A woman recalls her traumatic, impoverished childhood growing up in Canada in the 1970s and ’80s in this debut fictionalized memoir.
Hoover begins her narrative with a note that it’s “a true story,” yet “all names are fictitious and from the author’s imagination.” Following that disclaimer, she tells the first-person tale of Lynn Hellers’ painful childhood and of her rising determination to improve her circumstances. Lynn is the eldest of four children to a couple in a low-income area of Kingston, Ontario. Her mechanic father is a physically abusive drunk; her beautiful mother has some nurturing qualities, but she’s largely cowed by her husband and overlooks or enables his behavior. She’s also often away due to her bank job, which is a critical second source of income for the family. Both Lynn and her sister are sexually abused by the criminal types who hang around the home of Lynn’s paternal grandmother, a crude Ma Barker–style woman who runs many illegal activities. Thankfully, Lynn, at least, manages to spend more of her time with her maternal grandparents, who encourage her artistic ability. Her high school boyfriend is a substance abuser, but he also provides her with emotional support. By story’s end, Lynn is accepted into a university and acquires a student apartment and a job, which leads to an art teaching career and her eventual embrace of her gay identity. Debut author Hoover offers a blend of documentary-style reportage and artistic perspective to this work. Her detailing of Lynn’s father, in particular, has the raw ring of truth, and her descriptions of several of Lynn’s personal photographs as chronological markers within the narrative are effective. Overall, it’s a compelling tale, although there are some hauntingly underdeveloped threads, such as the fate of Lynn’s siblings and her father’s surprisingly emotional response to her leaving home. Still, as Lynn herself notes several times, her focus on herself was ultimately necessary for her survival.
A stark, striking study of childhood abuse and recovery.