If I Am Missing or Dead: A Sister's Story of Love, Murder, and Liberation

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In April 2002, Janine Latus's youngest sister, Amy, wrote a note and taped it to the inside of her desk drawer. Today Ron Ball and I are romantically involved, it read, but I fear I have placed myself at risk in a variety of ways. Based on his criminal past, writing this out just seems like the smart thing to do. If I am missing or dead this obviously has not protected me...

That same spring Janine Latus was struggling to leave her marriage -- a marriage to a handsome and ...

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A heartwrenching yet beautifully crafted memoir about two intelligent, attractive sisters---one of whom escaped years of abuse by men, and one who did not.

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0743296532 Only 1 copy left. Clean, unmarked copy. Hardcover, with dust jacket- In excellent shape! I can send expedited rate if you choose; otherwise it will promptly be sent ... via media rate. Have any questions? Email me; I'm happy to help! We recommend selecting Expedited Shipping to get your book as fast as possible. Read more Show Less

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If I Am Missing or Dead: A Sister's Story of Love, Murder, and Liberation

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Overview

In April 2002, Janine Latus's youngest sister, Amy, wrote a note and taped it to the inside of her desk drawer. Today Ron Ball and I are romantically involved, it read, but I fear I have placed myself at risk in a variety of ways. Based on his criminal past, writing this out just seems like the smart thing to do. If I am missing or dead this obviously has not protected me...

That same spring Janine Latus was struggling to leave her marriage -- a marriage to a handsome and successful man. A marriage others emulated. A marriage in which she felt she could do nothing right and everything wrong. A marriage in which she felt afraid, controlled, inadequate, and trapped.

Ten weeks later, Janine Latus had left her marriage. She was on a business trip to the East Coast, savoring her freedom, attending a work conference, when she received a call from her sister Jane asking if she'd heard from Amy. Immediately, Janine's blood ran cold. Amy was missing.

Helicopters went up and search dogs went out. Coworkers and neighbors and family members plastered missing posters with Amy's picture across the county. It took more than two weeks to find Amy's body, wrapped in a tarpaulin and buried at a building site. It took nearly two years before her killer, her former boyfriend Ron Ball, was sentenced for her murder.

Amy died in silent fear and pain. Haunted by this, Janine Latus turned her journalistic eye inward. How, she wondered, did two seemingly well-adjusted, successful women end up in strings of physically or emotionally abusive relationships with men? If I Am Missing or Dead is a heart-wrenching journey of discovery as Janine Latus traces the roots of her own -- and hersister's -- victimization with unflinching candor. This beautifully written memoir will move readers from the first to the last page. At once a confession, a call to break the cycle of abuse, and a deeply felt love letter to her baby sister, Amy Lynne Latus, If I Am Missing or Dead is an unforgettable read.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Janine Latus had just found the courage to leave her jealous, controlling husband when she received word that her youngest sister, Amy, had gone missing. Weeks later, Amy turned up dead, the victim of domestic abuse she had never revealed to a single soul. Taking its title from an ominous note left behind by the murdered woman, this painful, unflinching double memoir traces the twin trajectories of Janine's and Amy's lives, uncovering a pattern of eroded self-esteem begun in childhood that propelled them both into a series of relationships with the wrong men. With lacerating self-awareness, Janine recounts how she and Amy were able to recognize the cycle of victimization in each other but refused to see it in themselves. Heartbreaking and bravely unsentimental, this book is written in the fervent hope that abused women everywhere will seek the help they need to change -- and quite possibly to save -- their lives.
Publishers Weekly

