Elephant Girl by Jane Devin
Written in three distinct voices -- child, teen and adult -- Jane Devin takes readers on an intimate, imaginative and often harrowing life journey. Born unwanted and raised without love, the child-author invents a rich inner life to see her through years of trauma. Leaving home at 16, the teen-author struggles to find happiness and a sense of place in a world that feels confusing and unfamiliar. Then, years after stumbling into an adulthood mired in tragedy and broken dreams, the woman-author finds herself at a crossroads. The choice she ultimately makes is as stunning as it is brave.Told in unflinching and often lyrical prose, Elephant Girl goes beyond a singular life story to speak of powerful, universal truths and the ability of the human spirit to redeem itself.
In a culture of bootstraps and bromides, it has become unfashionable to talk about the long-term effects of child abuse and being raised without love or nurture. Unlike psychologist Harry Harlowe's infamous experiments with monkeys and maternal deprivation -- where all his subjects ended up abnormal or dead from what has been termed "emotional anorexia" -- abused children are supposed to be more resilient. In fact, it's a common belief that child abuse isn't really that big of a deal and that abused children will eventually enter into adulthood with the same knowledge and tools as those who were not abused, or at least be able to gain them quickly and easily. Less acknowledged is the fact that there can be long-term and even lifelong physical, social and emotional consequences of child abuse. Oftentimes, the one affected doesn't even realize what those consequences are until well into adulthood. High anxiety, hyper-vigilance, thwarted sexuality and brain damage that went undiagnosed until the age of 46 were just some of the after-effects experienced by the author of Elephant Girl: A Human Story.
The story of Precious ends with her teenage years. Jeannette Walls concludes Glass Castles as a college student. In A Child Called It, Dave Pelzer is removed from his abusive home by age 12 and eventually finds a loving foster family. In contrast, Elephant Girl: A Human Story is about what happens when there is no clear path to follow, no outside guidance and no dramatic rescue--when the only life-saving graces are imagination, self-determination and, ultimately, an undefeatable sense of hope.
This is not an easy story to read. Those who enjoy reading about miracles or quick solutions will surely be disappointed. Those looking to cast blame or buoy their belief that they could have survived better will find plenty of ammunition. However, those who are willing to see beyond the convenience and labels of bootstraps and bromides -- who believe that human experiences are as diverse and complex as those who have them -- will find much to relate to in this insightful and rarely told and ultimately hope-filled story.