You would think that in my line of work, I would be entirely desensitized to stories of sexual abuse and what not — thankfully I don’t bring my job home with me emotionally, but I still have the capacity to feel much emotion when I read books that pertain to things I encounter at my job. Y’all, Live Through This by Mindi Scott is a book that I have such a hard time reviewing because I’m not sure whether to put on my professional hat and go into depth with my work-knowledge or to put on my reader hat and pretend like I don’t have that sort of knowledge. However, I am both reader and professional and I think that those two things can meld quite well in a review. Regardless, Live Through This was a book that profoundly affected me and one that I was compelled to talk to my friends about while reading and then tweet the author post reading. Note: those are not my typical reading reactions.
From the outside, Coley Sterling leads a charmed life. She’s gorgeous. She’s on the dance team. Her family doesn’t suffer financially. She’s in the beginning of a sweet romance with a nice sax player. Her family is very close-knit. Yet, Coley is keeping a secret. You see Coley is the victim of what we call in the field ‘long term sexual abuse’ or incest. Now, Live Through This starts out where you don’t know who exactly is abusing Coley. And for me, personally, I got so anxious and upset and nervous that I had to cheat and flip ahead to see who it was. And the thing about Live Through This is that while it might not be a constant action sort of plot, it is the type of book where it’s constant emotion, constant GIRL I FEEL FOR YOU. Like, I wanted to take Coley aside and give her some rudimentary counseling and do some safety planning with her. I wanted her perpetrator to face some sort of consequence. Seriously, I was so invested in Mindi Scott’s Live Through This.
I thought Mindi Scott did a wonderful job with her characterization of Coley. She explores something that is not often mentioned in books about sexual abuse and that is the grooming process. You see, Coley exists in kind of this limbo where she feels a lot of revulsion and self-loathing because of how her body reacts to the abuse which is only natural and also because of the fact that she doesn’t hate the perpetrator. I just thought this was so well done. I loved that Coley was a character whom I actually really cared about. There were several pages where I’d find myself tearing up over what she was going through and her conflicting feelings. There’s an interesting dichotomy between Coley’s public popular girl facade and her nighttime secret. Mindi Scott accurately portrays the shame and the guilt Coley endears as well as a few of the psychological effects — like when Coley freaks out while getting hot and heavy with her current boyfriend.
I kind of want to go a little bit more in-depth on the long term sexual abuse theme. Grooming for those of you who maybe don’t know terminology is the process which the abuser uses to gain the trust of the victim. Typically rewards are involved. Sometimes the abuser will play on the loving feelings of the victim and say oh well this is just what people do when they love each other, etc etc. Then the abuser will use feelings of guilt to keep the victim silent. I thought that Mindi Scott showed this process quite well. She showed how Coley had a lot of trust and really cared for her abuser. She showed how Coley loved her abuser, but hated what he did. Also, she goes to dark places that I think a lot of us don’t think about or consider, places that if we were truly awful people we’d blame the victim for. Like, Live Through This has various parts where Coley has a physical reaction to her abuse. You guys that is natural. When you engage in sexual activity and certain parts are stimulated, you are going to feel something. That does not mean that the victim wanted it, just because they had a physical reaction. It’s how the body reacts, it’s not automatic consent. Unfortunately, victims will often blame themselves because of what their bodies do and that’s awful. And I mean, I’ve never really read a book that shows oh hey the victim might actually be physically stimulated while this is going on. I think that it helps to validate the feelings and experience of survivors, that Mindi Scott paints this conundrum in Live Through This. And maybe this paragraph is totally convoluted, but I just really wanted to put it out there that yes, victims do experience this and it’s totally not the victim asking for it.
Friends, if you are the victim of long term sexual abuse, please tell someone. Call your local rape crisis hotline if you aren’t ready to tell a friend or a family member. Trained people answer this hotline and they can hook you up with counseling resources and information. You do not deserve the abuse, even if your body reacts a certain way. It is not your fault. If you have a friend who is going through this, listen to them. Believe their story. Plenty of times, people are afraid to come forward because they are scared no one will believe what they say. Further, grooming is a bit like a mind game and yes it really does profoundly affect someone’s coming forward because they may actually believe telling will put them in danger. And whatever you do, do not blame the victim. If you think you can’t handle that, call a rape crisis hotline, again they can provide you with information on how to handle the situation and what to do.
Honestly, I didn’t mean to turn this review into a PSA on how to help people who are sexually victimized, but I’m not sorry. I think it’s so important to share this information because maybe someone reading this out there is going through something serious and this review could maybe help. Maybe Live Through This could provide some much needed bibliotherapy (reading about characters in situations similar to yours can be cathartic). Regardless, I absolutely recommend Live Through This by Mindi Scott with all my heart because it is emotional, it’s well written and it provides a much needed survivor perspective that absolutely does not blame the victim. Seriously, I ended up thanking Mindi Scott on the twitters for writing this book after I finished it.
Disclosure: Received for review
Other reviews of Live Through This by Mindi Scott:
Clear Eyes, Full Shelves – “I couldn’t set Live Through This Down once started reading.”
Rather Be Reading – “Here, folks, is the kind of writing I yearn for”