Etched on Me: A Novel

Etched on Me: A Novel

by Jenn Crowell

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781476739069
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Publication date: 02/04/2014
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Jenn Crowell is the critically acclaimed author of the novels Necessary Madness and Letting the Body Lead. She holds an MFA in creative writing and lives near Portland, Oregon, with her husband and daughter.

Read an Excerpt

Etched On Me


  • Whenever I talked to the press or went on telly, back when I was pregnant, the journalists and program hosts would always lean forward with an expectant, awed posture and ask, with an attentiveness so studied it would have made me laugh if I hadn’t been scared shitless, “So, Miss Holloway, how did this all begin?”

    Behind their solicitous open-ended act, of course, they just wanted the lurid basics. And so, like Clare tending to one of her famous French reduction sauces, I had to boil the complexity of my life down. “Well, it started when I ran away from home at sixteen, because my dad . . .”

    •  •  •

    I slept in the park that first night, on a bench near Islington Green. Thank God it was August. Universe cut me a flipping break. Woke me with chirpy birds, to the softest sunlight ever. I sat up, rubbed my aching neck. So sore it popped, but I felt brilliant, because I’d gotten out: of that claustrophobic tiny flat, of that hall closet into which Dad had shoved me in order to have his way with me.

    I stared down at my hands. Brought them to my face, ran them over the bridge of my nose. Grinned into my palms. I couldn’t believe I’d actually gone and done it, made the impossible escape, sprinting down the stairs of our building at two a.m. like a skittish greyhound, an overstuffed rucksack jostling against my burdened back. Nothing’s impossible when you’re pushed to your limits, though. Just a single shove, and I was a fucking rockstar.

    One in dire need of breakfast. I took my grumbly stomach down the road to a manky café and spent my last five pounds on a greasy plate of sausage and egg. While I chowed down, I pulled the slip of paper I’d been hoarding from my pocket. Smoothed the creases with my thumb till the scrap lay flat on the table. My talisman.

    I’d found the phone number a month before, on a bulletin board at the library, just below leaflets advertising Mummy and Me storytime. Those featured cheery primary-hued logos, but the poster that caught my eye was all grayscale solemnity, earnestly inquiring: Worried About a Child?

    I wasn’t a child anymore, and worry didn’t even begin to describe it, but I grabbed my book renewal reminder slip for A Pictorial History of Women in Rock and jotted those digits down on the back. Nothing but the numbers. Last thing I needed was him discovering the words “Children’s Services Team” and busting my lip open.

    As it was, Mum almost caught me, coming up behind with her armful of crap romance novels, making me jump. “Bit old for storytime, aren’t we, Les?”

    I swallowed hard. Tried to imagine myself plopped down in her lap, eagerly watching the pages turn, waiting breathlessly for what came next.

    And then: tried not to.

    “Just looking for study groups,” I said. “Make sure I’m extra-prepared for autumn.”

    That made her beam. Ever since I’d gotten a scholarship to a posh girls’ school for the coming year, she’d been bragging on me left and right: not just to people it’d be understandable to share the good news with, like our neighbors, but also to complete strangers. Talk about mortifying. I mean, not saying I wasn’t proud of myself, or shouldn’t have been, but come on. It’s not like the checkstand girl at Tesco’s gives a fuck.

    Right then in the library, though, I was beyond grateful for that cover-up. I tucked the receipt in my pocket, where it never left for the next four weeks. Once, it almost fell out while he was yanking my jeans down. I’d learned to stop screaming years ago, but in that moment I was so petrified that I had to bite my tongue so I wouldn’t shriek.

    At night, afterwards, I’d lie in bed, all sleepy and sore, and just gaze at the phone number. Didn’t take long for me to memorize it, so I could have easily done away with the evidence, but there was a real sense of comfort in being able to look at that crumply piece of paper and know there was a whole team who potentially had my back.

    I finished my breakfast now, and went outside to a phone box. I’d have used my mobile, but I’d turned it off so as not to hear the barrage of rings I knew would jangle throughout the day. I smoothed my talisman again against the glass window. Deep-breathed, and dialed.

