In this memoir, self-help writer Engel (It Wasn’t Your Fault: Freeing Yourself from the Shame of Childhood Abuse with the Power of Self-Compassion, 2015, etc.) recounts a painful childhood.
Engel was raised in blue-collar Bakersfield, California, by her single mother, Olga. A resentful woman working low-income retail jobs, Olga often left young Engel alone or with neighbors during shifts. The consequences of this neglect crept into the author’s lonely childhood. Trouble began when a teenager forced 4-year-old Engel and her friend to engage in a sexual act. Four years later, Engel’s neighbor Ruby married a mentally unstable man who regularly molested Engel, leaving lifelong scars. Engel realized the hopelessness of her situation when she told her mother about the abuse and was not believed. Class issues dot the text; the author deftly depicts her poverty, noting the difficulties of not having a car and the pickle sandwiches she devoured. The memoir is adept at building emotional context for the reader. For example, tender moments with neighbor Ruby make her husband’s abuse all the more psychologically charged. The last quarter of the book, however, is less powerful. Incidents such as heartbreak and the discovery of a friend’s deception pale in comparison to Engel’s earlier experiences. Given the subject matter, both the prose and dramatic scenes could benefit from richer specificity. Still, the clean writing (“She hit me with such ferocity that it scared me more than it hurt”) well serves this account of a child’s abuse and survival.
A gut-wrenching, cleareyed coming-of-age memoir with thin storytelling.