A horrible secret results in an examination of childhood sexual assault.
After a chaotic year, Samuelson unearthed a terrible memory: Her father had sexually assaulted her. In her debut book, she recalls grappling with this new discovery at night: “Then I’d get up a couple of hours later and be a therapist—for sexually abused children.” It’s a cruel irony, but going through the healing process while treating abused kids allowed the author to provide keen insights into the psyche, lending a human touch to the hard work of recovering from abuse. “In a brilliant effort to protect us, our minds shove the intolerable truth so far back in that mental closet that we don’t even remember we were abused,” she writes, explaining dissociation. “But, like all closets, there is a small crack under the door that lets stuff leak out.” This work is essentially a collection of interviews. Samuelson compiles accounts of fellow survivors in an as-told-to format. Her diverse subjects vary in age, gender, and sexual orientation, all furthering a nuanced conversation on incest, which is often fraught with political connotations. “Black people don’t do those kinds of things,” one woman asserts, recalling a popular attitude. The myths that society pushes, Samuelson argues, are exactly why a book like this needs to exist, making it easier to come forward and tear down the assumption that survivors’ lives must be solely defined by childhood trauma. She is careful to frame each interview within a larger context of processing abuse, interspersing chapters with vivid observations and experiences of her own. She talks about the power shame wields over survivors, the importance of boundaries, and the problem of extreme self-doubt, deftly bringing the issues from abstraction to reality by using her own life as an example. That’s a triumph of the book, and one driven home by the author’s vibrant photography. All of the interviewees’ accounts are accompanied by portraits, their looks of joy and determination emphasizing just how much Samuelson’s subjects have achieved.
A deeply humanist portrait of healing and freedom.