    The social worker who answered was called Francesca, and she was ace. “Of course we can help you with emergency accommodation.”

    Her first available appointment was later that evening. I didn’t know where to go until then, and the only thing I had left in my wallet was a transport pass, so I rode the tube all day, transferring off the Northern Line as soon as I could in case my parents had gone looking for me.

    Sitting on the train, rucksack in my lap, hair rumpled, I suddenly felt like what I had always thought of as “one of those people”: the kind you don’t make eye contact with, lest they go off on a paranoid rant; the kind you step around, even if it means giving up a seat. My first taste of public otherness.

    In the afternoon I rode out to Middlesex and got off at the stop nearest my new school. I had no idea whether I’d be able to go now, and part of me didn’t care, but another wanted desperately to catch a glimpse of what might still be possible.

    As I peered through wrought-iron gates at the cluster of brick buildings and broad expanse of lawn, I pictured myself in a maroon uniform, gliding jauntily down the main hall’s front steps. The very thought made my eyes sting. Who the fuck was I kidding?

    No, I told myself. Don’t think like that. You’re a rockstar.

    A tired one. A queasy one. A scared one.

    Francesca met me by the automatic doors of the social services office at five o’clock. She was younger than I’d expected, midtwenties maybe, her face soft round the edges, her gaze warm.

    “I’m so glad you rang,” she said as we stepped into the lifts. “That took heaps of courage.”

    On the way to the conference room, I ducked into the ladies’. I’d wanted to change my clothes that morning, but the café’s toilets had been so dodgy I didn’t dare. I knew I didn’t have enough time for a full ensemble change now, but I also knew my dignity hinged upon my ability to walk into that meeting with clean underpants on.

    I locked myself in the disabled stall so I’d have more room, and stepped out of my grass-smudged summer jeans. The knickers I had on were turquoise, my favorite color. I yanked them down. Wadded them up. Thought about shoving them into a pocket of my rucksack, but then I saw the dried stains and smelled the sour scent of him and knew they had to go.

    The replacements I stepped into were white briefs, boring but comfy. I put my jeans and sandals back on, tossed the defiled turquoise scrap in the bin, and headed down the corridor.

    Round the conference table sat my new best friend Francesca, some other lady from Children’s Services whose name I forgot soon as she told me, and a police constable. The fact that he was a man didn’t bother me since I reckoned he’d be on my side, but Francesca was super-sensitive about it all, reassuring me that we could reschedule the interview with a woman if I’d rather.

    I said it was fine, but then my voice started to quaver, and I stammered something like “Th-thank you, though,” and my eyes got wet enough that Francesca jumped up and fetched me a tissue, and my stomach growled so loudly that her colleague nipped downstairs and got me a packet of crisps and a soda and a paper cup of water from the office cooler, and they all watched me rip into the bag and swig like a wild animal, devouring the sweet salty coldness—terrible manners, I knew, but I couldn’t help it, Christ, it was all so good.

    Once my blood sugar drop and damp eyes had been taken care of, it was time to get down to business. Here the constable was kind, but not messing about. “We understand this is difficult for you, but it’s a quite serious allegation, and we’ll need extensive details.” I nodded, because of course it was, and of course they would.

    The questions were easy enough at first, vague enough to be safe, like when did it start (soon as I was old enough to fill out a bra) and how did it progress (feel-ups first, then more), but when things got into the mechanics department and they wanted an itemized list of who shoved what where, I went straight up to the ceiling like a rogue funfair balloon, leaving them peering, bewildered, into my ethereal-eyed, rigid face.

    The ceiling is a weird concept to explain to normal people, who are used to dwelling completely anchored in their bodies. And I never intended to check out of mine. But around the time I learned to stop screaming, I also found out that I could leave my physical self shoved up against the hall closet’s hatboxes and drift into a whole other sheltering, liminal space where I didn’t have to feel the press of him on me or the thrust of him inside me.

