The Glass Castle

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When I first saw previews for The Glass Castle, I knew it was a film I wanted to see. I mentioned the movie to my husband, who laughed as he read its synopsis. “So basically it’s a movie about your life?” he asked. When I saw that the movie was based on a memoir, I decided to pick up the book first. And while the details are eerily similar in many respects, Jeannette Walls has had a life much wilder than mine has ever been.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls is the second of four children. Her father was a brilliant man who taught her and her siblings about math and science but also brought terror on them through his alcohol and gambling addictions. Their mother was an artist, but loved her art to the neglect of her parenting responsibilities. Together, her parents were a toxic combination that formed instability and turmoil for the children. They constantly moved around, living in poverty because of their parents’ choices.

In this memoir, Jeannette details moving from town to town and finally settling in her father’s hometown, where they bought a tiny house that was falling to pieces. Even in their poverty, their father believed that they would be able to build a castle out of glass one day. He carried the floor plans they had created for this castle, and the members of the family constantly added to these plans. In the backyard of their tiny, broken down house, the children dug a foundation for this castle under their father’s direction. However, life’s hardships required them to eventually fill it with trash. It is under these poor conditions that Jeannette and her older sister began to make plans to move to New York and start their lives apart from their parents.

A Heartbreaking Birthday Wish

One of the most powerful parts of this memoir was Jeannette’s recollection of her tenth birthday. Her dad took her outside to ask her what she wanted. He said he would get her anything, even if he had to die trying to get it.

Instantly she knew what she wanted, but she didn’t know if she should say it. As I listened to the audio recording of the book, I knew what she wanted, too.

Her dad pushed and begged her to tell him what it was that she wanted. Nothing was too big.

Finally, she told him: “Maybe you could stop drinking.”

I was driving to work as I listened to this part of Jeannette’s story, and I began to sob. Big, ugly tears. How many times have I wished that my own father might give up his addictions, for me? Oh, as an adult I know there’s so much more to addiction than selfishness. People use drugs and alcohol to numb unimaginable amounts of pain, but find themselves trapped by their addictive powers. But as a daughter, I want my dad to be my dad again. Sober.

Jeannette’s wish is heartbreaking not just because a ten-year-old girl wished for her dad to be sober for her birthday, but because that’s the wish of so many of us.

Skip the Movie and Read the Book

I ended up watching the movie, although my husband and I waited until after I read the book. There were a lot of things I liked about the movie, but I loved the richness of the book so much more.

The movie jumped around a lot more than the book did. While it probably made enough sense without having read the book, I felt like there were so many things in the movie that were underemphasized. Things that were important in the book seemed to be background images in the movie.

While my husband (who didn’t read the book) really liked the “present day” timeline in the movie, I did not. I felt like the time spent on it could have been used to make more sense of the things that happened in the book. Multiple stories from the book were combined into single scenes, making them lose their punch. For example, Jeannette’s birthday wish was turned into a plea for her dad to stop drinking when he returned home drunk one night.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t parts that touched me, though. One scene brought me to tears. Several others seemed to take on new life because I saw the film version. While I don’t think the movie is a complete waste of time, if you had to choose one or the other I highly recommend the book.

Review Breakdown

Writing – The writing was great. It carried the feel of the people and the story well.

Story – The story was intensely compelling from start to finish. While the last little bit seemed a little slower than the rest, it was still interesting and brought a feeling of resolution. It was a story that made me want to keep reading.

Mature Content – There was a lot of profanity (mostly used in quotes of Jeannette’s father). There was a fair amount of violence and gruesome depictions of the effects of alcoholism and poverty on a family. Jeannette also describes a few sexual abuse experiences, although not graphically.

Likability of Author – Jeannette was likable as I read this book. Occasionally her nearly-blind support of her father was frustrating. However, that support is understandable considering the bond between parent and child.

BONUS Audiobook Review – I always love when the audiobook is read by the author. It was great hearing Jeannette Walls read this book. It added extra life to the story hearing the inflection exactly as she intended it to be.

Other Books by Jeannette Walls – Dish: The Inside Story on the World of Gossip (2000); Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel (2009); and The Silver Star (2013).

Quick Review

The Glass Castle is an emotional and rewarding read, especially for adult children of alcoholics. I personally found it to be especially cathartic as I worked my way through Jeannette’s story, finding myself having many of the same emotions and experiences that she has had. This book was well-written and had a story that kept me interested throughout. Of the books I’ve read so far this year, this one may be my favorite.

Sickened

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Julie Gregory shares her heartbreaking story in Sickened. This memoir details the abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother, who subjected her to unnecessary medical testing. Known as Munchausen’s by Proxy, those who subject their children unneeded medical treatment gain a sense of importance and needed sympathy because of their roles as caretakers.

