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.

The Girls I’ve Been – Tess Sharpe

Spoilers Ahead! (in content warnings)

Sometimes what doesn’t kill you messes you up so bad it’s always a fight to make through what you’re left with.

What didn’t kill me didn’t make me stronger; what didn’t kill me made me a victim.

But I made me stronger. I made me a survivor.

Well, me and Lee and my very patient therapist.

I am so obsessed with this book! Going into it I knew a few things: it has a great cover, it’s about a girl who winds up in the middle of a bank robbery with her ex-boyfriend and current girlfriend, and there’s more to the girl than meet the eye.

I didn’t expect it to be such a compulsive read. From beginning to end there’s practically non-stop action and reveals. I also didn’t expect my review to basically consist of a string of quotes but there were so many things I wanted to highlight and even if I did decide to desecrate my library book, I’d have to return it at some point, and I want to be able to revisit them.

So, our main character is Nora but that’s just the name she answers to now. Her mother is a con artist who groomed her daughter to play a role in each of her cons, so there have been many girls before Nora.

She was Rebecca.

Being Rebecca teaches me how to lie. How to look into someone’s eyes while there isn’t a true word coming out of your mouth, but they believe it because enough of you believes it.

She was Samantha.

Samantha has no needs or wants. She exists to serve someone else’s.

She was Haley.

Haley is unobtrusive. No one really pays her any mind in the crowd.

She was Katie.

Katie is not quiet. She is not silent. She is not invisible. She is the first spitfire Mom lets me be, the closest thing to me I’ve been in years.

She was Ashley.

And that’s when it hits me: There aren’t any more rules.

I didn’t just break them. I broke free of them.

Nora is not the only character you’ll be thinking about long after you finish reading, though.

There’s also Lee, Nora’s badass older sister, a tough, smart, determined woman who is willing to play the long game to get what she wants. Lee is someone you definitely want on your side but, like Nora, life has left her with scars.

Broken girls, both of us, growing up into women with cracks plastered rough over where smooth should be.

Wes, Nora’s ex-boyfriend, is basically my idea of the perfect boy. He’s a wonderful friend, he’s protective of the people he loves, he’s this sort of intoxicating combination of strong, sensitive and damaged, and he forgets that he’s a terrible singer when he’s stoned.

This we share. Scars and knowledge and broken safety that was never really there in the first place, because we were born to bad apples.

Iris, Nora’s girlfriend, is absolutely everything! She’s smart, she’s intuitive and she wears clothes that I can only dream of looking that amazing in. She’s brave and she’s resilient and she can think straight and stay upright even when she’s experiencing intense chronic pain from endometriosis. She’s basically my idea of a superhero.

She is heedless and gleeful and has the self-preservation instincts of a moth drawn to dares and flames.

Lee, Wes and Iris are not cardboard cutout characters cast in a supporting role. They’re each deserving of their own books. They certainly have enough personality and backstories to fill them.

Although their story is set during a bank robbery, these four already share stories of survival, even though they don’t necessarily know all of each other’s secrets.

I felt Nora’s pain deep in my soul: wanting to be the person people tell you you’re supposed to be, holding onto your secrets and your shame because you don’t know if anyone will ever be able to love the real you, needing to protect the people you care about from you because you don’t want the parts of you that you hide to hurt them, trying to survive your past without it consuming your future.

There were lines that made me smile.

“Very original. Do you have some evil-dude bingo card stashed somewhere?”

But more often, what I wanted to highlight were truths that spoke to me, things I know in my heart but that I’m going to need to revisit so I can be reminded of them.

“Men like that don’t stop”

You don’t have to just be taught to trust, you have to grow up in a life with people who are worthy of it.

“There is no normal,” Amelia says. “There’s just a bunch of people pretending there is. There’s just different levels of pain. Different stages of safe. The biggest con of all is that there’s a normal.”

Content warnings include mention of abortion, domestic violence, emotional abuse, gun violence, physical abuse and sexual assault. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with a couple of scenes. The author has provided a more extensive list of content warnings here.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

As an ex con artist, Nora has always got herself out of tricky situations. But the ultimate test lies in wait when she’s taken hostage in a bank heist. And this time, Nora doesn’t have an escape plan …

Meet Nora. Also known as Rebecca, Samantha, Haley, Katie and Ashley – the girls she’s been. 

Nora didn’t choose a life of deception – she was born into it. As the daughter of a con artist who targeted criminal men, Nora always had to play a part. But when her mother fell for one of the men instead of conning him, Nora pulled the ultimate con herself: escape. 