    The nice people across the table, of course, knew none of this, and I could hardly articulate it in five easy steps at that moment. So they just kept asking, gently, tentatively: “Lesley? Are you all right?”

    I reached my hand across the table. “Let me write it down,” I said, in a hoarse voice that didn’t feel like it was sounding from inside me. “Only way I can say it.”

    “Of course, of course” came a chorus of murmurs, as Francesca slipped her notepad over to me and placed the pen in my hand.

    I wrote so fast and so hard the pen stabbed the paper. My letters, neat and rounded at first, oozed into angry shapes, chaotic as a ransom note, angular as hieroglyphs. I signed my name in a furious swirl, then slid the pad back.

    “Do you mind if—if I run to the loo for a minute?” I whispered.

    “Not at all, not at all” went the choral murmurs.

    Nausea punched me in the gut soon as the door slammed behind me. I sprinted for the nearest sink. Leaned over it just in time for my stomach to clench like a fist and my mouth to spew the bilious lava of crisps and carbonated syrup. Even after I’d finished retching, I spat until every last drop ran clear.

    Back in the meeting room, they’d moved on to the logistics.

    “What about your mother? Is she aware of what’s going on?”

    I thought of our disastrous putting-on-airs afternoon at Harrods for high tea. Tower of cucumber sandwiches and scones set atop a pink-draped table. “Perfect day for a mother-daughter date, innit?” Yeah, Mum, real improvement over the father-daughter dates. My confession tumbling out, inadvertent but urgent. Her face flushing red as if I’d slapped her.

    Now, two years later, my mouth puckered in a don’t fucking cry knot. I braced my palms, hard, against the bare table edge.

    “Yeah,” I choked out. “Mum knows.”

    The three of them exchanged solemn glances.

    “Have you any friends or relatives you could stay with?” Francesca asked.

    I shook my head. My family was pretty much the thermonuclear sort (no siblings whose safety we needed to worry about, thank God), and my friends and I had grown apart once they heard I was headed off to a snobby school and leaving them behind.

    “Well, then, can you think of anything specific you might need?”

    Someone to stroke my hair, and tell me the worst was over, and bring me supper on a tray like I was a sick little girl.

    “Umm, let me think,” I said, my words edging perilously close to babble. “I have this library book I left back there called A Pictorial History of Women in Rock that needs to be returned. And I’ll need a new mobile number, and a September tube pass, and a school uniform.” I paused. “Assum-assuming I can still go?”

    “Absolutely, you can,” Francesca said. “I’ll have a chat with the headmistress and sort it all out.”

    “What about tonight?”

    Soon as I asked, Francesca went rambly-mumbly apologetic. “Well, you see, we’ve not got any available foster carers at the moment, so we’re going to have to put you up in a hostel.”

    I pictured cheery bunk beds and common areas with Internet kiosks. “You mean, like for foreign backpackers?”

    “Erm, not exactly. It’s a hostel for adults who are . . .” Long pause. “In transition.”

    •  •  •

    Middle-aged men lounged against corridor walls, their stained fingers clutching cigarettes, their eyes skimming the neckline of my sleeveless summer blouse. A few rooms down, a bleached-blond woman in a miniskirt kicked at a closed door, screeching “Let me in, you wanker!”

    Francesca linked her arm through mine in sisterly rally, all Come, let’s march bravely through hell, but when one of the lechers opened his gap-toothed mouth to blow a hard puff of nicotine and leer “Hey, pretty,” I burrowed into her in terror.

    “Your room’s right here,” Francesca said lightly, pulling away from me to retrieve the key from her trouser pocket.

    “It has a lock.” My words were a huffed gasp.

    Francesca glanced at me with a bemused look. “Of course it does.”

    When she handed me the key, it was all I could do not to kiss the damn thing, to run my tongue along its serrated, rusty edges in worshipful relief before turning it. My room, my room, with a lock, and a—

    Dingy linoleum floor, and threadbare blanket, and peeling wallpaper, and exposed bulb.