Sickened by Julie Gregory
Sickened by Julie Gregory

Julie was raised by her schizophrenic father and her abusive mother. Her mother started taking Julie to doctors for medical tests she did not need at a very young age. When they arrived at the doctor’s office, her mother would tell her to act sick. In elementary school, Julie began to realize that not all of the symptoms that her mother described were ones she really felt. Even so, she went along with her mother’s instructions. The medical tests became increasingly invasive as she got older. At one point, Julie’s mother even asked a doctor to do open heart surgery on her. When he refused, she became enraged.

The abuse extended outside of the doctor’s office. Julie’s mother would provoke her father into fits of rage. Blinded by his rage, he would beat his children. In one such incident, he nearly beat Julie to death. When Julie was in high school, her family’s home caught on fire while she was spending the night at a friend’s house. It was not until years later that she found out her parents set it on fire to claim the insurance money. This realization, among others, helped Julie to understand the extent to which her childhood was abusive. She sought counseling for her trauma and worked intentionally on her recovery.

The Failure of Adults in Julie’s Life

Besides her parents, many other adults failed Julie during her years of abuse. Most obvious were the doctors and nurses who treated her. While Munchausen’s by Proxy was relatively unknown at the time, the doctors should have noticed Julie’s lack of symptoms or positive medical results.

When Julie was thirteen and about to undergo some medical tests, she told a nurse that she didn’t need the tests because she wasn’t really sick. She told the nurse that her mom was forcing her to pretend. In response to this revelation, the nurse sedated her and continued with the test.

In high school, Julie went to talk to a counselor about emancipation. She told him about all of the abuse. When she arrived home, she found out that he had told her parents everything she had confided in him. She was beaten severely and then received counseling from the school counselor weekly for the rest of the year for her “overactive imagination.”

All of these failures by the adults in her life were heartbreaking to read about. Each time she tried to reach out and get help, her situation got worse in some way. It is my hope that if a child ever reaches out to me in my position in the church, I can get them help without making things worse for them.

Review Breakdown

Writing – Overall the writing was above average. At times it got very abstract, but I felt that it was a good glimpse into the mind of a very traumatized person.

Story – The story was very morbidly interesting. It had a good pace and kept my interest throughout the entire book. This is a story I will continue to think about for the weeks to come.

Mature Content – There is nearly too much mature content to list. The author uses abundant profanity and a slew of racial and derogatory slurs. While these are things that are coming out of her parents’ mouths, they are still contained in the pages of the book. There are also vivid descriptions of terrible abuse. This is certainly not a read for young readers or for the faint of heart.

Likability of Author – Reading this book, I wanted the author to win. I wanted her to get away from her parents. Although a reader from a healthier background may be frustrated by some of the decisions she made, I found her to be overall likable. It was inspiring to me that she was able to move past her abusive situation.

Other Books by Julie Gregory – My Father’s Keeper (2009)

Quick Review

Sickened was a very intense and interesting read. Once I picked it up, I did not want to put it down, despite its very mature content. I thought that its adult content offered a glimpse into the life of a severely abusive home. Although I have read books about other abusive situations, Julie Gregory’s book offers the unique perspective of a victim of Munchausen’s by Proxy. My main complaint is that the book finished on a cliffhanger that does not appear to be answered in her second book, My Father’s Keeper (according to reviews). I will likely be picking up her other book to read more of her story.

Rise

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Rise published under the deceptive premise that a woman fleeing an abusive relationship built a house with only the help of her four children and YouTube videos. While Cara Brookins put more work into building her house than most people do, this fascinating book is a better read about escaping an abusive relationship than it is about building your own house.

Rise by Cara Brookins
Rise by Cara Brookins

Cara Brookins found herself in two abusive marriages after her first marriage to her high school sweetheart failed. Even after ending her third marriage, her second husband Adam continued to stalk her and her children, leaving them terrified. Although diagnosed with schizophrenia, Adam refused to take his medication. His delusions caused him to terrorize Cara and her children. Eventually she got a gun for her own safety since he threatened to kill her.

After living through the terror of both of her abusive marriages, Cara wanted a better life for her children. While she could afford a small house on her income, it would not be as spacious as she would like for her and her four children. To have a house big enough for all five of them, Cara decided to get a loan and build the house herself, with the help of her children. With all four children on board, they secure a loan and begin construction.

A Deceptive Premise

In the description of the book on Amazon (and every news article I’ve seen), Rise describes Cara’s journey as follows:

“Equipped only with YouTube instructional videos, a small bank loan and a mile-wide stubborn streak, Cara built her own house from the foundation up with a work crew made up of her four children.”

However, I find that to be terribly deceptive. Here is a list of some of the things that Cara and her children did not do themselves:

  • Pour the foundation
  • Build the roof
  • Build and install the kitchen cabinets
  • Install the kitchen fixtures
  • All of the electrical work

Whenever Cara ran into a problem in the construction of the house, she hired a young man who worked at the local hardware store to help. Additionally, she hired contractors for all of the electrical and the majority of the kitchen work. For a portion of the project, she had her father helping. Although he was aging and struggling with illness, his experience in building was valuable to her.

