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Jan/Feb 2006 Book Reviews

Strong at the Heart: How it feels to heal from sexual abuse

Review by Tiffany German

Strong at the Heart
Carolyn Lehman
Melanie Kroupa Books / Farrar, Straus & Giroux
ISBN 0-374-37282-9


Buy now from Amazon! Carolyn Lehman's book, Strong at the Heart, is unlike most books on sexual abuse that I have read. Instead of spewing out statistics and facts, she found survivors willing to tell their stories and give inspiration to others. I especially love her use of an Ernest Hemingway quote from A Farewell to Arms in the book's introduction: "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places." The quote becomes particularly very revealing as the victim's stories come to life in the pages that follow.

Lehman chose nine different victims to tell their stories. They each came from different geographical, racial, social, economic, and cultural groups to show the wide demographics of such an important and often quiet issue. She also covered different types of abuse, such as rape, incest, and molestation. Each story is related in a most heartfelt and honest way, with each person describing his or her own personal trauma and also the path they took to healing.

Within the text, Lehman breaks down the survivor's common traits in the following ways:

They spoke up--again and again if they had to--and got help.

They listened to their own feelings and decided what worked for them and what didn't.

Over time, they connected with other people: family, friends, therapists, and other survivors, and received emotional support and practical help.

They gave healing the time and attention it deserves.

They took action and made choices that made their lives better.

They never gave up on themselves.

I liked this book because it made me feel stronger and reassured. We have all made mistakes in dealing with trauma, but it helps us to not feel alone and know that others have shared our personal grief. Although I could relate to all the stories, Sheena's affected me the most, as her story reminded me of my own. As Sheena relates the memories of her attack I could feel her anger and disbelief because someone she trusted, a family member, tried to force himself on her in the presence of her younger sisters. Although she is a stronger individual today she will always bear a scare on her heart, as will all of us who have shared this experience.

Lehman wove the tales of nine brave individuals into a book that encourages and inspires a nation with false pretenses. Sexual abuse is a major issue around the world and happens daily in millions of homes across America. Lehman sheds light on the issue and tugs at the heartstrings of survivors and family members and friends alike. This book proves that individuals do choose their own future.

"In different words and different accents," she writes, "each of them said to me, 'Tell other kids they are not alone. Tell them to hang in there. Tell them they can get through this and have good lives." It is always hard for a young person to believe they are not alone, and Strong at Heart is a lifeline to those who will need it most the ones who are still struggling to believe that really, there are millions of us who are right there fighting alongside of them, millions of us who understand.

 

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