    “Oh, dear.” Francesca surveyed the room and sucked her lips between her teeth. “We’ll have to speak with the maintenance staff.”

    My shoulders slumped a little. I ran my hand over the nearby desk-slash-dresser. Yanked my fingers away to find them covered in dust.

    At the gritty feel of it, I immediately pictured my old room, with its fluffy turquoise duvet and Bjőrk posters and stacks of plump pillows and strands of twinkly lights trailing round the windows. For a moment, I wanted to sneak back and burrow into all that soft goodness, but then I remembered there was nothing good or soft about a lockless sanctuary.

    You have no right to be a diva, I told myself. Francesca pulled this together for you last minute, when she could have been out saving little kids. Show some flipping gratitude.

    “It’s totally fine,” I said. “I’ll manage.”

    •  •  •

    Francesca promised to return the next day and left me with instructions—kitchen and laundry facilities on the ground floor, spare towels in a cupboard by the bathroom—and some cash for food in an envelope. After she’d gone, I sat on the creaky single bed, my knees drawn up to my chin, my forehead on my knees. In the next room, I could hear the muffled groans and wails of a couple either fighting or having sex, I couldn’t quite tell which.

    Frantic for a way to block the noise, I reached down into my rucksack for my beat-up portable CD player. He’d offered to buy me an iPod for my “sweet” (ha) sixteen the previous April, but I’d told him the only thing I wanted was for him to keep his fucking hands off me. That earned me both his palms around my neck the next time we were in the hall closet, but it was worth the choke hold just to spit those words like bitter seeds.

    I put in my cheap earbuds now and pressed play. The CD I had going was a mix I’d made called “Best of the Screaming Women,” mainly to annoy the shit out of my mum, but also because I reckoned that if I couldn’t scream, the next best thing was to let some other woman with a strong voice do it on my behalf.

    First up was some stuff from that ancient Kate Bush album with her about to kiss Houdini on the cover. The song about letting the weirdness in I could deal with—not like I couldn’t relate to that idea, right?—but when the track came on where she howls and stutters about locking all the doors in her house to keep an evil spirit out, I felt like I was going to vomit all over again, so I punched the forward arrow quick till I got to some Portishead.

    There we were. Dark but chillaxed old-school trip-hop, like what I imagined I might hear once I’d moved out the hostel and was finally dining at a hip bistro with candles in wine bottles, waiting for my salad and balsamic-glazed salmon to materialize on a plate delivered by a tattooed waitress. (Nobody loves meeeee, it’s true, not like youuuuu do.) I drew my knees back up to my chin, and rested my forehead back on my knees, and rocked to and fro until I felt nothing except the soothing sway of the motion.

    By the time I came down from the ceiling again, my earbuds were as silent as the hall outside. I got up and opened the door to check. Empty. Finally safe enough for a sneak towards the shower.

    As I pulled my pajamas and toothbrush from my rucksack, my mobile skittered out across the floor. When I powered it on, I found fifteen voicemails, each one from him. I didn’t even listen. Just turned the phone off again, draped my fresh T-shirt over one arm, slipped my sandals back on, and sprinted for the linen cupboard.

    Its towels were scratchy and thin as my new blanket, but thankfully clean—unlike the bathroom’s sinks and toilets, in which cigarette ashes floated. You’re just getting a head start on university, I told myself, fighting to convince myself both that I would eventually go and that every coed residence hall of course stank of burnt curry and urine. On my way to the shower, I chucked my now-permanently-silenced mobile into a bin.

    Behind the stall’s scummy vinyl curtain, the water ran blissfully, blessedly hot. I stepped under the surprisingly vigorous spray and warily eyed the plastic soap dispenser (exact same model as in the psych wards I’d stay on later). When I pressed a button, the machine spurted a multipurpose pink goo that smelled of flowers soaked in antiseptic.

    I tipped my head back, luxuriating in the steam and the sting. I knew I risked complaints from my fellow hostel-mates, but I didn’t care; I was going to run that hot water all the way down even if it caused a riot.

