+Book Review+ Etched On Me by Jenn Crowell

Posted Tuesday, 15 April, 2014 by jorielov , , , , 4 Comments

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Etched On Me by Jenn Crowell
Published By: Washington Square Press / Atria {imprints of}
Simon & Schuster ( ) 4 February 2014

Publicity by: Atria ()
Official Author Websites:  Site  | Twitter | Facebook
Converse via: #EtchedOnMe
Genres: Contemporary Fiction | Mental Illness | LGBT fiction | Realistic Fiction
Available Formats: Trade Paperback and E-Book
Page Count: 336

Acquired Book By: Whilst attending #LitChat for Ms. Crowell’s book discussion on behalf of Etched On Me, I had the pleasure of getting to know a bit more about the novel as much as I did the author herself! Our conversation continued offline through email, where she offered me to receive her latest novel in exchange for an honest review by getting in touch with her publicist at Atria. Therefore, I received a complimentary copy of Etched On Me in exchange for an honest review direct from her publicist Valarie Vennix. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

Inspired to Read: Throughout the entire #LitChat discussion about Etched On Me, my heart drew a circle of empathy around the originating premise in which shaped this story together. A woman in the UK was put in a position to possibly lose custody of her child based solely on her history of mental illness from when she was younger. She had already undergone therapy and sought wellness for herself as much as her child, yet before her babe was even bourne there was a question about if she would be fit to be the child’s mother. As soon as I heard this part of the story threads, my heart went out to the woman in the UK! There is a stigma surrounding mental illness and those who are affected by the trauma of having a history in full view of everyone they meet on their future path. And, what is quite apparent is the stigma and the misunderstanding of how far forward one can walk on their lifepath is not always a given measure of their worth if they have something in their past which draws questions from those of whom were once trusted.

What I appreciated the most is the gentleness and raw attention towards the woman’s plight but also to the breadth of depth Crowell was willing to go based on her own experiences as a mother who has dealt with mental illness. She strikes a balance of an accord between fiction and non-fiction memoir to give the reader a full-on glimpse into a reality very few realise is happening in our world. Where parents who have the right to raise their children are being marginalised for reasons that are not fair nor ethical.

Book Synopsis:

Girl, Interrupted meets Best Kept Secret in this redemptive and edgy coming-of-age story about a young woman who overcomes a troubled adolescence spent in and out of psychiatric facilities, only to lose custody of her daughter when her mental health history is used against her.

Partially inspired by Jenn’s own experiences, ETCHED ON ME is also loosely based on the harrowing story of a young 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 14, she had suffered depression and instances of self-harm during her adolescence). Despite receiving treatment and being granted a clean bill of health, she was still considered a risk to her unborn child. Jenn learned of the case while deeply immersed in new motherhood herself, and having overcome her own mental health struggles, she was deeply moved by the story.

Sixteen-year-old Lesley Holloway—our irrepressible narrator in ETCHED ON ME—is alternately streetwise and vulnerable, comically self-deprecating, and wise beyond her years. On the surface, she is just another bright new student at Hawthorn Hill, a posh all-girls prep school north of London. Little do her classmates know that she recently ran away from home—where her father had spent years sexually abusing her—and that she now spends her afternoons working in a fish and chip shop and her nights in a dingy hostel. Nor does anyone know that she’s secretly cutting herself as a coping mechanism…until the day she goes too far and ends up in the hospital.

Lesley spends the next two years in and out of psychiatric facilities, overcoming her tragic memories and finding the support of a surrogate family. Eventually completing university and earning her degree, she is a social services success story—until she becomes unexpectedly pregnant in her early twenties. Despite the many gains she has made and the overwhelming odds she has overcome, the same team that saved her as an adolescent will now question whether Lesley is “fit” to be a mother. And so she embarks upon her biggest battle yet: the fight for her unborn daughter.

Author Biography:

Photo Credit: Hedy Bartleson
Photo Credit: Hedy Bartleson

Jenn Crowell’s debut, Necessary Madness, was released when she was just 19; her second novel, Letting the Body Lead, when she was only 24. Both were critically acclaimed and reviewers marveled at the wisdom, maturity, and depth of feeling expressed by so young a writer. Over the next ten years, Jenn earned her MFA, but also underwent treatment for depression and self-harm—issues that she writes about so vividly in her latest novel, ETCHED ON ME. Jenn is a compelling writer, and she has a talent for creating sympathetic and relatable characters.

