Cyber Monday: Survival Stories Make a Great Gift

I know it’s Cyber Monday, and you’re probably wanting to shop for happy gifts. Let me tell you about some books that are secretly happy even though they deal with things like rape, sexual abuse, and domestic violence. (Let that also serve as your content warning. There will be talk of that later.)

The Gravity Imprint of Booktrope Publishing specializes in trauma survival and recovery. I’ve read some masterful books they’ve published, and I still have a stack waiting on me. I highly recommend giving these books as gifts (especially while the Kindle editions are on sale for $2.99). I’m re-publishing some reviews to help inspire you, but you don’t have to limit yourself to these books. Gravity has a whole lot more.

Let me reiterate this one thing: Please don’t tell me these books sound like downers. You know what’s a downer? Being victimized and having people tell you they don’t want to hear your depressing story. You know what’s uplifting? Giving love to trauma survivors and sharing stories of trauma survival with the ones you love.

“Fortitude: A PTSD Memoir” by Apryl Pooley

I knew I was in for a bumpy ride when Apryl Pooley made me cry with her Author’s Note right at the beginning of “Fortitude: A PTSD Memoir”. It would not be the last time I cried, but she also made me smile and laugh and feel such a range of emotions I can never properly describe.

Potential readers should be warned that she does not shy away from a lot of ugly, painful truth. She describes sexual violence in detail which includes explicit mentioning of intimate body parts. She also does not pull punches on describing her own self-abuse and how she used drugs and sex to help her cope. This is not for the faint-hearted. It is for everyone wanting to support survivors of sexual trauma and wanting to heal their own pain.

“Fortitude” is not just a recounting of trauma and suffering, though. We do get to join Apryl Pooley on her path toward healing. We are treated to many wonderful moments as she meets the woman who will become her wife. Leaving out many details and in very subtle tones, she even gives us a peek into the first time they made love, an incredibly beautiful grace note in this sweet song of a book.

After reading the first self-published version of her memoir, I set about on my own path of self-discovery and healing. I didn’t think it was possible for her to do better, but she very much did. I’ve struggled to write this review because all I really want to do is write Apryl Pooley a thank-you note. I wish I could write a review that was worthy of this wonderful book, but more than anything, I hope I can convince many more people to read “Fortitude: A PTSD Memoir”.

“The House on Sunset” by Lindsay Fischer

At the very beginning of “The House on Sunset”, Lindsay Fischer spoils the ending. She will be describing a brutally violent man and be lucky to survive her relationship with him. She then takes her time describing how that relationship developed. Slowly, I began to forget that she was talking about a monster. On page 61, I had to stop. I liked this guy. Even knowing what was to come, I was falling in love right alongside her.

If you don’t understand how abusers keep charming and trapping their prey, you need to read this book. Lindsay Fischer takes us on the ride of break-ups and reunions so common in such abusive relationships. Mike woos her and builds her up to draw her in. When she is at her most vulnerable, he belittles and beats her. He encourages her to quit teaching to focus on writing. After she does and thereby becomes dependent on him, he insults her for doing it. I cheered every time she left him. Every time she took him back, I cringed and shook my head, but I understood. I’m no better. That charm would’ve drawn me right back in as well.

The titular house plays a very small role in terms of word count and the time she spent there. It has much greater significance, though. It is the place where she thought her life was going to end. The moment she walked out is when it truly began again.

If you are or care for a domestic violence survivor, Lindsay Fischer is here to comfort you. You won’t find her at that house on Sunset, but you can find her in “The House on Sunset”, through her blogs and social media, and in your heart.

“Broken Pieces” by Rachel Thompson (available with “Broken Places” as “The Broken Collection”)

I approached “Broken Pieces” by Rachel Thompson warily. The poetry, prose, and essay format made me confused and nervous. As I progressed through the book, though, the reason for the structure became clear to me. This is how Rachel Thompson needed to tell her story.

Telling such personal tales requires an incredible amount of courage. At times, she needed to keep a little more distance and be more esoteric. She was able to write, “I was molested” but avoided the word “rape” when sex was forced upon her. That lack of clarity may have been problematic if not for the fact that she so beautifully expresses the emotionality of the events. She’s explicit when she can be and treads more lightly when she must. She grants us the honor of witnessing pieces of her life and is owed the respect of displaying it in her chosen manner.

“Broken Pieces” certainly has an unusual structure, but Rachel Thompson makes it work perfectly. You must read with an open heart and open mind, you will miss the incredible beauty this woman has shared. What a gift it was.

“Broken Places” by Rachel Thomson (available with “Broken Pieces” as “The Broken Collection”)

Warning: Reading “Broken Pieces” will not prepare you for “Broken Places”, but let me be clear: “Broken Pieces” is an amazing work of art, and “Broken Places” is even better. If you care for someone who has been sexually abused, you need to read this book. If you are someone who has experienced sexual abuse, you should read this book. Just know that it will be extremely painful but also wrap you in a warm, loving hug.

Where “Broken Pieces” was sometimes shy and esoteric with some of the more painful topics, Rachel Thompson is not so protective with “Broken Places”, especially with herself. This book should’ve taken me less than two hours to read, but it took me two days. I had to stop and re-read passages and even entire pieces. I had to take breaks because the pages were filled with so much power.

Our details are so very different, but our emotional truth is exactly the same. She told that truth so exquisitely. It terrified me to read that truth and comforted me to share it with someone. I wanted Rachel to shut up and to scream even louder. I found myself hating her and loving her and feeling all these things all at once. “Broken Places” tore me apart and put me back together.

Like Rachel Thompson, I refuse to hide from triggers. They are all around me anyway, and to deny them would be to deny myself and my right not to be ashamed for things that are not my fault. Rachel Thompson refuses to live in that shame, and she’s helping me to do the same.



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