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Book Review: Live Through This by Mindi Scott

An interesting thing happened when I started the #SVYALit Project, people started asking me if I had read such and such a book yet because I really needed to. And honestly, I am glad each and every time because I want to make sure we are reading and discussing as many relevant titles as possible. And that is how I came to read Live Through This by Mindi Scott recently, it was highly recommended by a friend.

Trigger Warning: This review will involve triggers

Live Through This is the story of Coley Sterling, a girl who seems to be living the perfect life on the outside. But it starts to unravel as she is forced to find ways to deal with the truth about what is happening to her. With the chance of having her first real boyfriend, a decade’s worth of lies and abuse are on the verge of unraveling and Coley isn’t sure how to deal with the reality of what happens to her in the dark of night.

Scott does not pull any punches. On the very first page we are introduced to Coley in a night time scene where you think there is a hot and heavy make-out scene happening between her and a boyfriend you haven’t met. But very quickly, you realize that things are very wrong in the world of Coley as she opens her eyes and realizes that no, this is real and is happening again. This was hands down the most realistic and heartbreaking scene of abuse I have read. So in the very first chapter we learn that someone in Coley’s house is sexually abusing her.

We also learn that Coley uses a very common coping mechanism: disassociation. For Coley, she just shuts down while everything happens to her. Sometimes she can pretend in her mind that something else is happening, which is very well depicted in this first chapter.

“Dissociation is a psychological process that often occurs in response to extreme trauma or pain. It is an automatic response determined by severity of the trauma and the individual’s ability to endure psychological pain and emotional distress. Dissociation is a disruption in normal information processing and allows the person to block negative emotions and experiences from consciousness and compartmentalize traumatic memories.” – Mothers of Sexually Abused Children 

It is partly because of this tendency to dissociate that Coley is able to pretend during the normal course of her day that all is well on Planet Coley. But there are three major events that happen that force Coley to lift the veil:

1. Coley starts to date a boy named Reece. This developing relationship causes a crisis of sorts for Coley as she wrestles with guilt and shame and worries about having to be intimate with him.

2. As the abuse against Coley escalates, her abuser forces her during one incident to look at him, making it impossible for her to dissociate. He even asks her a question, forcing her to actually speak and engage with him. This makes everything very real for Coley.

3. One day Coley comes home and sees her abuser on the couch with her younger sister who is about the age Coley was when her abuse started – which is age 7 – and she begins to stay up at night fearfully protecting her little sister. This anxiety and lack of sleep make functioning during the day nearly impossible and it begins to be hard for Coley to hide her crisis from others.

These three events combine to create a crisis in which Coley begins first to unravel and then she is forced to finally be honest with herself and others about what has been happening to her.

Scott does a really good job of presenting Coley’s story. In particular I though that Scott did a profound job of depicting dissociation and the slow then quickly accelerating unraveling of Coley through some very realistic crisis points. A lot of times non-abuse victims wonder how abuse can happen in families for so long and Scott does a really good job of depicting the complex and messy feelings that come into play, including trying to protect the only home and family you have ever known; that tendency to want to pretend that the evil that happens in the dark of night can somehow seem unreal when the sun comes up. And yet there is that anxiety that comes every night and Coley wonders, will she be safe this night? Scott also does a really good job of both humanizing the abuser, who both is a loving family member at times and a very manipulative abuser at others. He is particularly good at subtly suggesting that Coley is somehow complicit in and even enjoys the abuse; that it is somehow a mutual relationship when it is not, it is an abusive situation that Coley has been conditioned and manipulated to participate in since the age of 7.

I will admit, I was stunned when I learned who the abuser actually was when it was revealed about halfway through the novel. It’s one of those things that make you go back and re-read. When sexual abuse is revealed, victims are usually not believed because everyone looks at the abuser and thinks but he (sometimes she) is such a nice guy. Scott took this sexual abuse issue and really pulled back that curtain, demonstrating to readers how even the nicest seeming people and most beloved family members can end up being someone’s abuser. The complexity of this issue and their relationships, even the abusers belief about himself, is really depicted in strong ways. I think that every outsider who wonders how these things happen will get a very good look at the complexity of the issues reading this book. I highly recommend this book with the warning for sexual abuse survivors that it does have some triggering sexual abuse scenes and that I think the psychology of the situation, which is where this book excels, could also be very triggering.

In 2012 Kirkus said, “Coley finds that her childhood strategy of quiet endurance, rather than preventing the abuse, enables it to escalate. What makes this more than another “problem” novel is the author’s steadfast refusal to deal in stereotypes and easy answers. Coley’s more than the victim of sexual abuse–just as her abuser is more than a collection of abusive behaviors. Who we are and what we do are different things. Oversimplifying character motivations would have made this a less harrowing read but also a less powerful one. Unraveling her thicket of tangled emotions is a confusing and painful journey for Coley, but the bedrock truth she uncovers sustains her: Freedom from molestation is a human right. Required reading for anyone who’s ever wondered “why didn’t they just tell someone?” (Kirkus Reviews, 10/01/2012)

Christa Desir says, “I loved this book for the complexity and nuance of the issue of culpability. It does it better than almost any book I’ve seen on the issue of incest. It has the same sort of fearlessness of Sapphire’s PUSH.”

Publisher’s Description: From the outside, Coley Sterling’s life seems pretty normal . . . whatever that means. It’s not perfect—her best friend is seriously mad at her and her dance team captains keep giving her a hard time—but Coley’s adorable, sweet crush Reece helps distract her. Plus, she has a great family to fall back on—with a mom and stepdad who would stop at nothing to keep her siblings and her happy.

But Coley has a lot of secrets. She won’t admit—not even to herself—that her almost-perfect life is her own carefully-crafted façade. That for years she’s been burying the shame and guilt over a relationship that crossed the line. Now that Coley has the chance at her first real boyfriend, a decade’s worth of lies are on the verge of unraveling.

In this unforgettable powerhouse of a novel, Mindi Scott offers an absorbing, layered glimpse into the life of an everygirl living a nightmare that no one would suspect.

Published by Simon Pulse in 2012. ISBN: 9781442440609.