The Packing House – G. Donald Cribbs

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

I can’t ignore these dreams. They come from somewhere. Maybe they’re trying to tell me something, but what exactly? 

Joel’s nightmares have been getting worse recently. It doesn’t help that his mother is emotionally unavailable and his father has been MIA for over half of his life. When one of Joel’s nightmares is recorded and posted online, it makes it even harder for him to cope.

Childhood sexual assault is always going to be difficult to read about. While there are more books being published where characters have experienced this, not enough are written from the point of view of male survivors. That’s what drew me to this book.

It’s hard to be objective when sexual assault and its impacts are addressed so I’ll focus here on what did and didn’t work for me personally as I read this book.

One of the strengths of this book was that it dealt with trauma that the main character didn’t always have clear memories of. Trauma encodes itself in the brain differently than non-traumatic memories and sometimes this means the memories aren’t accessible until the survivor is safe. Joel’s memories begin to resurface in the themes of his nightmares and in flashbacks. His understanding of what he’s experiencing doesn’t come all at once.

Some aspects of the story didn’t ring true to me. Once Joel talked about what happened to him, his nightmares seemed to disappear. While I hope this is the case for some survivors, this didn’t seem very realistic.

I couldn’t imagine the police, when they showed up to interview Joel at his home, finding it necessary to use their lights and siren to announce themselves. Surely a simple knock on the door would have done the trick. 

I’d also hate to think of a survivor being confronted by the police about such a sensitive topic in front of random family members or having to go with them straight away to the station in a police car to give a statement.

And why do the police say the perpetrator is “charged with” when they haven’t actually charged them yet? They hadn’t even interviewed the victim or conducted an investigation into the allegations.

With such an extended lead up to Joel remembering what happened to him, the events afterwards felt like a whirlwind. I was left with some pretty big question marks and some of those are because the book finishes so abruptly. I don’t know if a sequel is planned or not but here’s the short list of what I need to know…

Was Joel’s perpetrator responsible for what happened to the other boy we learn about from Joel’s childhood? Is there a way around the statute of limitations problem in Joel’s case as he’s only just remembered what happened to him? Does Joel get anything approximating justice from the legal system? Did the perpetrator also offend against Joel’s brother? What is Joel’s brother’s response to what happened to Joel? What possessed Joel to immediately set up candles when he learned what they meant for Amber?

There’s no indication in the blurb that religion is discussed in relation to the events in this book. Given that some readers will want to read it and others will avoid it for that reason alone, heads up: Christianity, including Bible quotes, are a part of this book.

Books in a book: Reading is one of Joel’s escapes. Throughout the book, he reads Fahrenheit 451The OutsidersThe Chocolate War and Catcher in the Rye

Content warnings include addiction (drug and gambling), bullying, domestic abuse, homelessness, homophobia, mental health (PTSD), physical abuse and sexual assault. Please be aware that the scenes describing childhood sexual assault are reasonably graphic.

Thank you to NetGalley and Cherish Editions, an imprint of Trigger Publishing, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When 16-year-old Joel Scrivener has a raging nightmare in study hall and someone records it on their phone, he awakens to a living nightmare where everyone knows his secret, one that he’s suppressed for ten years. Reeling as the whole school finds out the truth, Joel takes to the woods, leaving the bullies and his broken home behind.

However, life as a runaway isn’t easy, as Joel’s hallucinations and nightmares follow him into the wilderness. To stop them once and for all, he pieces clues together with flashes of the images that play endlessly inside his head – will he figure out the identity of the person who caused his nightmare before it’s too late?

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.