With ETCHED ON ME, Jenn Crowell takes her storytelling to new heights as she beautifully unpacks the legacy of sexual abuse, examines the complexities of the relationships we form when our blood families fail us, and raises fascinating questions about the nature of social services and health care in a bureaucratic system. As thought-provoking as it is riveting, 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.

Jenn Crowell holds an MFA in Creative Writing, and lives near Portland, Oregon with her husband and young daughter.

A Phoenix on the Book Cover:

When Etched On Me first arrived by Post, the very first thing that I had noticed was the Phoenix etched into the background of the title and set as a bit of a raised watermark. At first glance, this signaled to me the story inside was going to be about a woman who rises out of the ashes of one chapter of her life as she boldly goes forward into a new chapter emblazoned by the one she’s left.

What I had not expected to find underneath the covers is a story deeply etched out of the pages of script that I had watched through an eight-year focus on Law & Order: SVU. I spent most of my twenties watching the trifecta so to speak of Law & Order; on the misunderstanding that it was in effect meant to be “LA Law”. The stories illuminated the hard-hitting real to life cases of women, men, and children living through some of the worst trauma and abuse that any one person could not even imagine. Through my time spent observing the actors who portrayed the police and the lawyers alike, I came to appreciate Mariska Hargitay’s portrayal of Olivia Benton. I would come to find out later she created the “Joyful Heart Foundation” as a way to reach out to the women who would write letters to her in full gratitude of the series and of her honest realism in giving Olivia a grounding persona.

I do believe if I had not had that section of my television viewing focused on specific cases of gutting emotional stories, I might not have been fully prepared now to read Lesley’s story. From the very first page I felt myself brought back to an episode of SVU, barreling into a story I might not be ready to read, but willing to engage into the heart-break to come out the other side into the light.

My Review of Etched On Me:

Lesley Holloway is an abrasive speaking teenager facing the horrific reality of being a victim of incest whilst having to find the courage to turn her own father in to the authorities as her own Mum is not willing to do so herself. From the brink of despair and insightful chapters of her internal struggle to sort out her life, Etched On Me begins when her crisis first erupts into seeking support, shelter, and help. On the foot-heels of seeing a page of her life far past social services, but at an episode of her life propelling out of control which brought her back to the beginning.

There is a section near the beginning in which Lesley cuts her arm quite deeply and needs to go to the ER. I had to sort of gloss past this section because the medical descriptions were a bit bothersome for me. This is a very well-written section about the consequences of self-harming and how cutters can phase out whilst thinking they are not going to cut as deep as they could. I give Crowell credit for taking her readers as close to reality as she does, even if this reader had to side step a bit to muddle through the pages.

The kindness of her Lit teacher, Miss (as she is affectionately referred) is the one who is her calming balm inside the hospital. Without her presence up to this point, I am not sure what would have tethered Lesley in a positive connection with an adult as she could not identify with her peers. Cutting affects a lot of young girls the same age as Lesley as in the story (sixteen) but also with women in their twenties. When Lesley is placed inside her first psychiatric facility she goes through a sexual awakening which at first surprises her as she is a survivor of sexual abuse. She was completely surprised that she was attracted to another girl, but part of her knew that perhaps she had known this before. Little nudges towards this realisation were painted by Crowell who gave the reader little insights into Lesley’s personality and her instincts as a woman developing her vision of who she is as she lives.

Part of Lesley’s recovery involved DBT (Dialectical behaviour therapy), in which the lessons of Zen and Buddhism are implemented to help find balance where previously only chaos lived rampant. To quell the urge to self harm by re-examining what triggered the need to cut in the first place. To be honest and open with one’s feelings and to own the journey towards self acceptance. The other half of her recovery was the close-knit family she surrounded herself with by drawing together positive role models and allowing herself the open freedom to being real with those who loved her to bits. She had to learn that love was unconditional and that by being raw and real might get you an upturnt brow on occasion (due to her choice in words!) but its your heart that shines through that allows people to become attached and endeared to you the most.

