out more.

Accompanying extensive research are stories of people who have perpetrated and been victimised by domestic abuse. Prepare to brace yourself as you read these accounts as they are invariably brutal and heartbreaking, but please don’t bypass them, even though that would be easier. (Or else you risk missing out on aha! moments, like when emotional abuse is explained as someone bashing someone with their emotions instead of their fists.)

If you’ve experienced domestic abuse yourself, you will easily recognise the truth of these accounts. If you are fortunate enough to have made it this far without being impacted by this type of trauma, know that these stories are representative of so many people’s lives. Friends, family, neighbours …

I can’t imagine reading these accounts without having a visceral reaction and if you’re struggling to ‘witness’ them on the page, please be sure to practice self care. I don’t know if what helped me will apply to other readers but each time I came across something that was too difficult, I told myself that my discomfort wasn’t even in the same ball park as the horror of actually experiencing that firsthand.

The people who have told their stories have courage beyond my comprehension and I feel we owe it to them to not shy away from their words. It’s too easy to maintain the status quo; maybe what we all need is a wake up call to spur us into action.

There’s so much we still need to do. A recent Australian survey, conducted by White Ribbon, found that

Four in ten young men do not consider punching and hitting to constitute domestic violence

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald 25/10/2020

In NSW, Australia, coercive control is not even a criminal offence. Yet. Hopefully this will change, if proposed coercive control laws aren’t squished by the powers that be. You can find Women’s Safety NSW’s proposal here.

I want people to stop asking ‘Why does she stay?’ and start asking ‘Why does he do that?’

SURVIVOR, QUEENSLAND

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, domestic abuse, mental health and sexual assault.

P.S. There’s going to be a three part TV series in 2021 hosted by Jess Hill.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

At the office of Safe Steps, Victoria’s dedicated 24/7 family violence response call centre, phone counsellors receive a call every three minutes. Many women are repeat callers: on average, they will go back to an abusive partner eight times before leaving for good.

‘You must get so frustrated when you think a woman’s ready to leave and then she decides to go back,’ I say.

‘No,’ replies one phone counsellor, pointedly. ‘I’m frustrated that even though he promised to stop, he chose to abuse her again.’

Women are abused or killed by their partners at astonishing rates: in Australia, almost 17 per cent of women over the age of fifteen – one in six – have been abused by an intimate partner.

In this confronting and deeply researched account, journalist Jess Hill uncovers the ways in which abusers exert control in the darkest – and most intimate – ways imaginable. She asks: What do we know about perpetrators? Why is it so hard to leave? What does successful intervention look like?

What emerges is not only a searing investigation of the violence so many women experience, but a dissection of how that violence can be enabled and reinforced by the judicial system we trust to protect us.

Combining exhaustive research with riveting storytelling, See What You Made Me Do dismantles the flawed logic of victim-blaming and challenges everything you thought you knew about domestic and family violence.

The Passengers – John Marrs

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

In a world where self-drive cars take the hassle out of getting from A to B, eight people go for a drive one morning. A hacker has set them on a collision course. Only one will survive. It’s up to the public to decide which one.

‘I have programmed your car to take you on an alternative route this morning. And in two hours and thirty minutes, it it likely that you will be dead.’

Scheduled to meet their maker in the near future are:

Passenger 1: A married young woman who is 7 months pregnant. She’s a teaching assistant who is driving to her husband’s workplace this morning.

Passenger 2: An unemployed and homeless young man who is suicidal.

Passenger 3: An elderly actress who is on her way to a hospital to visit teenage cancer patients. Even if you decide you don’t like her, then surely you wouldn’t kill her dog, who is travelling in the car with her, would you?

Passenger 4: A mother of two and a police officer.

Passenger 5: The husband of Passenger 4. He runs a refurbishment and construction company. He and his wife are travelling in separate cars.

Passenger 6: A stay at home mother of five who is trying to escape from an abusive husband.

Passenger 7: A disabled war veteran who’s on their way to the hospital.

Passenger 8: An asylum seeker.

It’s kind of like the trolley problem …

if it was on steroids.

Who would you save?

How do you determine which life is the most valuable when you don’t know the whole story?

That is the task Libby, a mental health nurse with PTSD, has before her today.

‘For every one of your actions today, there will be a reaction.’

This entire book is like watching a car crash unfold. Literally. And because I’m apparently all about realism, I read some of this book while I was sitting in my car. It was not moving at the time.

Like all John Marrs novels I’ve read so far, I loved the concept and quickly made my way through the chapters. Unlike previous novels I didn’t become emotionally involved in the story. I think it was because I didn’t get to spend much time getting to know each passenger.

While I understand it was integral to the story that the people who are deciding the fates of the eight unfortunates don’t know much about them, I never felt an urgent need for a specific passenger to survive so I wasn’t as caught up in the drama as I’d hoped.

You don’t need to have read The One to enjoy The Passengers but they’re set in the same world. There are several mentions of Match Your DNA in this book, which won’t mean a lot to you if you haven’t read The One.

