Title: Denial: A Memoir of Terror
Author: Jessica Stern
Publisher: Ecco (Harper Colllins)
Release Date: June 22, 2010
Reviewing a memoir is tricky for me; not only is it as much the product of hours and hours of work as it is for a fiction writer, but the memoir writer bares their personal stories, exposing themselves to vulnerability. And just as in fiction, different individuals will respond to what they read differently depending on what their own experiences, etc. That being said, I found parts of this book fascinating, and other parts I almost felt didn't pertain to me as a reader.
Jessica Stern is a Harvard educated expert on terrorism. She has placed herself in dangerous situations, interviewing terrorists on their home turf, yet she admittedly fails to feel the inherent danger. But little things (like the annoying and persistent ticking of the car's turn signal) can have the opposite effect, unnerving her. When she was 15-years-old, she and her 14-year-old sister were raped at gunpoint in their home by a stranger. She describes her process of disassociation at the moment as well as for the rest of her life. She discusses the unfortunate reactions of others in the community who didn't necessarily believe that this either happened in the first place or didn't believe it could have truly been a stranger. The author discusses how until she began investigating this case and reading over the investigative files first in 1994 and then again in 2006, she remembered very little. In fact, she almost feels that other than knowing, for a fact, that she was raped, she almost doesn't remember. She certainly doesn't remember the things she wrote in her statement. For instance, she didn't remember all the facts of the incident itself; she didn't remember that her father, on a honeymoon overseas, didn't return home until 3 days later, finishing his honeymoon.
Throughout the course of this book and her own investigation of the rape (as well as the rapist himself), the author comes to terms with her own post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She realizes the ways in which she has unknowingly experienced the symptoms of PTSD and, in fact, has disassociated from the trauma in so many ways.
The chapter I found the most fascinating was the chapter titled, Denial, in which she discusses the reactions of others and how this affected her own ability to heal directly after the event. She provides great insight into the manner in which a child is continuously re victimized when the adults they turn to don't necessarily believe them or don't provide the support they so need. She describes how the non-believers become the perpetrators too by perpetuating the abuse the child endured. I likely found this part so interesting because of the work I do, assisting in the investigations of children who have been sexually abused and/or raped. I've interviewed many teenagers. I've seen the reactions of the surrounding adults when they do or don't believe what's been alleged, so reading this chapter was powerful in visualizing the effect this can have on children.
There were other parts of this memoir, however, that I felt were possibly more therapeutic for the author but that didn't interest me as much as a reader. She had some obvious difficulties to work through with her father, due to her perception of him (as stated above he continued his honeymoon despite finding she and her sister had been raped). She learns about his horrid past and comes to her own conclusions about him and the trauma he experienced at an earlier moment in his life. Other sections of the memoir include her tracking down those individuals who knew the rapist and interviewing them about themselves and about him. This part fell somewhat flat for me because I felt the interviews were unnecessarily detailed rather than an overall summation of what they said. And I found I didn't care to hear too much about the rapist's past as I thought I would.
Despite the parts that didn't interest me as much, I could tell the journey of writing this book was a therapeutic one for the author. The writing style is simple but intelligent and will satisfy readers of all types. The author mentions in one section that those who experience trauma together fare better than those who do individually basically because of the support they are able to provide that others can’t or don’t and the shared experience. Because of that, I think that those who have experienced some kind of trauma and/or who have PTSD would benefit from this book by gaining further insight into the experience through the eyes of someone who investigated her own trauma from the beginning to the present. Those who haven’t survived trauma will likely find parts of this memoir more powerful than other parts, but as I mentioned earlier, readers’ thoughts will vary based on their own life experiences. For those who may be concerned, the chapter in which the author describes the actual rape may be difficult for some to read -- especially if they experienced something similar. However, the rest of this was not a difficult read in that manner.
This review was part of the TLC Book Tour. Follow the rest of the stops below:
Monday, June 14th: Book Nook Club
Tuesday, June 22nd: Electric/Eccentric
Wednesday, June 23rd: Rundpinne
Thursday, June 24th: Heart 2 Heart
Thursday, July 1st: lit’ chick
Tuesday, July 6th: Crazy for Books
Wednesday, July 7th: Reading on a Rainy Day
Thursday, July 8th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Monday, July 12th: Sophisticated Dorkiness