At age 37, Janine Latus's younger sister, Amy, was strangled to death by her live-in boyfriend, bundled in a plastic tarp and buried beside a remote country road. It was a wretched end to a too-short life, one frequently marked by disappointment, sadness and struggle. In the hands of a less gifted writer, Amy's story might stand only as an encomium or a cautionary tale: a glimpse into the life of one abused woman, representative of thousands like it. But Latus weaves a double strand. Part memoir, part biography, the book (which grew out of an article in O Magazine) explores Latus's own relationships with abusive men—and her eventual emancipation from a marriage riven by emotional and physical violence. Latus has a spare, economical style, softened by an undercurrent of humor and marked by a total absence of self-pity. When on a ski vacation, a boyfriend brutally beats her, breaking several of her ribs and her nose—and then makes love to her, in a twisted form of penance—Latus doesn't wince in the retelling. She lets ambiguities and contradictions abide: she loved her husband, even as he humiliated and hurt her. Had things been slightly different, she seems to say, she—and not Amy—might have perished at the hands of her partner. Unforgettable, unsentimental and profoundly affecting, Latus's book resonates long after the final page is turned. (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal
Drawing on a piece that won an Essay of the Year award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Latus chronicles the murder of her sister by an abusive lover and her own narrow escape from the same fate. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Journalist Latus's straight-shooting memoir about dutiful Catholic sisters growing up in 1970s Michigan dilates into a haunting story of abuse at the hands of the men in their lives. In 2002, the author picked up the phone to learn that her younger sister was missing and the prime suspect was Amy's freeloading ex-con boyfriend. In the ensuing chapters about the sisters' childhood and youth, Latus attempts to figure what went wrong in the relationships both women endured with the men they loved. Clues begin to center around their father, an insurance salesman who is both seductive and hypercritical. On the one hand, when Janine is a girl, he routinely tells her how flat-chested she is, what a stupid laugh she has. On the other, he "feels her up" with his eyes and praises her sexy legs. Her mother remains passive while the girls' Catholic religious teaching hammers home the message that women are seductresses and men have uncontrollable urges. Obviously, the only way for someone as pathetic as Janine to get men's approval is by sleeping with them; she grows into a rebellious, fairly promiscuous, academic dilettante. Janine graduates and marries her lover (after he gets a divorce). Stuck at home, much younger Amy marries early, gains weight and lets her education languish. But she eventually gets a divorce, builds a career as a pricing analyst and starts over. Then she meets a dangerous, two-timing criminal who's obviously bad news-but he keeps telling Amy he loves her. Just as the author finds the courage to turn around her life, Amy dies. And Dad's still clueless, telling suggestive stories about his daughter at the memorial service. Latus writes here to save the lives of women like hersister and herself, so desperate for love that they'll pay any price for it. An honest, unsparing look at the deadly erosion of self-worth. Agent: Katherine Boyle/LitWest Group LLC. First printing of 100,000
From the Publisher
"An honest, unsparing look a the deadly erosion of self-worth." —-Kirkus Starred Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743296533
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 4/17/2007
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

In addition to narrating audiobooks, Shelly Frasier has appeared in many independent film and theater projects in Arizona and southern California, and she has developed character voices for animation projects and done voice-over work for commercials.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Amy is born a fighter, six weeks early and a wispy five pounds. Her blood is incompatible with Mom's, so the doctors replace it, draining out the old while infusing the new. Her heart stops anyway. So they pump her tiny baby chest and blow air into her tiny baby lungs until she squalls, and then send her home to round out our family of seven.

The year is 1965, and it is my parents' third go-round with babies and death. The first had come in 1960, when I woke my mother before dawn, crying for a bottle. At four months and four days old, I was a blue-eyed Gerber baby, the spitting image of my father. Across the room slept my exact replica, my twin sister, Janette. A few weeks earlier our picture had made the front page of the local paper when a smiling mayoral candidate held us up for the cameras. He later complained about the fuzz our blanket left on his black suit coat.

My mother put her hand on Janette's back to feel her breathing. Then she yelled for Dad, who came running. He blew air into her mouth and pressed on her chest, but it was too late. Janette was dead. An errant air bubble or an electrical glitch stopped her heart. Crib death. Cause unknown.

Mom gave birth to Pat barely a year later. Pat was a month early and on the light side at five and a quarter pounds, but within days the local paper announced that mother and daughter were at home and doing fine. Ten days later, though, Mom was in the kitchen warming up a bottle when blood started pouring down her legs. It soaked through her clothes and puddled on the floor. An ambulance came, siren wailing, and rushed her to the hospital. Doctors elevated the foot of her bed and covered her head with an oxygen tent. Through the muffling of the plastic tent she could hear my father and the doctors and nurses, but she couldn't respond.

She heard, too, the eerie chant of the priest giving her last rites. "God, the father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the church may God give you pardon and peace."

Still she bled, until she was drained, until her heart had nothing left to pump, until it stopped.

"I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Through the holy mysteries of our redemption, may almighty God release you from all punishments in this life and in the life to come. May He open to you the gates of paradise and welcome you to everlasting joy."

Long moments passed as doctors scrambled to get it to pump again. Then they rushed her, bed and all, into the operating room. They scraped out the inside of her uterus and gave her half a dozen blood transfusions. When she finally came home, she had to stay in bed for three months, her children pestering for attention.

As an adult I ask my father why he kept getting her pregnant if it was so hard on Mom.