She’s an honest portrayal of a young girl who started out as a victim but championed her own cause by becoming the survivor who was as close to being an activist as you can be without crossing the line. Lesley starts out as an a teen of sixteen and transforms into a loving Mum with a University degree in her early twenties, on the verge of marriage. You rally for her each step of her journey, because she is truly walking through hell one footstep at a time — seeking her own truth and leading with her heart. Part of her living truth was accepting that she wasn’t straight and that it was okay to be a lesbian and love differently than she expected herself too. After all, each of us in walking our own path towards love and the greatest gift each of us has is love in full acceptance of each other.

A note on behalf of Jenn Crowell:

I give Ms. Crowell a heap of gratitude and respect for being bold enough to tell this story through the lens she gave Lesley Holloway. Due to the nature of the story and the way in which Lesley raised herself up by the bootstraps, this is one novel I am not going to attach a Fly in the Ointment for language — though please be forewarned she singes off your eyebrows half the time whilst aching your heart towards seeing her find redemption and peace! To be able to take part of your own living history and etch into a story-line as powerful as this one is a credit to her own strength and confidence. I will be forever grateful that I was involved with the #LitChat book discussion which allowed our paths to cross, giving me the honour of reading her novel with the hopes that my observations return the honour back to her. This is a story about social justice and for stablising the civil rights of everyone who has struggled with and has overcome mental illness.

This book review is courtesy of:

the author Jenn Crowell & her publicist @ Atria Ms. Valarie Vennix

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I would like to take a moment to thank Ms. Vennix for giving me the honour of reading this extraordinary novel and by allowing me to bring the story to life on my blog! I am hopeful that through my observations of the Lesley Holloway’s plight and journey, I can inspire other readers to get to know her on a personal level. To turn the tides of indifference or ignorance into compassion, empathy, and understanding. There is so much going on in our world that we are not always fully aware of, that I will always champion the writers like Ms. Crowell her undertake social justice and reform by bridging the gap of misunderstanding by giving back to the world a story whose undercurrent message is to enlighten and endeavour change so that others in Lesley’s position will not have to suffer nor undergo such a harrowing life shift to gain the freedom to raise their children.

Return on Thursday, 17 April for my Author Q&A with Ms. Crowell!

{SOURCES: “Etched On Me” Book Cover, Jenn Crowell author photograph, book synopsis, and author biography were provided by Ms. Vennix and were used by permission. The book synopsis & author biography were pulled together from the Press Release given to me. Book Review badge provided by Parajunkee to give book bloggers definition on their blogs.}

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2014.

About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Tuesday, 15 April, 2014 by jorielov in #LitChat, 21st Century, Author Found me On Twitter, Book Review (non-blog tour), Bookish Discussions, Cutting, Equality In Literature, Foster Care, LGBTTQPlus Fiction | Non-Fiction, Life Shift, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Modern Day, Psychiatric Facilities, Realistic Fiction, Self-Harm Practices, Social Change, Social Services, Sociological Behavior, Sociology, Trauma | Abuse & Recovery, Twitterland & Twitterverse Event, Vulgarity in Literature

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4 responses to “+Book Review+ Etched On Me by Jenn Crowell

    • Thank you, Ms. Wakins for such a keen insight into how this book spoke to you! I am thankful to have been given the chance to bring this story to life on my blog & to be a reader who could speak on its behalf.


    • You’re quite welcome, Ms. Rosie Amber!

      You are quite bang-on when you said this is a ‘deep and emotional read’ as that is exactly how I felt as I was reading this stirring portrait of Lesley’s fight to not only survive but to thrive outside of the hand life kept dealing to her. She’s a powerful character who evokes a role of calm inside the chaos that surrounded her. Its not an easy book to read due to everything that happens in her life, but its a book that draws a positive light on feeling empowered by understanding how you can choose to overcome your circumstances by taking it one day at a time and one moment of recovery at a time.

      I do not think the story will ever etch out of my heart on that note, as Crowell wrote it in such an openly honest and real way.

      I am thankful my review evoked such a positive response! :)

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