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WHAT GIRLS KNOW by Neesha Meminger


by Neesha Meminger

Pub Date: June 11th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-9831583-4-9
Publisher: See It Be It Books

A YA novel in verse tells the story of a girl dealing with the trauma of childhood sexual abuse with the help of a counselor and therapy group.

Meminger (Into the Wise Dark, 2012, etc.) explains in a foreword that this novel is “a fictionalized memoir” that draws on her own experience. Anjal, nicknamed “Anji,” is part of a Sikh family that left Punjab looking for a better future when she was young. (Their destination isn’t named.) When Anji is 6, she and her 3-year-old brother, Surjit, start attending day care at a Sikh temple, or gurdwara. Her parents believe that she’ll be safe “in god’s house,” but Anji is sexually abused there many times. She’s told not to make trouble, so she remains silent, but by high school, she starts to break down, due to depression and repressed anger. While writing in her journal, she discovers that “a kind of lava wants to flow / hot black ink onto the page.” A compassionate English teacher recommends that she seek counseling. At first, Anji is confused by her therapist Cathy’s questions, but the sessions help her to finally talk about her abuse. Her therapy, support group, creative projects, and political protests help her to heal, and she finally leaves home to find her own way in the world. The verse format works surprisingly well for this story; Anji’s voice is fresh, strong, and concise, and the author offers poetic images and language along the way. Some stories of abuse devote many pages to describing the abuse itself, but Meminger instead concentrates on showing how therapy works, revealing Cathy’s caring, careful questions and comments, and the support that Anji receives from other girls. Meminger also effectively shows how Cathy helps Anji to find her emotional truth:  “no one really actually hurt me / like, I wasn’t violently raped or anything / some girls are // Cathy’s words are soft, / and yet here you are / with me.”

A well-told, affecting story that beautifully demonstrates the healing process.