Do you and your husband have sex? he asks.

I hesitate, trying to decide what and whether to answer.

Of course, I say finally.

Then you know, he answers. Men...have...needs.

By the time Amy is a toddler we live in Kalamazoo, in a two-story box of a house on a double lot, the yard framed by a pair of the huge maple trees that give the street its name. There is a screened-in front porch and a fire escape to one of the girls' bedrooms that scares us all, so we push our bunk beds against it to protect against the boogeyman.

Steve is the eldest and most responsible. He cemented his reputation in the family one Easter when he was about seven by saying, "If we don't get organized, we won't have any fun." I worship him, usually from afar, but sometimes on Saturdays my sisters and I leap onto him as he's stretched out on the floor watching sports, secure that he will be careful even then to throw us off onto cushions or soft rugs, avoiding as much as possible the hard edges of tables and bookcases.

There is Jane, brown-eyed and cherubic, who in high school will cling to the balance beam with her toes, refusing to fall off. She succeeds by sheer force of will. It is Jane's hand-me-downs I wear and her bed I climb into during thunderstorms.

Then there is me. I take ballet lessons instead of piano, try out for plays instead of sports. I don't realize until later that I am the classic middle child, doing what I can to get attention. I am not as good as my older siblings and not as cute as the younger, so I strive mostly to be different.

Next is Patty, and then Amy, the baby, lanky and blue-eyed, the only one with mounds of curls, chasing after all of us, forever trying to keep up.

My father is proud of his family in a Catholic, fill-the-pew sort of way. His children sit in descending order, Steve in an ironed shirt and clip-on tie, the girls in poof-sleeved dresses, veils of lace bobby-pinned to our hair. My mother is proud, too. Straight-backed and beautiful, she holds Amy, always the baby. There we sit, our patent leathers swinging and sometimes kicking, as the priest walks down the aisle in his embroidered brocade, swinging his censer, the rich incense stinging our eyes.

Dad sells insurance for Metropolitan Life. Mom, a registered nurse, stays home with us kids, washing and folding, and carrying in bag after bag of groceries. For a while my Uncle Sandy lives in our basement, his bed and tin clothes cabinet separated off by curtains and a rug. On Sunday mornings we thunder down the stairs and jump on him as he tries to sleep off his Saturday night. He is our favorite uncle, mostly because he lives with us, but also because he has a magical way with broken-spoked bikes and skates without keys. He fixes Amy's favorite push toy without her even asking, though taking out the popping balls that make so much noise that his head hurts. When he is at work, up to his knuckles in the grease from someone's car, we jump on his bed and try to peek at the covers of the Playboys he has hidden on the top of his clothes cabinet, always straightening his blankets and pillow afterward, and giggling with guilt.

In the summer we barely clear our dinner dishes before disappearing down the block for our nightly games of Kick the Can and Capture the Flag, the older kids forced by parents to let us little ones play. In the winter we switch to King of the Mountain on the hard-packed snowbanks, or build igloos out of the chunks the snowplows leave on the curb.

The year I am in kindergarten the whole family climbs into the station wagon for the drive to Borgess Hill. It is the steepest and iciest in town, and we pile as many as we can fit onto the sled, me in front, Pat behind me, Jane behind her, and Uncle Sandy in the back. Steve runs behind, pushing, his boots churning on the snow, and then jumps on as we fly, the wind ripping screams from our mouths. Halfway down we tip, and the metal runner of the sled slices over my boot and breaks my ankle. For weeks Steve, four years older, has to drag me to school on the same sled, my cast in a plastic bread bag to keep it from getting wet. One day he stops at the top of a hill and gives the sled a shove, and I hurtle down the sidewalk, lugelike, between the snowbanks.

The year I am seven the snow is so deep that drivers put orange Styrofoam balls on the tips of their car antennas so they can see each other at intersections. We kids dig a tunnel from our house to the neighbors', then burrow back home for hot chocolate, our scarves and mittens dripping in the hall.

At Christmas we line up every year, oldest to youngest, Amy standing on tiptoe and still not reaching high enough to hang her stocking on the hooks that line the mantel. In the summers we pose again, draped on the sign of the year's campground or national park, our beagle Penny out front.

Don't you take the picture, Dad says to Mom. You always cut off everyone's head.

By the time I am twelve we are living in Haslett, Michigan, where I spend the summer bored, experimenting with blue eye shadow and giving myself hickeys in the hollow of my elbow as I practice kissing.

