Top critical review
March 12, 2018
This is an absolutely terrible story, depressing to the end. However, it is compelling, to the point that I stayed up late to finish it. I really can't say whether I would recommend this book or not. At some point I hated every single person in it, including, at times, Tara. The cycle of abuse and ignorance is just so frustrating. Tara's pathological resistance to any sort of help or kindness is somewhat understandable, but still made me want to scream! Reading the book almost felt abusive in a way, although certainly not on the level of abuse inflicted by Shawn or her parents.
The writing quality is all over the place; some parts are masterful and others are creaky and distracting. Tara describes things as "crisp" at an exponential rate. By the last few chapters, everything is "crisp," from bed linens to entire towns. I'm fascinated that this got past her editors. It's such an ugly word to begin with, and then to be hit with it repeatedly, I just don't see how no one noticed (or worse, noticed and decided to keep them all!).
There are major conceptual inconsistencies in this work. Some parts of Tara's story are described in nearly obsessive detail, while pivotal moments are glossed over. She spends pages and pages on her "whore" complex, terrified to even hold a boy's hand, and then the next thing we hear, she's shacking up with her boyfriend all over Europe and the Middle East, without the slightest acknowledgement of what a huge turnabout this is. She ruminates at length over her amateur (though probably correct) diagnosis of her father as bipolar, but barely touches on her own mental health crisis, just describing it as "falling apart" and binge-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If we're going to make armchair diagnoses, I'm calling PTSD for Tara at the very least, and probably some Bipolar II or GAD as well. While in general, people don't owe the public an explanation of their mental state, if you're going to write a very raw and very specific memoir, you can't just skip that part and expect no one to notice.
There's also a strange distance in her relationships with anyone who *didn't* abuse her. I suppose this is typical of an abuse survivor, but it's unsettling nonetheless. Tara seems unable to explicitly acknowledge the kindness and sensitivity with which so many "outside" people treated her. They're there, she describes their actions, but there's a void where I would expect to read gratefulness or even fondness. In particular, the dance teacher who discreetly accommodated her need for a modest costume, the ward bishop who tried so hard and so many times to help her, and the roommate who quietly taught Tara how to act normal -- they're all mentioned, and I suppose that is meant to be thanks enough, but it almost seems like she resents their generosity. I'm also confused about her omission of Luke in the credits. What did he do wrong? She seemed to be on good terms with him when is last briefly mentioned, but apparently only siblings with PhDs make it to the Acknowledgements.
This is a powerful and affecting story; it really couldn't *not* be. However, I wonder what it would be like if Tara had waited another 10-20 years to write it. She's no doubt an intelligent (and, yes, educated) woman, but there's a dearth of maturity and sensitivity in this story that is not surprising, given what her family put her through, yet it taints the story all the same.
I'm very torn on this book. I did not find it inspiring and will not read it again, but I'm not going to say it's bad or that no one should read it all. It's just grueling and stressful. Maybe don't read it if you're already having a tough time in your own life. I finished it a week ago and took some time to let it settle in my mind before writing a review, but I'm still on the fence. Maybe I should've waited another 10-20 years to review it.