When her older sister Regina tells the authorities about the abuse they have all suffered at the hands of their mother Cookie, Rosie and her brother Norman are sent to a foster home where they are supposed to be safe from harm at the hands of their mother or anyone else. They were supposed to be safe, but the reality was that their foster mother was as cruel in her own way as Cookie was, and in the foster home Norm and Rosie don't have their older sisters to protect them. When their mother spirits them away from the foster home it seems like a blessing, but they soon realise that being with their mother is just as bad if not worse than the foster home.
As the years pass Rosie and Norm live in the shadow of their mother as she once again pulls into places as "hurricane Cookie" and makes a life for herself - often at the expense of other people and her children. It is not an easy life, but at least they have each other to lean on when Cookie is being Cookie. A move to the farms of Idaho is like moving to another planet, and small town Idaho is completely different to any life they have known before. In a small town where everyone knows each other and each others business it is both embarrassing and painful to watch Cookie wreak havoc - and when people warn her about her new stepfather, Rosie has no idea of the ordeal that she is headed for.
Girl unbroken was a fascinating and heartbreaking read, and on more than one occasion I felt like a voyeur looking into her life because Rosie is so open and honest about what happened to her when she was a child. It is mind boggling that anyone could treat a child like Rosie and Norm were treated, and it makes my skin crawl to think of all the people that came into her life that just walked through the motions or just plain didn't believe her - especially the people in a position of trust and with a responsibility of care.
The worst part, the absolutely worst part, is that these stories are still happening today. There are still social workers that walk through the motions and don't seem to care at all about the children they are supposed to protect - I have seen it first hand here in New Zealand. It is also mind boggling to think that if they had been abused by their father that they probably would have been whisked away to safety, but that somehow people can't seem to grasp that women can be just as, if not more, abusive as men.
This is a harrowing and haunting read, but I would highly recommend it to anyone who works with children and/or families. Through Rosie's eyes and experiences you can pick up some of the warning signs to watch for, and some of the basic things to remember when asking children if they are okay - the first and most obvious being never ask a child how they are doing in a front of a parent or close caregiver if you think they are being abused! Thank you to Rosie and Regina both for sharing their stories, and I hope that young people read their stories and realise that their is a future beyond the abuse and neglect.
As with Etched in sand, take your time with this story and pause when you need to. If you read this book and want to read other biographies from people who have lived through difficult experiences and trauma, then try:
- Etched in sand: A true story of five siblings who survived an unspeakable childhood on Long Island by Regina Calcaterra
- Child C: Surviving a foster mothers reign of terror by Christopher Spry
- Punished by Vanessa Steel
- A child named It by Dave Pelzer
- Broken by Shy Keenan
- Damaged by Cathy Glass
- When rabbit howls by Truddi Chase
- The little prisoner: A memoir by Jane Eliott
- Sickened: The memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Childhood by Julie Gregory
Reviewed by Brilla