Over Labor Day weekend Mom breaks out in a rash so fierce she has to be rushed to a doctor. Her body is covered in hives. It's hard for her to breathe. Later we find out why. Without telling anyone, she has interviewed for a job in a doctor's office. Dad isn't making much money, the bills are piling up, we kids keep growing and needing clothes and shoes and ever more groceries, and besides, doesn't she deserve validation? Doesn't she deserve respect and a paycheck and recognition for her intelligence and training and skills?

Still, the anticipation of telling Dad has made her so anxious that she gets hives.

Dad harrumphs.

So I got the job, Mom says.

Wow, I say.

Cool, Steve says.

We all look to Dad.

Don't forget you still have responsibilities around here, he says.

I babysit for the Johnstons, who live down the street. Easy-to-entertain kids, an early bedtime, color TV, and a selection of snacks. Like a lot of families in the neighborhood, the Johnstons called my house to see if any of the Latus girls could babysit, and my parents told them I'd be happy to. They don't ask me first.

At ten 'til six I say good-bye to my mom and dad, who are in their room dressing for a party at the country club. Tomorrow I'm going to the mall with my girlfriends, where we will dip hot pretzels in mustard while we thumb through Partridge Family posters. I'm saving up for a glow-in-the-dark bead curtain that I saw last week in Spencer Gifts.

Bedtime is at eight, Mrs. Johnston says. They don't need baths, but you do need to help them with their teeth.

More quietly she adds, It's okay if you can't get them down until 8:30, and once they're asleep you can help yourself to anything in the fridge. And there are cookies in the breadbox. I got you some Coke, too.

I love these kids and want some just like them, plump and soft and adoring. They hold tight to my fingers as we walk around the yard looking at bugs and dandelions. We wave as their parents drive off, then go inside, where the kids tackle me and we fall to the floor, wrestling and laughing, playing Hide-and-Seek and Tag.

At eight o'clock I shepherd them into their bedroom and help them into their pajamas, then into the bathroom to brush their teeth.

Please, one more monster game, the younger one asks.

What? I say, rising up to my full five feet one. You want the monster?

And with that I stamp toward them, my hands high, my fingers clawed. They run away, screaming and laughing, and I chase them down the hall and into the living room. We are wrestling again when the door opens and Mr. Johnston walks in.

I am on the floor, flushed and disheveled.

I forgot something, he says, and walks past us to his bedroom.

The kids and I look at each other, and then they leap onto me again, and I flail and pretend to scream as they attack.

Mr. Johnston comes out of the bedroom and looks down at us.

I wonder if the babysitter is ticklish, he says.

He gets down on all fours and the children jump on their daddy's back, squealing, joining in. I scoot to the side to give them space, but an instant later he is on top of me. Pressing his erection against my pelvis, grinding it into me. I can feel his gin breath on my face, in my ear. He moves against me as a man does a woman, except I am just a girl.

For a second I am paralyzed.

He wants me, I think.

I cannot breathe, cannot get free.

I am going to hell.

I push against him with my palms, try to plant my feet flat on the floor so I can get traction to squirm out from under him. It doesn't work.

Knee him.

That's right. That's what the gym teacher said to do if you were attacked. Knee him where it counts, even though she never explained what was there for me to knee. But there's no room. He is bigger and stronger, and I am pinned.

He is grinding into me, making animal sounds in my ear while I pummel his back with my flailing fists. I look for the children. Can they jump on his back and help me? But they are huddled against each other against the couch, their eyes wide, staring.

Think.

Then it comes to me, and I do what my father has done to me when he needs to get my attention. I grab the tiny hairs at the back of his neck and yank.

You little bitch, he says. He spits the words onto my face. You little shit.

He rolls off me and rubs the back of his neck, and I scramble to my feet and behind a chair. He glares at me before getting up and slamming out the door.

When the Johnstons return hours later, Mr. Johnston stays in the car. Mrs. Johnston doles out three dollar bills and two quarters for the seven-hour job. I can't even look at her.

I'm fine getting home.

Goodness no, she answers. My husband will take you.

Honestly, I'll be okay, I say. I like to walk.

It's no trouble, Mrs. Johnston says. Besides, your mom would kill me if I let you go alone this late.

I can't figure out what to say, so I walk out to the car, my eyes on my feet as I open the door. The interior light flips on, but I don't look at him. Instead I climb in, close the door, and press myself against it. His hand in the sudden darkness finds my knee, holds it.

We'll never tell anyone what we did, Mr. Johnston says.