‘What’s not to love about a bit of anarchy?’

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, domestic violence, human trafficking, mental health, miscarriages, paedophilia, racism, sexual assault and xenophobia. I didn’t make notes of these while I was reading so have only mentioned the ones I can think of off the top of my head. I doubt I’ve remembered them all.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Eight self-drive cars set on a collision course. Who lives, who dies? You decide.

When someone hacks into the systems of eight self-drive cars, their passengers are set on a fatal collision course.

The passengers are: a TV star, a pregnant young woman, a disabled war hero, an abused wife fleeing her husband, an illegal immigrant, a husband and wife – and parents of two – who are travelling in separate vehicles and a suicidal man. Now the public have to judge who should survive but are the passengers all that they first seem? 

It’s OK Not to Be OK – Tina Rae

Illustrations – Jessica Smith

This is a good introduction to mental health for young readers. It provides basic information about some of the more common mental health problems, including anxiety, depression and eating disorders. There are also sections on bullying and discrimination.

While encouraging readers to seek help from a trusted adult if they are struggling, there are also plenty of ideas to boost their own mental health. These include self care, diet, exercise, managing stress, challenging negative thoughts and mindfulness.

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Tips for parents and caregivers and lists of resources (apps, websites and helplines) are included at the end of the book.

Thank you to NetGalley and Quarto Publishing Group – words & pictures for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s OK Not to Be OK acknowledges and explores common mental health disorders such as depression, eating disorders and anxiety. Get the low down on these issues, why they happen and discover ways of looking after mental health in our fast-moving world.

This book will help children and young people develop the resilience to cope with whatever life throws at them and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults.

How To Be Ace: A Memoir of Growing Up Asexual – Rebecca Burgess

When Rebecca was growing up they weren’t interested in talking about relationships and sex like the rest of their classmates. They didn’t understand why sex was such a big deal but assumed they’d “grow into” it when they got older.

They tried to have relationships but it just didn’t feel right. They thought that something must be wrong with them.

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It wasn’t until they were at university that they began to accept that being different was okay and that they didn’t have to pretend to be like everyone else.

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Rebecca’s story takes the reader from the bullying they experienced in childhood through to managing their mental health. Information about asexuality is scattered through the graphic novel, with insights into what relationships can look like for people who identify as asexual.

There was a greater focus on mental health than I had expected. I didn’t personally learn anything new about asexuality from the panels that provide information but they do give readers a good introduction. I anticipate that being able to follow Rebecca’s journey from struggling with their sexuality to their eventual acceptance of who they are will be helpful for readers who can relate to her experiences and provide new understanding for those who don’t understand asexuality.

There are resources at the end of Rebecca’s story. Because asexuality is so misunderstood I’m including them here so you can check them out for yourself.

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Content warnings include anxiety, bullying, emetophobia, OCD and mention of sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Jessica Kingsley Publishers for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

“When I was in school, everyone got to a certain age where they became interested in talking about only one thing: boys, girls and sex. Me though? I was only interested in comics.”

Growing up, Rebecca assumes sex is just a scary new thing they will ‘grow into’ as they gets older, but when they leaves school, starts working, and does grow up, they starts to wonder why they doesn’t want to have sex with other people.

In this brave, hilarious and empowering graphic memoir, we follow Rebecca as they navigate a culture obsessed with sex – from being bullied at school and trying to fit in with friends, to forcing themself into relationships and experiencing anxiety and OCD – before coming to understand and embrace their asexual identity.

Giving unparalleled insight into asexuality and asexual relationships, How To Be Ace shows the importance of learning to be happy and proud of who you are.

Liar Liar – Laurie Katz

Before I say anything else, I want to make a few things clear. I believe Laurie. What she experienced – being sexually assaulted, the perpetrator’s subsequent behaviour, the harmful responses she received from friends and university staff members – was horrific and she is not to blame for any of it. She deserved to be believed and supported while she was at college and she deserves those same things now.

What Laurie has accomplished here is remarkable. Writing about the events of your life is a difficult task under the best of circumstances. Needing to write accounts of my own experiences of sexual assault for non-public reasons has given me a general idea of just how daunting and painful a process this can be. I can’t even begin to imagine the vulnerability people must feel sharing this publicly and I commend Laurie for the courage and resilience this finished book represents.

Laurie was raped on the third Saturday of her freshman year of college. She was not only discouraged from reporting this to the police by university staff members but was also denied justice through the university’s own reporting process. Worse still, she was formally accused of lying by the university.

After essentially trying to cope with this trauma by herself, managing the best she could by overachieving and self-medicating, Laurie eventually found the support she deserved from the very beginning.

Given the subject matter, this was always going to be a difficult read, even though the book itself is quite short. If you find descriptions of sexual assault triggering, please be safe while reading this book. I had psyched myself up for the details I knew would be coming but was surprised by a few additional descriptions that I didn’t have time to prepare for. In particular, I thought the book was winding up so I let my guard down, then got hit by a major new revelation in the final chapter.

