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Tomcats Killers of Innocence
Patsy Shook, author
Sarah was 17 when she was raped and forced to marry Frank honley, her rapist. She was told, “a child born out of wedlock will forever be called a bastard, and no self respecting boy will ever marry you.” Honley was a member of the Army Security Agency, and handled top secret information. He was a closet spy and psychopath who saw marriage and a child as cover for his actions. Trapped for years in the marriage, Sarah began having nightmares. She dreamed she was in a large multilevel house attempting to climb toward the top floor. In the dream, there was an urgency to see what monster was lurking up there. But she could never reach the top, and would wake up in a cold sweat with a pounding heart. Her world exploded when Frank was unmasked, and his evil exposed to the world. Later in therapy, Sarah explained to her therapist, “Frank was the monster at the top of the stairs. My gut was screaming to me through a nightmare, but I just did not understand what it was saying.”
Shook’s debut novel finds a young woman, Sarah, grappling with her autonomy in a mid-century American south that affords her little. After her father’s death, her family is exploited by Al Cantlin, her new stepfather, and Sarah only narrowly escapes his abuse. Sheltered by her grandparents, Sarah faces further trauma at 17 when assaulted by Frank Honley, a military man, resulting in an unwanted pregnancy. Heeding her grandmother’s advice, Sarah marries Frank to protect her reputation and ensure her financial security. Unexpectedly, the abuse she anticipated from Frank actually wanes after marriage, yet Sarah senses a deeper malevolence in him, compelling her to remain vigilant in their tense marriage while pursuing her dreams of education and freedom for both her and her children.

Tomcats: Killers of Innocence meticulously navigates the life of a young woman grappling with her own vulnerability amidst dehumanizing circumstances. As Sarah endeavors to comprehend the depths of her husband’s cruelty, she confronts the daunting challenge of securing a path to freedom for herself and her children. Shook deftly portrays the intricate dynamics of a woman ensnared in a marriage with her abuser, demonstrating with psychological acuity how Sarah grapples with a sense of complacency and recurrent struggles to trust her instincts, though the plotting and relationship dynamics at times prove predictable, in a true-to-life way. Still, Shook illuminates, with compelling lived-in-detail, a time where societal norms often discouraged women from pursuing lives outside the confines of the family home.

Shook skillfully depicts Sarah's resilience, capturing the essence of her struggle toward independence. While some readers may struggle to empathize with Sarah's character, perceiving her as a passive observer of events rather than an active participant, others will find this passive aspect adds complexity to her character, enriching her depth and authenticity, resonating with readers drawn to real human depictions of resilience amongst uncertainty.

Takeaway: Illuminating historical story of a resilient woman forced into an abusive marriage.

Comparable Titles: Minka Kent’s The Stillwater Girls, B.A. Paris's Behind Closed Doors.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A-