February 7, 2014

Etched on Me Blog Tour: Review

Hey everyone! Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for ETCHED ON ME by Jenn Crowell, which is being hosted by the publisher, Simon & Schuster. Today I have some info on the book to share along with my review. Enjoy!


Etched on Me

Author: Jenn Crowell
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Release Date: February 4, 2014

Description:

On the surface, sixteen-year-old Lesley Holloway 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. 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, where she overcomes her traumatic memories and finds 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 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. 

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18143763-etched-on-me?ac=1

A Bit of Backstory for the Book:

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 (Atria/Washington Square Press, February 4, 2014).

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.

Jenn is a compelling writer, and she has a talent for creating sympathetic and relatable characters.  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.

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. (From Simon & Schuster Press Release)



Etched on Me is a gritty and raw look at the obstacles and internal struggles that people with mental illness must deal with throughout their lives. It tells the story of Lesley Holloway - a teenage girl who finally finds the courage to flee her abusive home, which begins a series of mental illness issues, psychiatric facilities, and finally the fight for her child. Lesley is a very realistic main character for the novel. She's tough, witty, strong, smart, and determined. She also has some real problems - overcoming incest and abuse, mental illness problems, and taking charge of her own life when people want to rip it away from her. The book follows Lesley over the years - chronicling her ups and downs, triumphs and failures, and her struggle for control over her own life. She's a wonderfully written main character who is obviously flawed, but still manages to get the reader on her side cheering her on throughout the book.

I knew before reading this novel that it was loosely based on some of the author's personal experiences with mental illness, and I have to give her serious props for writing about these topics in such a raw and realistic fashion. Not many people have the courage to speak out about mental illness in everyday life - let alone write a novel about it. I've reviewed books before that deal with mental illness and I'm always an advocate for them. I believe that mental illness is still a taboo topic in our society and is filled with stigma. Anyone who stands up and speaks out about it is brave - especially those who have a large impact on people, such as writers like Jenn. I myself suffer from mental illness, including depression and self-harm issues, so reading Lesley's story was very hard for me, as well as really rewarding in the end. The author doesn't sugar coat anything in the book - it's all right out there in the open for all to see. There were parts of the book that were painful for me to read and my heart broke for Lesley, but her stubborn nature and determination were an inspiration. 

The story was very well written with exceptional attention to detail along with heartwrenching situations and realistic characters. I was immediately drawn into the book and felt as if I was right alongside Lesley the entire time. The pace was just right - not too fast to blow over the hard stuff, but not too slow that it wallowed either. It definitely deals with difficult topics such as abuse, incest, self harm, and mental illness, but it also shows that one must fight for what they believe in and never give up, no matter the odds against you. Some readers will find the topics in the novel disturbing and possibly too difficult to read about, but those who give it a shot will be rewarded with a profound story of one woman's journey through mental illness. I agree with the statement in the press release that said, "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." Mental illness is a serious topic in our society that often gets shoved under the rug and this novel brings it into the spotlight for everyone to see - in all it's ugly, gritty, and heartbreaking reality. Highly recommended for people who enjoy contemporary fiction and those who are looking for an inspiring story with impeccable writing.

Jenn Crowell is the criticallyacclaimed author of the novels Necessary Madness and Letting the Body Lead. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing, and lives near Portland, Oregon with her husband and young daughter.

(Photo by Hedy Bartleson)

Photo by Hedy Bartleson


Photo by Hedy Bartleson

*A big thank you to the wonderful people at Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy of the book for review!*

 
Photo by Hedy Bartleson

Photo by Hedy Bartleson
Photo by Hedy Bartleson