I still believe that Cara and her children did an amazing thing. They just did not do what the media and marketing for her book say they did. They still did most of the work, which is more than I’ll ever do. But they did not build the house on their own with only the help of YouTube videos. They had a lot of help along the way.

Adam’s Illness

I think this was a better book about loving and suffering at the hand of someone with mental illness. Although the premise of building your own house is interesting, I found Rise to be somewhat lacking in that area. Cara’s story of abuse, however, gave an interesting perspective on loving someone with a mental illness.

When Cara first married Adam, he was a brilliant man with no sign of mental illness. However, as he began to descend into madness, he also began to be physically and psychologically abusive.

Although Adam could not help himself in many ways, his actions were still illegal. He was still terrorizing and harming his family. Despite the fact he had at one point been a brilliant man, he could not be excused for the terror he was causing for Cara and her children.

In Rise, Cara raised valid questions about how to love and manage a person with a mental illness like Adam’s, especially when personal safety is concerned. She shares her personal struggle of whether his being abusive because of mental illness was reason enough to leave, or whether she should stay and help him.

Her story is both terrifying and important. To those who know someone suffering from severe mental illness, especially with delusions, I recommend Rise. It will ring heartbreaking and familiar.

Quick Review

Although I feel that Rise was published under a deceptive premise, it’s still an interesting read. I feel like Cara did not live up to the claims of building her own house with only YouTube tutorials and her own children to help, but she still did amazing things. Other things within the book left me skeptical to Cara’s honesty, such as the advanced language she assigned to her toddler and the vivid recollections of meditations. However, I found it to be well-written and engaging. Her story and experience is unique and worth experiencing yourself. Whether or not you agree with how she handled the situations in her life, it’s a good read.

Favorite Wife

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Favorite Wife is the sad and insightful story of religious abuse and polygamy in a fundamentalist Mormon sect. Although she grew up in The Church of the Firstborn, Susan began to see some of the problems that polygamy presented when she married one of the leaders of the church.

Favorite Wife by Susan Schmidt
Favorite Wife by Susan Schmidt

When she was fourteen years old, Susan had a dream that she was supposed to marry Verlan. Confused by this dream, she confided in Verlan’s grandmother. Not long after having this dream, Verlan’s brother Ervil told Susan that he believed he was meant to marry her instead. However, in their church they believe only the women receive revelation about who they are meant to marry. Because of his position as one of the leaders in the church, Susan felt vulnerable to Ervil’s “revelation.” It was not until he pushed her to get sealed to him (spiritually married) without telling her parents that she knew something was wrong with his “revelation.” Only days later, after her fifteenth birthday, she married Verlan instead. She became his fifth wife.

Susan soon learned that life as Verlan’s fifth wife was not as rosy as she thought it would be. She found herself lonely and living in poverty. Between his travel and his time with other wives, he was rarely with her. With the cost of keeping up five wives and over twenty children, all of his family lived in poverty. After Verlan’s brother Joel, the prophet of their church, was assassinated, Susan began to search for answers. According to their church, Joel was not supposed to die until the end of time. If this was false, maybe polygamy was as well. In searching the Bible, Susan found that it said unfavorable things about polygamy. She knew she had to leave Verlan. Eventually, she found a way to escape to the United States with her children.

How Control was Exerted over Susan

Throughout the reading of this book, I noticed several ways in which control was exerted over Susan in order to get her to stay in The Church of the Firstborn and in her marriage.

New Information Stifled

Whenever Susan would find a new piece of information, it would be disregarded if it was contrary to what Verlan believed. This was especially true if that belief was polygamy. When Susan confronted her husband with the teaching in the Book of Mormon that calls polygamy a “whoredom,” he called it an old revelation. He told her that the newer revelations of their church’s doctrine overrides what the Book of Mormon teaches.

Susan also found Verlan believed things contrary to what modern science and medicine believed. She found it difficult to convince him to take her or her children to the doctor because of the cost and his lack of belief in modern medicine. He also had outdated (read: false) beliefs about pregnancy that frustrated her. Although she tried to show him new information, he was not convinced.

Her Questions Dismissed

When Susan began to have questions about what she was reading in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, Verlan dismissed them. Several times when she had questions about the inconsistencies between the Bible and the teachings of their church, he dismissed her questions. He would say, “You just don’t understand.”

These words were meant to dismiss and silence her. Yet they only worked to further frustrate her and convince her of the need to get answers.

Her Opinions Belittled

Susan was often accused of being argumentative for having an opinion on things that impacted her life. Verlan would get frustrated by any emotion she showed in discussion and ask her why she was being so difficult. When he spent a large portion of “her night” with another woman, he belittled her feelings about the situation. When he began moving his wives to the jungle, he did not consider that she would not want to go. Verlan frequently used accusatory language about her being difficult as a way to end the conversation and force her to concede.

