A formerly out-of-control teenager recounts her life-altering experiences at Peninsula Village, a residential treatment center in Tennessee that uses behavior-modification techniques to reform seriously troubled kids.
Vona dictated most of her story; she has dyslexia and is barely able to read or write, though her memoir doesn’t make it clear how much her learning disability contributed to her problems growing up in Connecticut. Her parents divorced when she was six; her father was awarded custody and remarried a short time later; relations with her stepmother were disastrous. At 15, Vona was a wild and rebellious girl who stole, drank, smoked pot, sneaked out of her bedroom at night to meet boys, and ran away from home. Unable to deal with the situation, her father deposited her at Peninsula Village. Arriving at what she thought was a summer camp, Vona was dumbfounded to be placed on suicide watch in a locked unit with self-mutilators, child abusers, and other dysfunctional teenagers. The routine was monotonous, rules were rigid, and disciple was immediate. Vona underwent group therapy and, later, family therapy by telephone with her father, stepmother, and eventually her mother. After more than a hundred days she was moved out of the locked unit and introduced to the 12-step recovery program developed for Alcoholic Anonymous. She was given responsibilities and required to perform physical labor. Vona’s numbered chapters count down from minus 12 to minus 1, then start counting up from 1 to 12 when she begins the AA-style program. Progress is not smooth, but the program does work for Vona, who gradually comes to see herself and her life through different eyes. Interspersed with her text are the notes of staff members who observed Vona in both group and individual therapy sessions; they provide another perspective, which sometimes meshes and sometimes conflicts with her account.
Raw and unsettling, yet ultimately reassuring.