I pull my leg away, don't answer, even though he's a grown-up, and sit utterly silent and hard against my door during the drive. I jump out before the car's fully stopped and scurry up the walk, thankful that the front door is unlocked.

My mother will be awake, I know, until each of her children is home and safe. My father will be snoring, his pale chest exposed above the covers. At least I hope so. My mom has told me that when I was little he paced the floor for nights that seemed endless, singing and crooning and patting my back. He changed my diapers, as he reminds me so often and so publicly. He taught me to ride a bike, to swim. Now, though, he disgusts me, still pulling me onto his lap, still squeezing my pimples, still insisting on kissing me on the lips. He tickles me until I cry, and pits the siblings against each other, egging us on to do the same. I dread my birthdays, when he lays me over his knees and paddles me once for every year of age and one more — much harder — to grow on, followed by a pinch to grow an inch. He does it in front of my aunts and uncles and cousins, who laugh nervously. Even his side of the family has stopped the birthday spankings, allowing their pubescent children some degree of dignity. So tonight I lean against the wall as I climb the stairs, hoping he's not awake, wanting only my mommy.

Unfortunately, he's sitting up in bed. My parents have just gotten back from the same party as the Johnstons, and they smell of cigarette smoke and gin. Mom's hair is in its party beehive, her blue eye shadow all the way up to her plucked eyebrows. Dad is bleary-eyed and in a hurry to fall asleep. I sit on the edge of their bed and tell my story, how Mr. Johnston had come home, pinned me down, ground his, his thing into me, and how I had triumphed and gotten away. I wait for their pride and sympathy.

There is a long pause as my mom and I look to my dad.

If you tell anyone what happened, Dad says, you'll be known as a slut.

Mom strokes my hair and doesn't say anything. Neither do I.

It is two decades before I learn that she wrote Mr. Johnston a letter.

Stay away from my daughter, it said. And tell your wife what you've done.

Copyright © by Janine Latus

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Introduction

Reader's Group Guide for If I Am Missing or Dead by Janine Latus

Introduction

In a memoir that is by turns harrowing and humorous, Janine Latus recounts both her own and her sister Amy's dealings with men, beginning with their father. From the traumatic childbirth experiences of their mother to the daily reminders from their father that their looks are what matter most, both Janine and Amy take away from their childhood's a sense that, as young women, they are unworthy, even sinful, by nature. In spite of their strength, intelligence, and strong bond with each other, both Janine and Amy find themselves trapped in relationships with abusive and controlling men. Fortunately, Janine is able to escape this cycle. Amy, however, does not.

If I Am Missing or Dead explores issues faced by all women in our society and particularly by those who have experienced physical or emotional abuse. Janine's story vividly illustrates the wide spectrum of abusive behavior and depicts the cycle of self-doubt that can lead smart, attractive women to remain in abusive relationships. If I Am Missing or Dead is also the story of a woman finding her voice and making sense of her own story: for herself, for her sister, for women everywhere.

Questions for Discussion:

1. Why do you think Janine chose to tell her own story alongside Amy's story?

2. Both Amy and Janine have troubled relationships with their bodies. While Amy struggles with her weight, Janine seems to be addicted to exercise and weight loss. How do the sisters' respective difficulties with body image affect their relationships? Where did these problems originate?

3. When sheis twelve years old, Janine is attacked and nearly raped by a neighbor, Mr. Johnston. Examine her parents' responses to this event. What messages do these responses send?

4. Janine and Amy's mother undergoes several traumatic experiences associated with childbirth, including losing a child and nearly dying herself. How were these events treated within the Latus household? What lessons does Janine draw from them?

5. "In church I learned: Girls are seductresses, starting with Eve, who got us all kicked out of the Garden of Eden by being weak, by taking a bite from the tree of knowledge, and — most important — by enticing poor, innocent Adam to do the same" (29). What role does Janine's religious education play in the development of her self-image? How are her early sexual experiences affected by what she learns in church?

6. Compare Amy's relationships with men to Janine's. What differences do you see? What similarities?

7. If I Am Missing or Dead depicts many different kinds of abuse. Compare Janine's father's abuse of his wife and children, Michael and Kurt's abuse of Janine, and Ron Ball's abuse of Amy. What is the author's view of these different kinds of abuse? Do you agree?

8. Make a list of the men with whom Janine has sexual encounters and/or relationships, beginning in her early adolescence. What does she learn from each of these encounters? How do they shape the person she becomes?