When he wasn’t accusing her of being difficult, he was laughing at her anger and calling her “cute.” He would tell her that her anger was cute in an attempt the diffuse the situation. Verlan managed to get around resolving the actual issues by doing so. Whether he called her “difficult” or “cute,” he treated her feelings as secondary to his.

Quick Review

Favorite Wife was interesting and heartbreaking. Susan’s strength through an abusive situation is inspiring. I’ll admit that I’ve had a fascination with books about those who survive through living in cult-like situations, and this one has been one of the most interesting. One of the things I liked the most about this book over other memoirs was Susan’s ability to write about her actions and feelings in the moment. While there was not sexual abuse like I’ve read about in other books about polygamous cults, there was still abuse of power. Ervil is the kind of evil that will make your skin crawl. And although at one point Verlan is painted the hero, his more subtle abuses of power will begin to wear on you as well. Most inspiring is Susan’s survival and motivation to give her children a better life than that which the cult provides.

How to Murder Your Life

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How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell was funny, dark and irreverent. It was the perfect guilty pleasure read that had enough good hidden inside it to justify the cringe-worthy content.

How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell
How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell

Cat grew up the middle child of two psychiatrists. Her father’s temper and the problems between her parents made home life turbulent. In her teenage years, she went to boarding school. It was there that she was first introduced to Ritalin and its ability to take her from failing grades to the top grades in the school. Unfortunately, Cat failed to take her Ritalin as prescribed and her lifelong addiction to prescription medication began. In her senior year of high school, she became pregnant, dropped out of school, and had an abortion.

Cat slowly worked her way back through the depression in the aftermath of her abortion, finding a passion for fashion journalism. As she attended college, she worked as an intern at several different fashion magazines. Even as she began to build a career, though, her addiction only escalated. She added to her prescription medication harder drugs. She spiraled out of control, landing in rehab multiple times. It was only through creativity that she eventually regained some amount of control over her life.

The Inner Life of an Addict

Perhaps I was overly naive to think that prescription medication addicts stole their pills from relatives or bought their pills on the black market. Cat writes extensively about the process of shopping for doctors who would write prescriptions for her, and how easy it was for her to walk in and get exactly what she wanted from different doctors. While there were occasions where she got pills in other ways, she primarily got her medication legitimately. That’s terrifying.

The first time she went to rehab, she did not get better because she did not want to give up drugs. Cat wanted to have a better grasp on her life, but she did not want to give up all of her addictive behaviors. She just didn’t want to feel as addicted as she did.

It wasn’t until she really wanted to get better that she was able to improve her life as much as she did. In the end, she still uses Adderall. She has given up other drugs and even drinking. Although I wanted to get to the end of the book and read about her giving up all of her addictions and addictive behaviors, part of me realizes that with her underlying ADHD she probably needs some amount of medication as treatment. With her history of abusing medication, though, she realizes that she is in a delicate place where she can easily end up back in the the throes of addiction.

The Power of Words

At one point, Cat checked herself into a mental hospital as a way of avoiding rehab. When the psychiatrist realized she was not depressed, she wanted to get Cat to go to rehab. When Cat refused, the psychiatrist called her parents and had them visit. Infuriated, Cat refused to be a part of the conversation with them. After years of bottling up her anger and frustration toward her father, she told him off (with some profanity I won’t use here).

The part that resonated with me was that she didn’t feel the satisfaction she thought she would. Instead, she immediately felt regret. The words she thought would make her feel so good and powerful did just the opposite.

Our words are powerful. I can think of several times I’ve said something that I’ve immediately regretted. Words have the ability to stick with you for years, and you may not even know if your words are the ones someone has carried with them for so long. Even if you’re angry or have been angry for years, it’s worth it to be careful what you say.

The Power of Creativity

At one point, Cat’s grandma tried to help her by having her meet with a life coach a couple times a week. The life coach had Cat take several personality tests. When she looked over the results, she found that Cat was extremely creative. She believed that if that creativity could be properly channeled, Cat may be able to more easily keep herself from depression and addiction.

It was not until Cat came to write this book that she was able to get healthier and fight back against her addiction. She is now able to work from home doing freelance writing. The creativity that writing allows her has given her a lot of fulfillment. It is a part of her personality that she needed to satisfy in order to feel complete.

I love the idea of getting to the core of who we are and what we were really made to do. I wholeheartedly believe that when we fight against our personality in our vocation, it leads to depression and can lead to addiction. And perhaps pursuing our passion cannot always be a career. The things we are passionate about do not always pay the bills, but we can make time for them (even if it’s a few minutes a day). When we find that thing that makes us tick, that passion will shine through all parts of our lives.

Quick Review

There is a lot not to like in this book. Cat Marnell’s excessive use of profanity can be off-putting, since hardly a page passes without some curse word. In addition she uses anti-Semitic racial slurs as well as other offensive language to describe the people in her life. Despite these things, there are enough redeeming qualities in the book that I enjoyed it immensely. Overall, I found her to be funny. Her writing style was excellent. And her ability to capture the inner life of an addict gave me real insight into an addiction I had not given much thought to. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for an interesting read about prescription addiction.

