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Today we look at two memoirs of harrowing childhoods. Today’s teens are too young to remember the media onslaught brought on by Elizabeth Smart’s kidnapping and rescue. But they will be by turns riveted and revolted by her account of her abduction, which was made especially horrific to her as she was forced to act against her Mormon faith on a daily basis. Give this one to teens who are compelled by Dave Pelzer’s memoirs and Jaycee Dugard’s A Stolen Life.
Kimber Simpkins’s traumatic youth was the result not of the sudden terror of kidnapping, but the slow-burning torment of anorexia, and the long battle against it. Simpkins’s ability to speak from inside the mind of an anorexic is illuminating and heartbreaking. Readers may well want to compare Simpkins’s real-life experiences to fictional ones like Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls.
That both of these brave young women survived their ordeals and have had the courage to tell their stories is a wonderful testament to them, and an inspiration to teens.
SMART, Elizabeth with Chris Stewart. My Story. 308p. St. Martin’s. Oct. 2013. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9781250040152. LC 2013042874.
Adult/High School–Smart was 14 when she woke up in the middle of the night to a man holding a knife to her throat in Salt Lake City, Utah. He told her to do as he said or he would kill her entire family. The teen complied, enduring nine months in captivity–three of them chained by the ankle to two trees. Throughout her ordeal with Brian David Mitchell, a self-proclaimed prophet, and his wife, she did not waver in her Mormon faith. Without being preachy, Smart tells her story simply and without gory details, instead focusing on her day-to-day life. She was cold, hungry, lonely, and bored. She was raped daily and had to do things that were completely against her religion and upbringing. Her description of having to force down alcohol, betraying everything that she valued and believed in, is brutal and will give teens insight into the conflict and torture she went through in order to survive. A few concluding chapters follow up on her ordeal: her reunification with her family and Mitchell’s trial eight years later. Smart scoffs at the idea of Stockholm Syndrome, saying that fear kept her silent, and gives readers a chilling look at how people stay away from those who are “different,” enabling her captor to walk around with her in daylight in her home city without incident.–Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, CA
SIMPKINS, Kimber. Full: How One Woman Found Yoga, Eased Her Inner Hunger and Started Loving Herself. 318p. CreateSpace: Amazon. Dec. 2013. pap. $14.95. ISBN 9781484085189.
Adult/High School–Simpkins describes her struggle with food, body image, and self hatred. It spans her life from when she was 15 with (undiagnosed) anorexia to empowered yoga teacher. “This book is the saga of how I escaped. It wasn’t a short path and it was most definitely not straight. In these pages there are no tidy ten steps to leaving an eating disorder behind…all tied up with a pretty bow. My recovery… was messy, awkward and fabulous and is still going on,” she writes. While she acknowledges sexual abuse by a church camp counselor as a primary cause of her self loathing and desire to control, her focus is on her explorations of hunger and quest for healing. The perfectly rendered inner voices become a cast of larger-than-life characters: there is the Prisoner; the Prison Guard; Svetlana, the voice of her anorexic; and, of course, the Therapist. The dialogue creates conflict that keeps teens reading, painting an honest and vulnerable picture of real person. Teens, so often isolated in the angst of their inner worlds, will benefit. Simpkins illuminates her coping strategies as a teen, her distorted body perceptions, the inattention of key adults, including parents and therapists, and her insights and learnings from spiritual and other teachers. Full is well written with authentic voice(s) and personality shining through.–Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, CA
About Mark Flowers
Mark Flowers is the Young Adult Librarian at the John F. Kennedy Library in Vallejo, CA. He reviews for a variety of library journals and blogs and recently contributed a chapter to The Complete Summer Reading Program Manual: From Planning to Evaluation (YALSA, 2012). Contact him via Twitter @droogmark
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