22 June 2010

Book Review: Denial

Title:  Denial: A Memoir of Terror
Author: Jessica Stern

Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, Reading Resolutions, Hogwarts Reading Challenge, Non-Fiction Five,

Buy  |  Borrow  |  Accept  |  Avoid

Reviewing a book about rape is difficult. Being raped is a woman's greatest fear and can be the source of a woman's greatest shame. How does a reader critically analyze a story so personal, so damaging, and so removed from her own life?

This separation between myself and the author was consistently apparent, and not just regarding the rape.  The relationships Stern had with her family horrified me. While Stern acknowledges her father, her grandmother, and her grandfather's flaws, she continually professes love and respect for them. I, on the other hand, found them deplorable and had difficulty relating to the woman who forgave them their transgressions and idiosyncrasies. While Stern expresses disgust at the abuse of others - and their acceptance of it - it's as if she barely recognizes the abuse inflicted on her by her own family. 

I will say, however, that this separation of reader and author/protagonist did not distract me from the story. Oddly enough, the absolute disparity between us is a large part of what kept me reading.  I wanted to know her mind; try to puzzle out how she thought, how she justified and rationalized, how she coped.

While I struggled a bit with the first half of the book - I think in part due to my distance from  Stern - I flew through the second half of the book.  Perhaps it just took some time for me to be comfortable with a narrator I could not relate to and with the subject matter which is so painful in so many ways.  This is not an easy story to read.  There is so much violence, so much terror, and so much of it is mishandled by those involved. 

This Book Around the Web
If I've missed your review, let me know!

TLC Book Tour Information and Schedule; at HarperCollins; Jessica Stern's webpage; Book Nook Club; Take Me Away;

Win a copy of the book at The Girl from the Ghetto;

Read the preface and a bit of Chapter 1 here.

Question:  See paragraph 1....


  1. I have a feeling that this would be a really hard book to read and review. I think you did a good job though. I'm not sure how I would critically analyze a story like that, I'll let you know when I have to though :)

  2. I have to admit, being raped is NOT my greatest fear (I prefer it to, say, being set on fire or drowned or having my fingernails ripped off in a torture ritual...), but I still think this probably would have been hard to read. Still, sounds very powerful.

  3. Honestly, I couldn't have read this book. I really like that you both read it, and reviewed it with grace. However, after reading it I hope you read something light and fluffy!

  4. This sounds fascinating and very emotional. I'm glad that you were able to continue despite not being connected to the narrator. Sometimes that can be hard.

  5. I find this often in life...a person who is quick to criticize a frailty in others is blind to the exact same trait in themselves! It is ironic and frustrating. I love trying to understand how other's minds work, so I probably would enjoy this one. I'm all about memoirs and true crime.

  6. I enjoyed your very personal review of this memoir. I'm glad you stuck it out even though you had trouble "getting" the narrator's perspective. Whether we see our caretakers or loving or abusive can be very subjective.

  7. I'm intrigued by what you said about how the distance from the narrator made the book even more gripping. I don't think I've ever had a reading experience like that.

  8. You did a great job reviewing this! I actually felt the opposite in terms of which half of the book I liked better, lol! I think the first half was easier for me.

  9. Amy - Thanks! It was a hard review to write and I still don't think I got out exactly what I wanted to say.

    Amanda - I suppose I was thinking more along the lines of non-death related fears. :)

    Jess - Thanks so much! And I did immediately go for light and fluffy afterwards. :)

    Anna - It was a unique reading experience for me. Usually I need to relate to get through the book.

    Sandy - It is definitely an interesting read as far as learning another's mind goes. You should give it a try.

    Stephanie - I agree. Family is very subjective, making it difficult to fully understand another person's feelings towards their own family members.

    Ana - It was a new experience for me. I felt like I had to keep reading to try to understand her.

    Jenny- Thanks! How weird that we had an easier time with different sections of the book! Gotta love reading; it's so personal.

  10. I've read a few reviews of this book but yours is the first to point out the fact that the author doesn't seem to hold her family accountable for their abuse of her ... I wonder if other reviewers didn't notice this or just didn't comment on it?

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!

  11. Heather - I think that everyone brings a lot of personal beliefs and experiences to reading a book like this, and that will influence perceptions of the book and what the reader focuses on the most. And no problem being part of the tour!

  12. Sounds like a tough book to read but definitely worth the effort.


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