Book Review: Live Through This
by Liz N. Clift, Communications Intern at CCASA
Trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault – incest.
[From the book jacket]: From the outside, Coley Sterling’s life seems pretty normal…whatever that means. It’s not perfect – her best friend is seriously mad at her, and her dance team captains keep giving her a hard time – but Reece, Coley’s adorable, sweet crush, helps distract her. Plus she has a great family to fall back on – with a mom and stepdad who would stop at nothing to keep her and her siblings happy. But Coley has a lot of secrets. She won’t admit – not even to herself—that her almost perfect life is her own carefully crafted façade.
Mindi Scott’s Live Through This (2012) is the story of a teenage girl, Coley, who is discovering sexuality on her own terms. When she, and her crush Reece, finally start to date, years of guilt about being repeatedly sexually assaulted by her older brother begin to unravel and Coley must figure out how to deal with these emotions, and to share the burden of her experience with the people she cares about.
This process is complicated by the love she still feels for her brother, and the shame she (like so many other survivors) feel for not speaking up earlier, and because her body responded to her brother’s assaults. In particular, Coley mentions that her first orgasm was because of her brother and how she felt like she couldn’t talk about this when other girls on her dance team were talking about their first experiences with sex. Instead, Coley made up a story about the person she lost her virginity to (spoiler: a Latin lover she met at some relative’s wedding) and earned a reputation as a loose girl.
Live Through This manages the intricacies of hiding from one’s own experience sexual assault, first coming to terms with the complicated emotions, and the process of initially telling others with grace and powerful storytelling. I wanted to hand Coley a copy of CCASA’s Survivor Handbook, and let her know that people were there for her – and to reassure her that nothing that she experienced was her fault. Fortunately, since I couldn’t do that, Coley’s best friend was able to, as they made up from their on-going fight.
This story was one I didn’t want to put down – and so, my primary critique is that the story concluded too fast. Coley went from feeling like she couldn’t tell anyone, to being able to walk through her front door and (presumably) tell her Mom about the (years of) incest in less than 24 hours. As readers, we don’t get to see the ramifications of this for Coley or her family. As a writer, I realize that fiction is limited in its scope – and especially YA* fiction. It can’t cover the world, and shouldn’t be expected to. But, for many survivors of incest, coming out to family is one of the hardest aspects of working through the trauma, and many survivors choose to never come forward with this information.
While the rapid conclusion of this story seems disingenuous, it’s also a book I would recommend to school libraries and to folks who work with youth. It’s a valuable resource that talks about incest without eroticizing it, and which explicitly avoids victim-blaming. The fact that it’s fiction may make it more accessible to youth (and others!) who are working through similar emotions, because if the story becomes too much there’s still the chance to say “this is fiction. This girl, Coley, is fine. She is safe because she’s just a character someone created.”