Tag Archives: molestation

Still reading: Young Adult memoirs

In my continuing quest for knowledge on how to write a fantastic memoir, I keep reading other memoirs, particularly ones aimed at an young adult audience. Since my last post about what I’ve been reading, I’ve finished two books: King of the Mild Frontier by Chris Crutcher and The Other Side of the Sky: A Memoir by Farah Ahmedi.

Both are good, and yet very different from each other in terms of writing style and content.

king of the mild frontierKing of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography by Chris Crutcher

I haven’t read any of Chris Crutcher’s other books, but they’re now on my reading list once I get back into fiction again. I’m not sure if this book was suggested as a YA memoir to read because he’s a YA author, but I suspect I wouldn’t have appreciated this book as much as a teenager as I did reading it as a (somehow) fully-fledged adult.

It covers his growing-up years in Cascade, Idaho — a time and place I can barely relate to and am incredibly glad I didn’t grow up in — told through stories that are hilarious and heart-breaking. It’s open, honest and extremely well-written. I can only hope to someday be this funny and poignant.

the other side of the skyThe Other Side of the Sky: A Memoir by Farah Ahmedi

It took me a while to get into this book — partly because I read it in paperback (as opposed to on my kindle) and partly because of the writing style. It’s written as if Farah is telling you the story in person, as it is essentially the transcription of her conversations with Tanim Ansary, who was hired to help her write the book. Once I got further into the book, either the story picked up or I got used to the writing style and I zipped through the last half.

Overall, it’s a moving, eye-opening story about a young Afghani girl who loses most of one leg in a land-mine explosion and eventually emigrates to America with her mother, after losing the rest of her family in war. She is amazingly resilient and refreshingly innocent, even after everything she experiences.

As an immigrant to the U.S. I related to her experiences moving here: the overwhelment of everything moving so fast, the bright lights, the cars, all of the foreign Americanness (I’m making up words now) as well as the feelings of isolation and outsiderness.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any satisfying updates about her life today. She graduated from North Central College in 2010 (the book was published in 2006 when she was about 19), by which time she’d married and had a child. And in 2014, she spoke to a group of high school students about the book and her experiences, so she’s still alive and well, just without much of a public profile. It looks like I got emotionally involved enough to want to know what happened next, after the book’s conclusion.

Next on my reading list:

  • The Lost Boy by David Pelzer — the 2nd installment of his incredible journey (I clearly get sucked into these author’s lives and want to know more).
  • Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You by Sue William Silverman — because apparently I’ve become obsessed with memoirs about the horrible things parents do to their children and I don’t want to sleep at night
  • The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway — I love reading about other places and cultures and am curious how others describe their countries in ways that make it come alive (so hopefully I can do the same with Barbados)

Why I stopped ballet — a question I couldn’t answer

I picked Berry up from ballet class today, along with Duncan and our new after-school nanny. She was crying for a reason I didn’t quite ever get–something to do with trying to do cartwheels.

As I hugged her and tried to cheer her up, I talked about doing ballet myself as a kid. I took classes from age 4-7 and loved it. I was quite the little ballerina. 🙂 And then I stopped.

And the natural question was asked, “Why did you stop?”

What is Berry that asked? Or Duncan? Or a parent of another child? I don’t know now–the shock of realizing I couldn’t answer it must have prevented the memory from forming.

I came up with an answer of sorts. Not a good one. Not one that prevented more questions. “Something disastrous happened.”

“What happened?”

Well…the simple truth that I couldn’t say was that something really bad happened. I was in the changing room of some community center after a performance and some old man (the janitor? a grandparent? some dude off the street?) got me in an adjoining room and did unspeakable things to me that should never happen to a 7-year-old. I have an idea what. I still don’t fully remember. I know he said he watched me on stage and couldn’t take his eyes off me. That I looked lovely. Or something like that.

I know that afterward, on the way home, I cried hysterically. But I wouldn’t tell my Mum why. She tried for days, but I wouldn’t speak about it. And I refused to go to ballet ever again.

I know he threatened me or my family. I have a feeling I fought back — because that’s what I do. Which is probably where the threat came in.

And then I locked it away, somewhere in my head, for years.

It didn’t keep me off the stage, in the end. Although I think it’s still part of why I refuse to let my light shine too brightly.

But what do I tell my daughter? Who I let go to ballet and perform in shows. How do I teach her to fend for herself but not be afraid of everyone?

I haven’t figured that one out yet.

I love the kids’ innocence. But they need to know that sometimes people make bad choices that really hurt other people. They need to know that most adults are OK. But that if someone ever touches them in the wrong kind of way, it’s OK to hit and kick and scream and bite and do everything they can to defend themselves. And that any secret an adult tells them to keep is one that they need to tell. That’ll make surprise parties and presents a bit tricky, but they’ll figure out the nuance one day.

I don’t want them to grow up afraid to be without me. Because I can’t be with them all of the time — I’ve got that work thing to do and it would drive me insane. And it’s not healthy.

So I’ll ponder that one for a while and hope she forgets about it while I do. At least until next week.