Nobody’s Son

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Nobody’s Son by Mark Slouka was an interesting story written in an uninteresting way. Slouka’s writing style felt forced and awkward, but the compelling nature of his story may have redeemed his style.

Nobody's Son by Mark Slouka
Nobody's Son by Mark Slouka

Mark Slouka was a novelist. After the loss of his father and the impending death of his mother, he decided to reflect upon his upbringing and his mother’s decent into mental illness and addiction. Despite some problems between his parents and his mother’s depression, Slouka’s childhood was otherwise happy. As he grew into a teenager, his mother’s illness grew more pronounced. He argued with her about her delusions that he was trying to hurt her. On stormy day during their trip across Europe, they spent hours pulled over on the side of the road arguing. Slouka’s mother, as she often did, insisted that he was trying to harm her and that he was evil.

After college, Slouka married. His mother’s mental illness worsened. He discovered that she had an addiction to prescription medication. His parents separated, and after years apart his father died. Slouka went on to be a novelist. In his writing, he modeled characters after his mother and the pain he felt because of her illness. They had periods of estrangement, but he made a point to visit her shortly before she died. During the writing of Nobody’s Son, Slouka’s mother passed away.

Slouka’s writing style left a lot to be desired.

The biggest complaint I had with Slouka’s writing style was that it felt like he was trying too hard to be great. He spent an excessive amount of time saying things along the lines of, “I’m writing a memoir, and when you write memoirs, you feel things.” I generally do not mind some reflecting on the process of writing the memoir itself, but there was so much writing about the process of writing the memoir that it almost felt like it was a memoir about the time he wrote a memoir.

In addition to his excessive musing, I felt like his lack of chronology and the way he formatted his book made the plot less clear. He wrote in a way that was vague, and he often jumped between different periods of time. While jumping between timelines can often be done well, I felt like it was done in a very confusing way in Slouka’s memoir.

Slouka writes honestly about the struggles of having a mentally ill parent.

Having a parent with a serious mental illness is difficult. Despite my dislike for a lot of things in his writing, I found myself crying throughout the second half of the book. While his mother’s mental illness is different in many ways from my father’s bipolar disorder, being the child of a parent with a mental illness is a unique experience. The usual “parent-child” relationship does not apply.

He writes about his frustration and his anger.

When Slouka’s mother started having delusions, he did not understand what was happening. His father chose to ignore and support her delusions, rather than argue about them. Frustrated that his parents were denying that events that happened minutes before had actually happened, Slouka would argue with them. His mother would make him feel crazy, then call him evil when he did not support her version of reality. So frustrated and angry about his relationship with his mother, he had written about her death in novels and short stories.

“I need to acknowledge that you don’t imagine your mother’s death, even in a novel, without there maybe, just maybe, being some issues to think about.”

Mark Slouka

I’ve spent plenty of time frustrated and angry with my father. I have been frustrated with his antics when he’s been off of his medication and having manic delusions. Instead of just being frustrated, I’ve spent years angry at him when he’s turned to drugs to self-medicate his bipolar disorder. It’s so easy to be angry at a mentally ill parent when their actions so directly impact you. It is also easy to be angry when you know that they are doing things that are hurting themselves.

He writes about his guilt.

Slouka carried guilt over his mother’s illness. He felt responsible for some parts of if, primarily because he sometimes felt like he should have done more to help her. She often called him evil when she was having her delusions. I can imagine that this only added to the guilt he felt over being unable to help her.

“I want to know why I couldn’t save us, thought what I really want, I think, is absolution, the beginning of this sentence with the word “why” removed like a long thorn: I want to know I couldn’t save us.

Mark Slouka

What child doesn’t want to save his or her parents from what is wrong with them, regardless of what they have done? Before my dad got really sick, he used to drink a lot. I thought that alcoholism was the worst thing in the world (and it’s pretty darn bad). Some nights he would get mad at me and yell, “You drive me to drinking!” and get a beer. For the longest time, I thought it was true. Then I figured out that he was drinking whether or not he was angry with me. When he began using drugs and having problems with his mental health, I carried a lot of guilt. Even thought I knew (logically) that I didn’t “drive” him to do anything, there was always that part of me that wondered if there was anything I could have done.

He writes about loving his mother despite it all.

Slouka loved his mother. He knew that she couldn’t help her mental illness. And even though she had an addiction to prescription medication because of her mental illness, he still loved her. He loved her smile and her laugh. He loved the way she told him stories when he was young. She taught him so many things. And despite the damage she did later on, he loved the woman she was beyond her illness.

“I don’t know that she had a choice. And all I can be is sorry for it. And let her go.”

Mark Slouka

When my father is in his right mind, he is the most generous person I know. He’s funny. If he’s around a group of people, he’s the center of attention and will do anything to make everyone laugh. So many of my good qualities came from him. Whether or not he comes to terms with his illness and his addictions, I love him. He’s my dad. And I know there’s so much good in him. His illnesses just make it hard for some people to see that.