9. In spite of her difficulties with men, Janine manages to become a successful journalist and ultimately she finds the strength to leave her marriage. What are the sources of strength in Janine's life? Were there positive aspects of her childhood that allowed her to cultivate self-confidence in certain areas? What is different about her personality in comparison to Amy's that shelters this strength?

10. Why is Amy unable to extricate herself from a relationship that she suspects may end with her death?

11. How does Janine and Amy's father affect the way they see themselves as girls, as teenagers, and later as women? Try to recall specific instances of their father's behavior that you think had an impact.

Enhance Your Readers' Group

1. Use the Internet to locate and contact a local battered women's shelter or other organization devoted to helping women. Find out whether they accept donations and what they need most. Then, have members of your group collect clothing, food, and/or gently used appliances to donate.

2. Visit www.janinelatus.com and print out some of the author's articles, available on the website, to read as a group.

3. Hold a fundraiser for Amy's Courage Fund (www.amyscourage.org) or another charity devoted to stopping domestic violence. Instead of the usual bake sale, why not host a reading, inviting members of your group and other local writers to share their writing, and ask guests for a small donation?

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

Reader's Group Guide for If I Am Missing or Dead by Janine Latus

Introduction

In a memoir that is by turns harrowing and humorous, Janine Latus recounts both her own and her sister Amy's dealings with men, beginning with their father. From the traumatic childbirth experiences of their mother to the daily reminders from their father that their looks are what matter most, both Janine and Amy take away from their childhood's a sense that, as young women, they are unworthy, even sinful, by nature. In spite of their strength, intelligence, and strong bond with each other, both Janine and Amy find themselves trapped in relationships with abusive and controlling men. Fortunately, Janine is able to escape this cycle. Amy, however, does not.

If I Am Missing or Dead explores issues faced by all women in our society and particularly by those who have experienced physical or emotional abuse. Janine's story vividly illustrates the wide spectrum of abusive behavior and depicts the cycle of self-doubt that can lead smart, attractive women to remain in abusive relationships. If I Am Missing or Dead is also the story of a woman finding her voice and making sense of her own story: for herself, for her sister, for women everywhere.

Questions for Discussion:

1. Why do you think Janine chose to tell her own story alongside Amy's story?

2. Both Amy and Janine have troubled relationships with their bodies. While Amy struggles with her weight, Janine seems to be addicted to exercise and weight loss. How do the sisters' respective difficulties with body image affect their relationships? Where did these problems originate?

3. When she is twelve years old, Janine is attacked and nearly raped by a neighbor, Mr. Johnston. Examine her parents' responses to this event. What messages do these responses send?

4. Janine and Amy's mother undergoes several traumatic experiences associated with childbirth, including losing a child and nearly dying herself. How were these events treated within the Latus household? What lessons does Janine draw from them?

5. "In church I learned: Girls are seductresses, starting with Eve, who got us all kicked out of the Garden of Eden by being weak, by taking a bite from the tree of knowledge, and — most important — by enticing poor, innocent Adam to do the same" (29). What role does Janine's religious education play in the development of her self-image? How are her early sexual experiences affected by what she learns in church?

6. Compare Amy's relationships with men to Janine's. What differences do you see? What similarities?

7. If I Am Missing or Dead depicts many different kinds of abuse. Compare Janine's father's abuse of his wife and children, Michael and Kurt's abuse of Janine, and Ron Ball's abuse of Amy. What is the author's view of these different kinds of abuse? Do you agree?

8. Make a list of the men with whom Janine has sexual encounters and/or relationships, beginning in her early adolescence. What does she learn from each of these encounters? How do they shape the person she becomes?

9. In spite of her difficulties with men, Janine manages to become a successful journalist and ultimately she finds the strength to leave her marriage. What are the sources of strength in Janine's life? Were there positive aspects of her childhood that allowed her to cultivate self-confidence in certain areas? What is different about her personality in comparison to Amy's that shelters this strength?

10. Why is Amy unable to extricate herself from a relationship that she suspects may end with her death?

11. How does Janine and Amy's father affect the way they see themselves as girls, as teenagers, and later as women? Try to recall specific instances of their father's behavior that you think had an impact.

Enhance Your Readers' Group

1. Use the Internet to locate and contact a local battered women's shelter or other organization devoted to helping women. Find out whether they accept donations and what they need most. Then, have members of your group collect clothing, food, and/or gently used appliances to donate.