    When I reached for another gel pump with which to tackle the grimy soles of my feet, I felt a sudden twinge in my belly, far too low to be a harbinger of more nausea. I glanced down, glimpsed a smudge of blood on the bruised inside of my thigh. My shoulders dropped—not sinking at the feel of dust, this time, but sloping in relief. As a clot hit the rusted drain with a smeary dissolve, I pressed one slick hand to the wall to steady myself. Shook my head like a dog under the droplets, all curved-back grin and hysterical laughter, my whole body quaking with prayers to every off-kilter deity I could name: Thank God, thank the Screaming Women, thank the bare lightbulb above my new bed, thank the bistro candles flickering in their ersatz vases, I wasn’t, thank them all, wasn’t pregnant.

  • Reading Group Guide

    This reading group guide for Etched on Me includes discussion questions and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

    Topics & Questions for Discussion

    1. How does Crowell use visual imagery to give the reader greater access into Lesley’s psyche? For example, how did you understand the “ceiling” metaphor?

    2. Discuss the importance of music to Lesley. How does its role in her life evolve as the novel progresses? You might also consider the role of music in your own life, and how your taste or relationship to it has evolved. Have certain types of music (or certain artists or playlists) been influential to you at specific moments in time?

    3. How does the trip to Russia change Lesley’s relationship with the Kremskys?

    4. A poster that catches Lesley’s eye in the social services office asserts “You CAN break the cycle of violence.” What do you think this means for her—and what do you think the novel is saying about the possibility for second chances? How is the past shown to reverberate into the present within the narrative? Is this necessarily a bad thing?

    5. Lesley acutely experiences both dissociation and embodiment throughout the novel. Discuss some examples of these as a group. How do instances of each also serve as coping mechanisms for Lesley, and how does embodiment, in particular, become a sign of growth and mechanism for her healing?

    6. Turn to pages 47 and 48 and re-read Lesley’s analysis of self-harm, and her explanation as to why she does it. Do you think that causing deliberate physical injury to oneself, such as cutting, is different from other forms of self-inflicted harm (like addiction to harmful substances or eating disorders)? In what ways do you think we all engage in self-harm to some degree?

    7. Did Lesley challenge your assumptions about sexual identity? If so, what surprised you? Why do you think she ultimately described her sexual orientation as “queer” to Dr. Orton, rather than “bisexual”? In your discussion, you might also consider the historically fraught conflation of a minority sexual identity with mental illness (for example, the DSM—the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—labeled homosexuality as deviant behavior until as late as 1974 ).

    8. Both Gloria and Lesley find that their identity as a mother enables them, in key moments, to draw upon a deeper reserve of strength than they otherwise felt they had. Can you find these instances in the text? Regardless of whether or not you are a mother, have you ever experienced something similar?

    9. Did you think that Lesley should have contacted Declan once she discovered she was pregnant? What would you have done in her situation? You might also consider Lesley’s attempt to flee the UK and travel to the United States. Did you empathize with her struggle to make that decision? Would you have taken that kind of risk?

    10. Consider the women who take on maternal roles for Lesley. What is each character uniquely able to offer or teach her—and how do their influences manifest in her choices, and her own experience of motherhood? Conversely, what does Lesley offer or teach these women?

    11. Aurelia and Clare are spectral presences in Lesley’s subconscious throughout the novel. Why do you feel they haunt her as vividly as they do? In particular, why do you think Lesley seems more haunted by the ghost of her mother than that of her father? You might also consider whether there are people from your past who similarly “haunt” you, and what it is about those relationships that have stayed with you.

    12. For many characters in Etched on Me—Sophie, Gloria and Jascha, Lesley, even Clare’s parents—bringing a child into the world proves to be an uphill battle. Alternatively, Lesley’s parents both fail her, in critical ways. With this in mind, what do you think the novel is ultimately saying about family?