For five years Nora’s been playing at normal – but things are far from it when she finds herself held at gunpoint in the middle of a bank heist, along with Wes (her ex-boyfriend) and Iris (her secret new girlfriend and mutual friend of Wes … awkward). Now it will take all of Nora’s con artistry skills to get them out alive. 

Because the gunmen have no idea who she really is – that girl has been in hiding for far too long … 

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. 

The Nesting – C.J. Cooke

‘Nature always protects itself by whatever means possible.’

Sophie has a new job as a nanny, caring for two adorable girls, Gaia and Coco. Their father, Tom, is an architect who’s currently working hard on an innovative new project in Norway. Sophie is also working hard, trying to make sure no one figures out that she’s not really Sophie, but Lexi, and that she’s not actually a nanny.

Although it appears to be the ideal escape from her real life, this new job isn’t as straightforward as Lexi had hoped. Tom’s wife died recently, supposedly by suicide, although Lexi suspects there’s more to the story. She’s also been told that the locked basement is off limits.

Even if you hear something down there, please stay out.

Hear something?

What the hell was in that basement?

Then there’s the Sad Lady, who Gaia keeps mentioning, who has holes where her eyes should be.

I’d only planned on reading a couple of pages to get a feel for the book but before I knew it I’d binged the entire thing. I enjoyed it much more than I expected I would but I am left with some question marks.

I adored the children but didn’t connect with any of the adults. The mental health components of Lexi and Aurelia’s stories intrigued me but I’m not a huge fan of unreliable narrators so I found myself questioning their realities more than I would have liked.

After such a build up, the ending felt rushed to me and some of the ways the story came together seemed a bit too convenient. Lexi’s backstory answered some questions I’d had but read more like an info dump, glossing over some pretty monumental events in her life.

With trees and a fjord, minimal sunlight and the tantalising possibility of spotting an aurora, the setting felt like its own character and made this an atmospheric read. This was helped along by the environmental message and the Norse folklore. The folklore included in this story were written by the author.

I’m interested in reading more books by this author and devouring some Norse folklore.

Content warnings include attempted suicide (including the method used), child abuse, foster care, mental health, miscarriage, sexual assault and suicidal ideation.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It was like something out of a fairytale …
The grieving widower.
The motherless daughters.
A beautiful house in the woods.

Deep in a remote Norwegian forest, Lexi has found a new home with architect Tom and his two young daughters. With snow underfoot and the sound of the nearby fjord in her ears, it’s as if Lexi has stepped into a fairy tale

But this family has a history – and this place has a past. Something was destroyed to build their beautiful new house. And those ancient, whispering woods have a long memory.

Lexi begins to hear things, see things that don’t make sense. She used to think this place heavenly, but in the dark, dark woods, a menacing presence lurks.

With darkness creeping in from the outside, Lexi knows she needs to protect the children in her care.

But protect them from what?

Lonely Castle in the Mirror – Mizuki Tsujimura

Translator – Philip Gabriel

‘If you’re told it’ll definitely come true,’ Masamune said, ‘then everyone will have a wish or two.’

Kokoro, a 7th grader who no longer attends school because of “the incident”, has the house to herself during the day while her parents are at work. She spends her time watching TV, hiding from the world outside her home.

One day a light appears from inside her mirror. Before she’s even barely begun investigating this strange occurrence, Kokoro finds herself on the other side of the mirror. There, in a castle that looks like it belongs in a fairytale, she meets others whose mirrors have learned the same new trick:

  • Aki is in the 9th grade and appears to have her act together
  • Fuka wears glasses, has a high pitched voice and is in the 8th grade
  • Masamune is in the 8th grade and is likely to be playing a video game whenever you see him
  • Subaru is in the 9th grade and is described as looking like Ron from Harry Potter
  • Ureshino is already in love with being in love and he’s only in the 7th grade
  • Rion is a handsome 7th grader who plays football.

The seven strangers are met by the Wolf Queen, who tells them the rules of the castle.

‘From now until next March, you will need to search for the key that will unlock the Wishing Room. The person who finds it will have the right to enter and their wish will be granted.’

Over the course of many months, the group slowly get to know one another and discover what they have in common. Despite the fairytale elements and some magical realism, the core of this book addresses some difficult topics, albeit in a sensitive way. I loved the focus on mental health, particularly anxiety, and how it impacts other areas of our functioning, including physical health and social interactions.