Quick Review:

Nobody’s Son had a powerful story. Slouka’s expression of what it is like to be the child of a mentally ill parent was what made this book worth reading. However, his writing style and the lack of chronology left a lot to be desired. He spent a lot of the book musing about how it felt to be writing his memoir, which felt unneeded and obnoxious. In a way, it felt as if he was trying to sound like a better and more philosophical writer than he was. It is unfortunate that such a great and powerful story may be obscured by these quirks in his writing.

Jodie Sweetin Shares Her Addiction Story

In her memoir unSweetined, Jodie Sweetin writes about her struggle with alcohol and drug addiction. Since the publication of that book in 2009, Sweetin began speaking at events through Keppler Speakers. In the video below from Keppler Speakers, she shares her addiction story.

Just like in her memoir, Sweetin expresses in this video that the pressures of being on set and pretending to be okay all of the time did not help her learn good habits for relating to others. She shares about her high school experience and her first drink at the age of thirteen. Although she was famous, she expresses that it didn’t change her desire to blend in. Drinking helped her feel better in a way she felt she could not do on her own.

The Depth of Sweetin’s Addiction

Sweetin shares throughout this video and her memoir that she did not drink like anyone else her age. While others her age were drinking a little to get buzzed, she was getting completely wasted. Throughout high school, she found ways to get as drunk as she possibly could. When her parents insisted that she come home on the weekends during college, she spent the rest of the week missing class so she could party. She began using drugs in addition to her drinking, taking her addiction to an even more dangerous place.

“I took it to a place that got very dangerous very quickly.”

Jodie Sweetin

Despite having people who cared for her, Sweetin only cared about getting drunk or high. In college, she had a very caring boyfriend who ended up being her first husband. He wanted to help her get sober, but she was uninterested in helping herself. Her roommate and her parents tried to help her, but no one was able to help her because of the depth of her addiction.

“That was all I could think about, was getting out of my own head.”

Jodie Sweetin

Sweetin’s Inspiration for Sobriety

While married to her second husband, Sweetin became pregnant with her daughter and realized that something had to change. She remained sober from the time she found out she was pregnant until she gave birth. After having her daughter, though, she relapsed and began drinking again. When her marriage began to fall apart, however, she realized that she needed to pull herself together if she was going to have custody of her daughter.

In 2016, she competed in Dancing with the Stars. After the competition, she began filming for Fuller House, the reboot of the sitcom Full House which brought Sweetin into the spotlight. Season 2 of Fuller House was released on Netflix on December 9, and a third season is yet to be announced. She continues to share her story of addiction and sobriety through Keppler Speakers. Today she has two daughters to continue to inspire her to stay sober: Zoie and Beatrix.

unSweetined

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In her memoir unSweetined, Jodie Sweetin shares her struggle with alcohol and drug addiction. Known for her time as Stephanie Tanner on Full House and more recently on the Netflix reboot Fuller House, Sweetin opens up about her addictions, despite their ugliness. Although her addiction is not a secret to the public, she uses the pages of her memoir to reveal the emptiness that brought her to these addictions and what gave her the strength to find her way out.

unSweetined by Jodie Sweetin
unSweetined by Jodie Sweetin

Throughout her years on set, the cast of Full House became like family to her. Sweetin recounts some of the fun times on set, along with some of the pressure she felt to be her best at all times. At one event, fans were pushing and crowding the table where she was signing autographs so much that they had to remove her from the location. Later, people were complaining, saying that they could not believe that she would do that to her fans. It was a struggle for her at that age to balance her desire to please others with her need for rest and safety.

“I was just too young to understand that it was OK to have my own limits and boundaries.”

Jodie Sweetin

After her time on Full House ended, Sweetin felt empty. Although there were some opportunities to visit with the cast, she was forced to move on to the next thing. She made attempts to get other roles, but most directors could not see her as anything but Stephanie Tanner. Frustrated by failed attempts to keep her acting career going, she entered high school feeling like an outsider in both school and Hollywood. At Full House co-star Candace Cameron’s wedding, she was offered a drink. She continued drinking until she was drunk, and ended up vomiting in the bathroom. In the years following that first drink, she found herself in the throes of drug and alcohol addiction.

Jodie Sweetin’s story gives us a glimpse at some of the reasons people turn to addiction.

In exploring the history of her alcohol and drug addictions, Sweetin reflected on some of the reasons for her addictions. While the loss she felt over Full House ending was a major contributor to her addiction, other things led her down that path. Despite knowing she didn’t have much of a reason to drink, she still felt like a shell of a person. Her parents did not tell people that she was adopted for fear that they would think they were exploiting her in Hollywood, but her adoption may have contributed to her addiction. Her biological parents had addictions, and she knew that it could make her more prone to addiction.

“A big chunk that I felt was missing in me had been filled that day by drinking.”