2. Visit www.janinelatus.com and print out some of the author's articles, available on the website, to read as a group.

3. Hold a fundraiser for Amy's Courage Fund (www.amyscourage.org) or another charity devoted to stopping domestic violence. Instead of the usual bake sale, why not host a reading, inviting members of your group and other local writers to share their writing, and ask guests for a small donation?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 104 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(45)

4 Star

(23)

3 Star

(21)

2 Star

(6)

1 Star

(9)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 104 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2007

    So Much More Than Just a Great Read

    I just listened to this book on my iPod and found it to be an incredible 'read' that spoke deeply to me. The layers of the story, between the author's experiences and that of her sister Amy, send a very strong message about the roots of self esteem in women and how our early experiences shape our subconcious and what we are willing to tolerate as a result. It demonstrates so clearly that there are many types of abuse and that those abuses span all class levels. The common thread seems to be that so many women are willing to sacrifice their self respect and so much more in the name of 'love', and how difficult it is for even the strongest of women to muster the courage to just say no. While the details may be different, I believe strongly that many women would identify with the parallels between early abuse (whether physical, mental, emotional, etc) perpetuated in adult relationships. In the end, I am grateful the author was willing to reveal so much personal pain in the hopes that her work will give others the insight to know they deserve better and and the encouragement to demand it. I will be buying this book for several women I know who need both.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 11, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    Misleading........

    When I read the book jacket, this seems like it would be at the very least, enlightening. The entire book was about the sister's life, and not about the sister who was missing. She did sprinkle in little blurbs about fleeting telephone conversations or encounters she had with her sister while going on and on about her own marital issues and her own insecurities. I feel the author should have just wrote a story about her own life and not used her sister's disappearance as the pseudo-premise of her book.<BR/>Very disappointing...........

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2013

    free book

    was so excited to see book free! ! well its in Spanish! ! lol! !

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 29, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Families ...

    I picked up this book one evening just to read a few pages before bed. Before I knew it, it was 2 a.m. and I had read over half the book.

    Rather than being exclusively about the murder of the author's beloved sister Amy, this book details and outlines a pattern of domestic violence and abuse that is all too common in our society. Using her own family history, the author illustrates how the acceptance of such behavior is somehow bred into us, and as such, we accept the responsibility for it. What should I have done differently? How can I affect his behavior toward me? I must be doing something wrong. I must deserve this.

    I think this is a must-read for women, whether they have children or not. If you have daughters, teach them to be strong and stand up for themselves. Teach them that abuse of any kind, whether it's verbal, physical, financial ... whatever, is not okay. Sons should be raised with this knowledge as well. They must know that women are not servants or possessions, but partners to be valued and cherished.

    I apologize if it seems as if I'm on a soapbox here. Having suffered abuse myself, this is a cause that is particularly dear to my heart.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2008

    Great Book!

    This was a great read! Once I started reading this book I couldn't put it down! The book wasn't what I thought it would be but, it is a great book to read! I figured she would write more about her sister's life but, the book is mostly about the author's life. Still, an awesome book!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 9, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Encouraging

    IF I AM MISSING OR DEAD is an insightful look into the lives of two abused sisters. Sisters who followed what was familiar, no matter what the cost.
    I love this book! I couldn't wait to finish it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 5, 2008

    Misleading Title

    This story was almost entirely about the author and not her sister. The title and description are very misleading.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2008

    ---Sympathy for the family but not worth the read ---

    I read the whole book and couldn't believe that it took 252 pages to get to her sister's story. Most of the book focused on Janine's poor decisions in her life. I didn't need so many examples of the father's cold heartedness toward his family. I do feel sorry for the family for the lose of their daughter and sister but Janine seemed to not take her own advice soon enough. I¿ve thankfully never been in an abusive relationship and after reading this book I still don¿t understand why a person would stay after the first beating. I was taught by my grandmother that if he hits you once it¿s his fault but if he gets the chance to hit you again it¿s your fault.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2015

    It's in Spanish

    I don't read Spanish. Never said it was in Spanish. Lucky it was free

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2015

    If I am Missing or Dead by Janine Latus is inspirational and rel

    If I am Missing or Dead by Janine Latus is inspirational and relatable. Janine Latus is a survivor of domestic violence who is trying (and succeeding) to inspire others to stay safe and know when it is time to leave a dangerous relationship. Her story is about the abusive men in her life such as her father, boyfriends, husbands, and her brother-in-law. The story is intense at times and lighthearted at other times because she tells her story in a way that is relatable to everyone’s lives.  Latus does not sugar coat any of the details with her tell-it-like-is attitude which makes the story gripping and real. The reader feels like they experience the traumas right along with her because of her vivid diction. As she goes through the many different challenges in her life, every reader can and will find something they can relate to, after that point of connection the entire story seems to relate to them. Even if you are lucky enough to never experience a violent relationship with a loved one, you can relate to her mindset and the way she thinks when she is in a dark place. She writes her emotions in such a perfect way that they seem to unravel out to the reader and the connection is almost instant and the reader feels exactly what Latus wants them to feel. If I am Missing Or Dead, by Janine Latus is a must-read memoir because of the relatability and inspiring style of writing.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2014