    13. The British system of health care and social services is clearly different from that of the United States. Do you agree with Imogen that the investigation into Lesley’s fitness for parenthood is an example of “socialism gone awry”? Or does the case of Ainsley MacIntyre, and the possibility for other, similar scenarios, justify a certain level of scrutiny toward future mothers?

    Enhance Your Book Club

    1. Crowell’s first novel, Necessary Madness, is narrated by Gloria (from Etched on Me) and chronicles the aftermath of her first husband’s death. Consider reading Necessary Madness as a group. How does it affect your view of Gloria’s character in Etched on Me, or what added insight do you feel you have into her? Is there a character from Etched on Me that you would want to narrate a novel?

    2. Etched on Me is inspired by a true story—that of Fran Lyon, a twenty-two-year-old British woman who fled her home country in 2007 when she was nearly eight months pregnant. UK social services had ordered that she would be forced to surrender custody of her child within minutes of giving birth, due to her mental health history (raped at fourteen, she had suffered depression and instances of self-harm during her adolescence). Despite receiving extensive treatment and being granted a clean bill of health from various psychiatric professionals, Lyon was still considered a risk to her unborn child. As a group, search online for newspaper articles that covered this story at the time it was unfolding, or go to www.youtube .com/watch?v=90q5kXlOW_ g to watch a BBC interview with Lyon during her pregnancy.

    3. DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) is a widely recognized form of psychotherapy used to treat individuals with BPD (borderline personality disorder)—but it is also, as Gloria jokingly acknowledges, a fairly useful tool for anyone. Turn to pages 159 and 160 to read through Dr. P.’s description of the Rational Mind, Emotion Mind, and Wise Mind. Together, brainstorm some everyday, stressful situations in which applying these structures could be helpful to you. To learn more about DBT, visit: www.behaviorialtech.org and www.dbtselfhelp.com.

    4. “Soul cards” are one of the hallmarks of Lesley’s time on the Phoenix. Nominate one or two group members to bring old magazines to your meeting, and make your own soul card as you discuss Etched on Me. Share your creations at the end of the meeting, and see if they illuminate anything about your peers, or yourself, that you weren’t expecting. To learn more about soul cards, visit the Soul Collage website at www.soulcollage.com.

    5. Music has a constant presence throughout Etched on Me. Visit Jenn Crowell’s website at www.jenncrowell.com to find a playlist of songs that are featured in the novel.