I liked the characters, although some were given more detailed backstories than others. I was most intrigued by Aki and wanted to spend more time behind what I saw as her protective wall. I would have loved to have learned what happened to all of the seven after the events of the story. I definitely wanted more page time with the mysterious Wolf Queen, hoarder of the best lines:

‘Can’t you simply be satisfied that you’ve been chosen as heroes in a story?’

Anyone who knows me knows I love portal stories and I found myself bingeing this one. There weren’t as many fantasy elements as I’ve experienced in other portal stories I’ve read. I also got to know the characters and the rules of the castle at a more leisurely pace than I’d expected. Neither were a problem for me, though. The payoff at the end ticked all the boxes for me, confirming some suspicions and answering most of the questions I had. This is definitely a book I want to reread.

How could a portal into a different world not be appealing?

Content warnings include bullying, grief, mental health, sexual assault and mention of death by suicide.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Doubleday, an imprint of Transworld Publishers, Penguin Random House UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

How can you save your friend’s life if she doesn’t want to be rescued?

In a tranquil neighbourhood of Tokyo, seven teenagers wake to find their bedroom mirrors are shining.

At a single touch, they are pulled from their lonely lives into a wondrous castle filled with winding stairways, watchful portraits and twinkling chandeliers. In this new sanctuary, they are confronted with a set of clues leading to a hidden room where one of them will be granted a wish. But there’s a catch: if they don’t leave by five o’clock, they will die.

As time passes, a devastating truth emerges: only those brave enough to share their stories will be saved.

Tender, playful, gripping, Lonely Castle in the Mirror is a mesmerising tale about the importance of reaching out, confronting anxiety and embracing human connection.

The Shadow in the Glass – J.J.A. Harwood

Spoilers (in the Content Warnings)

‘I’d like to propose a bargain. I will offer you seven wishes. Whatever you ask for, I shall grant you. There are few limits.’

In this dark retelling, Eleanor is our Cinderella. After the death of her parents she was cared for by Mrs Pembroke, who Eleanor remembers fondly. It’s been three years since Mrs Pembroke’s death and in that time Eleanor’s once soft hands have reddened and cracked, the result of her new role as one of Mr Pembroke’s housemaids.

Eleanor’s life is a daily struggle; her body aches from the work she does, she is never warm enough and she is always hungry. Then there is the constant threat of Mr Pembroke himself. Reading is Eleanor’s only escape.

The dark spines of the books were rows of windows, waiting for the shutters to be pulled back.

Eleanor imagines what she would wish for if she were granted some like the characters in books she’s read. Eleanor wishes that she could live a life without poverty, hunger and danger.

Eleanor tried to be good, she tried to be kind, but she wanted so many things that she could feel them gnawing at her from the inside.

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Eleanor needs to be careful what she wishes for, though, because her fairy godmother isn’t the one who made you believe bibbidi-bobbidi-boo was a real spell.

No, wishes have some serious consequences in this fairytale.

Set in the nineteenth century, you know things are going to be pretty dire for women in general, but the teenagers who work at Granborough House also live with the constant threat of danger inside the house. I empathised with all of the housemaids but never connected with Eleanor. I didn’t like her, which made it difficult to become invested in the potential the wishes had to improve her circumstances.

I found some parts of the book repetitive and it felt like a longer read than it actually was, predominantly because the settings and the majority of the women’s lives were quite bleak.

I enjoyed anticipating how Eleanor’s wishes would be granted and seeing how she would react when she was given what she asked for, especially when expectation and reality didn’t line up.

I am left with a few unanswered questions but none that will keep me up at night. I expect the ending may not be for everyone but I loved it.

‘If you want something, my dear, you must ask for it.’

Content warnings include abortion/miscarriage, physical abuse and the consistent threat of sexual assault, along with mention of previous instances.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and HarperVoyager, an imprint of HarperCollins UK, for granting my wish to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A deliciously gothic story of wishes and curses – a new dark fairy tale set against a Victorian backdrop full of lace and smoke.

Once upon a time Ella had wished for more than her life as a lowly maid.

Now forced to work hard under the unforgiving, lecherous gaze of the man she once called stepfather, Ella’s only refuge is in the books she reads by candlelight, secreted away in the library she isn’t permitted to enter.

One night, among her beloved books of far-off lands, Ella’s wishes are answered. At the stroke of midnight, a fairy godmother makes her an offer that will change her life: seven wishes, hers to make as she pleases. But each wish comes at a price and Ella must decide whether it’s one she’s willing to pay …

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.