Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Book Review: "Secrets in Big Sky Country: A Memoir" by Mandy Smith
A quote from Death of a Salesman says, "Attention must be paid." That is how I felt after reading Mandy Smith's powerful, painful memoir, Secrets in Big Sky Country. This book is worthy of notice, and Smith is to be praised for bringing attention to the tragedy of child sexual abuse.
Smith's parents divorced shortly after she was born, and her mother, afraid of being alone and without the attention of a man, quickly married her ex-brother-in-law. Smith's older brother Cliff went to live with their father, while she was raised by her mother and uncle/stepfather. It wasn't long before her mother realized her new husband wasn't much of an improvement over his brother, but she couldn't live without him.
This was a particular problem for young Mandy (born Cathy). Beginning at age three, her stepfather began sexually molesting her, and she lived in constant fear of sexual assault and physical violence. Her stepfather's actions tore her and her brother apart, and set her on a cycle of eating disorders, depression, fear of being in cars, and PTSD that would follow her into adulthood. And while she tried to tell people, and tried to free herself from the abuse, it wasn't until she was 14 that she was able to convince people what was happening. But sadly, her life took an even darker turn from there.
Smith's story is brutal, but it isn't gratuitously graphicit's honest. It was a wonder to me a number of times how she found the strength to keep living, to keep confronting her abuser and keep from truly going off the deep end. But as difficult as parts of this book are to read, I was often overcome with wonder at her ability to tell her story, to relive it all again, all of the pain and anguish and fear. That is true courage, and true strength, and I hope it inspires others confronting these same issues in their own lives.
Studies show that as many as one in three girls will be sexually abused at some point in their childhood. That statistic is immensely alarming, but what is even more frightening is the number of crimes that go unreported. Hopefully the courageous words of Mandy Smith will find their way into the ears of those who can help stop this cycle from continuing, and lives can be protected before abuse occurs. We should be grateful to those like Smith who are willing to share their painful experiences with the worldwhile they are difficult to hear, we must hear them in order to make change happen.