The next part of this review is difficult for me to write. I don’t feel like I have the right to judge anyone’s experiences or the choices they make so this isn’t that. However, I’m also uneasy critiquing the way anyone writes about their experiences, and that’s what this feels like.

Having said that, at times Laurie’s story came across as quite disjointed and could have benefited from some further editing. I recognise that traumatic memories are not formed in the nice, neat, linear way that non-traumatic memories are. Sometimes memories are only retained in flashes. They’re not necessarily remembered in the right order. There may be aspects of a sexual assault a victim never remembers.

All of this makes it harder to form a step by step narrative in our own heads, let alone when we try to make sense of it with others. I asked myself if I needed to take that into consideration as I was reading this book. I’d wonder about things, like where Sarah was or why no one accompanied Laurie to court, only to find out the answers in later chapters. The narrative jumped back and forth in time, making it more difficult to get a clear idea of the order of events.

The publisher says this book is part of a series that “tells the stories of the people who have battled and beaten mental health issues.” Although this should be obvious I feel I need to point out that sexual assault is not a mental health issue. Granted, it can result in a wide variety of trauma impacts, some of which include depression, anxiety and PTSD, but in and of itself it is not a mental health issue.

Content warnings include bullying, eating disorders, mental health, self harm, sexual assault and suicidal ideation.

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Like any student about to start university, Laurie Katz was excited to see what the year would bring. Little did she know that just three weeks into her first term, her life would come crashing down around her. What had started as a fun night out with friends ended with Laurie, alone with a terrible secret: she had been raped.

Traumatised and confused, she set out to get justice against her attacker. But when the authorities at her university dismissed her case, and warned her that she could be expelled, she was left unsure where to turn. It seemed as though things couldn’t get worse, then her attacker filed his own case.

Laurie’s story is a brave and honest reminder of the injustice still felt in society around sexual abuse. Laurie offers readers her advice, and provides them with the hope that they too can overcome a similar trauma.

Fighting Words – Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

I could always count on Suki. Suki fixed everything.

Della has always been able to rely on Suki, her older sister. Suki has taken care of and protected Della her whole life. Now the sisters are in foster care and their mother’s boyfriend, Clifton, is in prison. Della keeps getting in trouble at school and Suki wakes up screaming each night.

I’ve learned that some things are almost impossible to talk about because they’re things no one wants to know.

I think we can sometimes underestimate the importance of young readers being able to see themselves in books. Although it’s wonderful to be able to escape into a world that only exists in your imagination, watching a character live through an experience that you can relate to is its own special type of magic.

Della and Suki’s story has the potential to reach readers who have experienced, or are still experiencing, sexual assault. I want Della’s words to reach through the page to let those readers know that they’re not alone and that there are people who will help them.

I loved Della. She’s a little spitfire but she’s also so courageous and resilient. Despite everything she’s experienced she is still loving and fiercely loyal. Her bond with Suki was beautiful, although the beauty was tinged with some sadness because Suki should never have been put in the position of caring for and protecting her younger sister.

I really hope this book finds its way to the readers it needs to. The story of these sisters is heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful. It clearly shows how important people’s responses to disclosures of sexual assault are to those who have the courage to speak up. Some of the impacts of this type of trauma are explored, as are some of the ways they can be managed.

Sometimes you’ve got a story you need to find the courage to tell.

While I was relieved that the abuser in this story was incarcerated I know that this will not be part of the story for so many survivors. The majority of perpetrators of sexual assault will never spend a day in prison. The statistics are absolutely horrifying.

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I don’t say this to discourage people from reporting what was done to them. It’s just that the majority of stories I’ve read that address sexual assault result in the conviction of the perpetrator. This is not a complaint about this book, merely a general observation.

We want the baddies to have consequences for their actions. I understand that. But when fiction only represents the outcome for the minority of victims of this crime, do we risk sending the message that being able to heal from this sexual assault is reliant upon the incarceration of the offender?

There are discussion notes at the end of the book, where the recommended reading age is said to be 14+. When I was a kid I only read books about kids who were my age or older so at 14 I wouldn’t have picked up a book where the main character was 12, but that’s probably just one of my quirks.

I can pretty much guarantee the word ‘snow’ will take on a whole new meaning once you’ve read this book.

Content warnings include addiction, bullying, foster care, sexual assault, suicide attempt (includes the method used), and verbal and emotional abuse.

Thank you to NetGalley and Text Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Della can’t work out why her adored older sister Suki screams in her sleep. Suki has always been Della’s protector, especially after their mother went to prison and her boyfriend took the sisters in. But who has been protecting Suki?

Della is in trouble at school for having a big mouth, but after she stands up to the class bully other girls rally to her cause. When Suki tries to kill herself, Della decides it’s time to tell their secrets and speak out about the terrible things that happened to Suki. Bound by love and trauma, these two sisters must find their own voices before they can find their way back to each other.

Based on the author’s personal experience, this gripping and essential story explodes the stigma around child sexual abuse. Written from the heart, with tenderness, compassion and humour, Fighting Words is about finding the words to talk about the most difficult things in young adults’ lives.