    Thought provoking

    I loved how the author didn't dwell on details, but led you up to a situation and moved on, leaving you to fill in the blanks with life experiences. Subtle hints of worse going on than described in the text. Left me with strong awareness of how manipulating men can be to cover their insecurities and lack of empathy. Book club discussed for three hours because it touched so many "buttons"!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2013

    Relationship roles? Relationship Roles

    Janine writes in a way that is close to your heart. Pointing out the things we are too ashamed to recognize in our friends and family, especially our fathers. She really got me to think about the different roles women & men play in relationships. Story will stick with me for a long time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2013

    Heartbreakingly sad.

    Thibook is heartbreakingly sad.I was crying throughout this whole book.It's so sad!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2013

    In Spanish!

    Glad it was free! Could have warned us, B & N!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2013

    The title had me to believe this would be solely about the missi

    The title had me to believe this would be solely about the missing sister, her poor choices, a murder investigation and the incarceration of her boyfriend. I am glad I was mistaken. The author starts with her parents, their marriage and how growing up in an abusive home set up the sister and herself to repeat that same dynamic. Janine Latus' portrayal of her own struggles to cope with her domineering, abusive husband show insight to her mom's marriage and her sister's bad relationship. Bottom line: it filled my heart with compassion for women trapped , and then my heart overflowed for my own marriage that does not include fear, intimidation, hitting, rape, and lies.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2013

    A must read!

    Great book. Janine is a gifted writer

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2013

      When I picked up this book to read for an assignment, I though

      When I picked up this book to read for an assignment, I thought it was going to be just another boring read that would miserably fail at capturing my attention.  However, I found this story to be surprisingly compelling, to say the least.  Throughout the majority of the book, Janine Latus describes her life and that of her sister Amy, and how one influence after another led to a turn of events that eventually left her sister dead.  The book goes in depth as Janine explores her and her sister's choices regarding love and relationships, revealing the intimate details of what it is like to be a victim of domestic violence, and how much of a challenge it is to gather enough courage and escape from what feels like hell.  Overall, Janine Latus illustrated what life is like when one is in an abusive relationship and feels there is no other option.  The first person point of view throughout the book helped with describing the reasoning behind wanting to continue to remain in a violent union in the name of love and devotion, and why so many women are willing to keep quiet about their ordeals because they fear that speaking up will tear down the illusion of their perfect relationship which others envy.  Also, the connection between their childhood experiences and the lack of self-esteem both women have as adults helped the reader to understand how both young women fell into a position where their low self-esteem prevented them from standing up for themselves, and from gaining the confidence to remove themselves from the violent situations.  One aspect of the book I disliked was the lack of information provided about Amy and her experiences compared to Janine’s.  The majority of the book focuses on Janine’s life and personal experiences before it jumps to her sister’s disappearance and murder, resulting from domestic violence that went unnoticed.  The major theme of this book is domestic violence, with emphasis on how victims of domestic violence lack self-confidence and are eventually forced to rely on their abuser for support and nurturing.  The message expressed in this book is that a victim of a violent crime should not be ignored or feel they must depend on their abuser for everything, and that there is no excuse for the abusive behavior.  Overall, I would recommend this book to all women, as it is both exceptional and inspirational.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2011

    One of my favorite reads

    A story beautifully told by a loving sister. I laughed and I cried and could not put this book down. Her humor was what I loved the most about this author! I have shared this book with many others and the message is strong!

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  • Posted November 16, 2010

    Very Compelling!

    I read this book in one day--could not put it down, but I do agree with the other readers--the author did focus more on herself and I wanted to finish it as well to see what happened to her sister, her killer, etc. I was sort of surprised how much the author did focus on her life and her situation considering the title; nevertheless, the book was compelling and kept my full attention.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2010

    Kept hoping it would get better

    It seemed more story about the author's many abusive relationships and focused very little on her sister. I felt compelled to finish it only to honor her sister.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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