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    Etched on Me: A Novel 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
    KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
    Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings A heart wrenching story that at times I had to remind myself that there was truth in it - a young woman with a checkered past has mostly overcome her demons only to be judged as she wants to raise her own unborn child.  She was able to find support in many different people and as she became pregnant they even more so rallied around her to help her be a single mom able to raise her own child. Although the book spends quite a bit of time describing the horrible childhood and rough young adult years of this woman, when she becomes pregnant, there was not stopping to set it down!  There were so many moments that were hard to read and I felt as though I just wanted to cheer her on to find hope within herself, I was thankful that although she found ways to fight her demons, they were still there - it felt true.  
    BookishThings More than 1 year ago
    3.5 Etched on Me is dark, gritty, and emotional. It had me completely crushed, and rooting, for the Lesley throughout the entire book. Lesley has to overcome so many things in her past. The events that she went through are terrible. I think this character is incredibly strong because she is still mostly present. Lesley goes through ups and downs as she figures out what she needs to do to make sure she will be able to keep her daughter. Etched on Me starts off little slow, but you get caught up in the whirlwind that has become her life. I love the importance put on family, even if they aren’t your blood relatives. Lesley has an amazing support system, and I wish more teens that deal with the same hardships had that. I also liked getting to see her stays in the different facilities. Each one had their own way of teaching how to handle the things that went wrong in Lesley’s life. Something can be learned in each facility. If you are ready for an emotional rollercoaster, this book is for you. Get ready to cry, laugh, and want to fight for Lesley.
    AshleyAmsbaugh More than 1 year ago
    Etched on Me is one young woman’s journey from victim to survivor. Lesley Holloway was dealt a crap hand at life, her father repeatedly abused her while her mother knowingly turned a blind eye. When she finds the number for Children’s Services she knows she can make her escape. Once she is able to leave, she had hoped her life would change for the better. Sadly, it doesn’t. Her father was convicted and sentenced to prison, her mother wants nothing to do with her, and she’s living on her own in a local hostel while commuting to a prestigious girl’s school where she’s on scholarship. During all of this, she begins to self-harm. One time at school she goes too far and nearly kills herself. This has sent in motion a harrowing two-year journey of hospital in-stay to help her get to the point where she can accept what’s happened to her, and maybe be able to move on. After she graduates college, and years beyond self-harming, she finds out she’s pregnant. Excited because it’s something she never knew she wanted, Lesley goes to a midwife and her life is changed yet again. Social Services wants to take her unborn baby from her for fear of her past. Etched on Me is no easy read. There are times where I wanted to laugh, cry and just scream. There gets to be a point where you ask yourself, how much can one person endure. I found myself wanting to reach through the pages and just be that next person who was there for Lesley, someone to be apart of her support system. No topic was really taboo in this book either. It delves heavily into Lesley’s abuse, mental stability and suicide attempts. If you do decide this is a book for you, make sure you have plenty of tissues. You’ll need them.
    StephWard More than 1 year ago
    'Etched on Me' is a gritty and raw look at the obstacles and internal struggles that people with mental illness must deal with throughout their lives. It tells the story of Lesley Holloway - a teenage girl who finally finds the courage to flee her abusive home, which begins a series of mental illness issues, psychiatric facilities, and finally the fight for her child. Lesley is a very realistic main character for the novel. She's tough, witty, strong, smart, and determined. She also has some real problems - overcoming incest and abuse, mental illness problems, and taking charge of her own life when people want to rip it away from her. The book follows Lesley over the years - chronicling her ups and downs, triumphs and failures, and her struggle for control over her own life. She's a wonderfully written main character who is obviously flawed, but still manages to get the reader on her side cheering her on throughout the book. I knew before reading this novel that it was loosely based on some of the author's personal experiences with mental illness, and I have to give her serious props for writing about these topics in such a raw and realistic fashion. Not many people have the courage to speak out about mental illness in everyday life - let alone write a novel about it. I've reviewed books before that deal with mental illness and I'm always an advocate for them. I believe that mental illness is still a taboo topic in our society and is filled with stigma. Anyone who stands up and speaks out about it is brave - especially those who have a large impact on people, such as writers like Jenn. I myself suffer from mental illness, including depression and self-harm issues, so reading Lesley's story was very hard for me, as well as really rewarding in the end. The author doesn't sugar coat anything in the book - it's all right out there in the open for all to see. There were parts of the book that were painful for me to read and my heart broke for Lesley, but her stubborn nature and determination were an inspiration. The story was very well written with exceptional attention to detail along with heartwrenching situations and realistic characters. I was immediately drawn into the book and felt as if I was right alongside Lesley the entire time. The pace was just right - not too fast to blow over the hard stuff, but not too slow that it wallowed either. It definitely deals with difficult topics such as abuse, incest, self harm, and mental illness, but it also shows that one must fight for what they believe in and never give up, no matter the odds against you. Some readers will find the topics in the novel disturbing and possibly too difficult to read about, but those who give it a shot will be rewarded with a profound story of one woman's journey through mental illness. I agree with the statement in the press release that said, "ETCHED ON ME is an ultimately life-affirming story that will deepen readers’ understanding and compassion, and perhaps make them reevaluate preconceptions they might have about women who suffer from mental illness and mothers who, for whatever reason, must fight for custody of their children." Mental illness is a serious topic in our society that often gets shoved under the rug and this novel brings it into the spotlight for everyone to see - in all it's ugly, gritty, and heartbreaking reality. Highly recommended for people who enjoy contemporary fiction and those who are looking for an inspiring story with impeccable writing. Disclosure: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.