Jodie Sweetin

The biggest reason she felt she was addicted to alcohol and drugs, though, was that she felt she was not enough without them. Without drugs, she wasn’t the funniest or the prettiest girl in the room. With them, she could make people laugh. When she had drugs and alcohol, people wanted to be around her. People wanted to talk to her and to get to know her. The part of her that she felt wasn’t ever good enough was gone when she had that first taste of alcohol.

She also shows us that having something to live for can help someone fight addiction.

When Sweetin was at a low point in her addiction, her first husband helped get her into a rehab facility. It was there that she was able to get clean and sober for a time. She had counseling several times a day and had friends inside who were going through similar things. Because of the idyllic nature of the facility, it was easy to stay sober while inside it. However, once on the outside of this facility, Sweetin quickly found her way back to drugs, despite the fact she was working as a motivational speaker (sharing her story about beating addiction) at the time.

“Love is wanting something more for someone else than you do for yourself.”

Jodie Sweetin

When Sweetin became pregnant, she finally found the motivation to get sober. Once she found out about her pregnancy, she did not use drugs or drink. Now married to her second husband, she realized that he was an unpleasant and emotionally abusive man. After the birth of their child, she began to drink as an escape from her miserable marriage. At one point, she even drove away, drunk, with her daughter in the car. However, she realized that she needed to get clean if she was going to be able to leave the marriage and retain custody of her daughter. She moved in with her parents and worked hard at sobriety.

At the time of the book’s publication (2009) she was still fighting for custody and several months sober. Today, she has a second daughter and is working as a motivational speaker and on the set of Fuller House. She found the strength to get clean by looking outside herself and looking at what was really important: her daughter.

Quick Review:

I found this to be an all-around enjoyable read. While Jodie Sweetin covers a lot of mature material in the book, she writes in a tactful way that conveys her current regret for some of her past mistakes. She explains her past and current feelings, showing readers growth over time and her recovery from addiction. Although this book is significantly dated, it is still worth reading for any Full House or Fuller House fan.

Trafficked

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Trafficked is the haunting story of a young woman who is forced into prostitution by a close friend. This book had me so engaged that I finished it in two days. However, those two days were quickly followed by several nightmares because of some of the scars I carry from an abusive relationship in my late teenage years. I only suggest reading further in this post, as well as the book itself, if you have not been in one of these relationships or you are emotionally prepared to read things that might be upsetting to you.

Trafficked by Sophie Hayes
Trafficked by Sophie Hayes

For four years, Sophie’s friendship with Kas was perfect. He was kind and a great listening ear. They had one awkward conversation when she started dating another man, when he also confessed his love for her. But other than that, things were great. After breaking off her relationship with her boyfriend and having emergency surgery on her stomach, she was invited to go away on vacation with Kas to Italy. They began a relationship, and after the first night of their relationship, he told her he was in debt and she needed to help him. He told her that if she really loved him, like she said she did, she would sell herself as a prostitute to help him make back the money he owed. When manipulation did not work, he physically threatened her and her younger brothers, making it clear to her that she had no choice but to work for him on the streets.

“I knew people didn’t say things like that in real life, but however much I tried to tell myself it was all some elaborately cruel joke, I knew in my heart that I’d made a huge and potentially fatal error when I’d allowed myself to break my golden rule and trust him.”

Sophie Hayes

This was an emotional read because of my connections to it.

No, I was not forced into prostitution by my abusive boyfriend. But he did exhibit many of the same abusive patterns that Kas did. He was charming and charismatic (at first) to lure me into feeling safe in the relationship. When he lost his temper over something, he always found a way to make it my fault. When I took the blame to try to make peace with a situation, though, he would play the self-pity card. Everything that he did was to control my emotions and my behaviors. Where emotional manipulation alone didn’t do the trick, physical and sexual abuse further degraded my self-worth to the point where I believed no one else would want or believe me.

“I never spoke unless Kas spoke to me, and when he asked me simple questions that I couldn’t answer–usually because I was too anxious to be able to focus my thoughts–I told myself he was right and I was becoming more stupid with every day that passed.”

Sophie Hayes

Sophie struggled during and after her ordeal with feeling as if the entire thing were her fault. In the same way, I struggled after my abusive relationship. I knew logically that it wasn’t my fault. Emotionally, I could not process how I could let myself fall into such a relationship. Others who spoke harmful words about the relationship after the fact only did things to damage my view of myself. Although I had many people who were overwhelmingly supportive, some were not. Louder than any of those voices, though, was the memory of his voice saying things meant to tear me down. Even after years of counseling and four and a half years of a happy marriage later, I occasionally think of some of those things he said that destroyed my self-confidence.

“I know that if someone told me that what happened to me had happened to them, I’d feel sorry for them and wouldn’t blame them for one moment. Even so, I still felt as though it was all somehow my fault.”

Sophie Hayes

One last thing I found as a point of connection with Sophie was the struggle between telling people about the trauma I endured and not telling them. Sophie did not choose to tell many people about the abuse and trafficking she endured, and struggled to explain some of her fears and behaviors to her coworkers and friends. While I have tried to be fairly open about my past, it is still hard to explain why certain things can completely unnerve me. I can come completely unglued if someone touches me on the knee or leg. If anyone looks like the boyfriend who abused me, I am wary of that person even if I know it isn’t logical. Certain foods make me feel physically ill because I have only ever eaten them with him and his family. Although I do not think about him often, those fears and scars linger and can come back in an instant.

“Not telling people can make things difficult, though–for example, when I overract to something and can’t explain why, such as the time someone at work fired a toy gun at me and I fell on the floor with my hands over my head, screaming.”

Sophie Hayes

This book brings great awareness to human trafficking issues.

Sophie Hayes was an educated woman with a family who loved her. She was in her twenties with a stable job and an apartment. By most measures, she was not an ideal target for human trafficking except that someone she cared about took four years to groom her. He then lured her out of the country and threatened her younger brothers. He convinced her that he had people working for him everywhere and that he could see everything she did. She was afraid of her customers, strangers, and even the police.

Several times she was brought in by the police, who treated her like a criminal. They were convinced that she was doing this on her own free will, and made her life on the streets even more difficult. Although prostitution is a crime, she wishes that they would have asked questions that would have helped her feel safe to share what was really happening. She wishes that they would have recognized the signs that she was being abused and trafficked, and sought to get her home to her family. It was not until she was so sick that she went to the hospital instead of “work” that she ended up making contact with her family and getting rescued out of the life Kas had forced her into living.

Although this book brought up some bad memories (and may for anyone who has been in any kind of abusive relationship), I still felt like it added value because of the interest and the information it gave me about the issue of human trafficking. While Sophie is from England and this happened in Italy, human trafficking happens here in the United States, and knowing the signs can help those who are trapped in this horrible situation. Each one of us can do something about human trafficking when we see the signs. For more information on recognizing the signs of human trafficking, read here.

Good Chinese Wife

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My words cannot fully summarize how brilliantly written this book is and all of the reasons you should read it. Susan Blumberg-Kason gives and honest and raw look into the ups and downs of an emotionally abusive relationship that crosses cultural divides.

Good Chinese Wife by Susan Blumberg-Kason
Good Chinese Wife by Susan Blumberg-Kason

From the first few pages, the reader knows that this book will be about a woman who falls in love with a man who does not treat her the way that he should. At each turn of the page, her beautiful foreshadowing left me breathless, asking, “What is this guy going to do to her next?”

Like all abusive relationships, though, it was not always bad. She detailed her courtship to Cai and the ways that he made her feel special when they were dating. She shares the way he wooed her while they were both studying in Hong Kong. She was from America and he was from mainland China.

When things started cropping up in their relationship, she chalked it up to cultural differences or his own stress over his doctoral work. Instead of spending their wedding night with her, Cai ordered porn and told her to go to sleep. He regularly put his preferences and comfort before hers when decisions needed to be made. When his professors pushed her to drink alcohol and Susan expressed her discomfort with the situation, Cai exploded with anger. One night, she caught him flirting with a prostitute on the phone. Despite these things, she did what she could to maintain peace because she did not want to go home to her parents with a failed marriage.

Two things Kai did stood out as especially dreadful.

The first happened when they were still in China. Susan contracted an STD, despite having been married to Cai for a year and a half and having no other partners. When she started treatment and told him that the doctor insisted that he start it as well, he bristled at the suggestion. He denied having an affair, although she knew that was the only way it could have been contracted. He then looked it up in a Chinese disease dictionary, started laughing, and told her it was a “women’s disease.” Thus ended the conversation.

The second thing happened after they had moved to the United States and had their son. Cai frequently got frustrated with their son’s crying and would grab him and dangle him over the stairwell in their home, threatening to drop him. He would shut him in an empty room, leaving him on the floor. The things he did to his child were scary, and motivation for her to get out.

This book serves as a great warning about the red flags of abusive relationships.

It is important for young women to know what red flags are for an emotionally and physically abusive relationship so that they can avoid being in one themselves. If they are already in one, seeing those red flags develop into an even worse version of the situation they are in might be the motivation they need to get out before the situation escalates. Reading a book like this one can give a woman information on red flags in an emotional, but concrete way. Susan brings her story to life in such a personal way that you cannot help but cheer for her when she gets out of her marriage with Cai.

“I’d been in this dysfunctional relationship for five years and could no longer tell what about it was normal and what was unacceptable.”

Susan Blumberg-Kason

For the woman who may find herself in a relationship or marriage to someone like Cai, reading a book like this one may give her the inspiration to reach out for help to get out of that relationship. Though Susan’s situation is unique in many ways, especially in that it is a relationship across cultural boundaries, there is a lot to be learned about the way she escaped. She sought the help of a lawyer and her mother, then left while he was at work. For those wishing to escape who do not have someone they trust to help them, there are centers willing to help women and children fleeing abusive relationships.