Tag Archive: Child abuse

While other events may have left much to be desired, 2017 was a goldmine for movies. Several countries produced a slew of important films. Masterpieces like “Get Out” and “Three Bilboards Outside of Edding, Missoura” from the US; “Hobbyhorse Revolution” from Finland; and “Strawberry Days” from Sweden. There were wondrous, deep, dark, and diverse stories told by the cinematic artists of the time. Stories about underpaid workers, and documentaries that explored girlhood through unusual hobbies.


Especially class and morally grey characters became a major subject in American cinema of the time, showcasing situations that lacked a clear right or wrong scenario. One of the most noticeable examples of this kind of film was the experimental biopic “I, Tonya”, directed by Craig Gillespie and starring Margot Robbie. It tells a Rashomon-style tale of the infamous figure skating star Tonya Harding. Harding was known for two things. The first is that she was the first American woman to land the difficult and sublime triple axel in US Championships. The second, however in contradistinction to this axel achievement, was the brutal attack her husband Jeff carried out on fellow athlete Nancy Kerrigan in 1991. The first, assuredly a wild accomplishment to the skating career of Ms Harding; the second a devious action that still has a obscuring shadow lingering over it, shrouding the extent of Hardings involvement. To this date the degree of participation is still wildly speculated upon and runs the gamut of total to no involvement whatsoever.

While “I, Tonya” has been marketed as a biopic, the film offers a lot more than a fall from grace celebrity tale. It is also a story that deconstructs the idea of a self-made person, detailing the spirals of domestic abuse and showcasing the complexities of truth. In fact, when this blogger had left the theatre with her friend and we were discussing it, the friend in question stated: “If anything, this film depicts that there is no bigger tragedy than that of a child who was not loved”.


“I, Tonya” opens by setting up the mock-documentary (mocumentary) like style, with a unseen camera crew interviewing Tonya, her ex-husband Jeff, her mother Lavona and her ex-coach Diane, all sitting down to recap Tonya’s life, leading up to “the incident”. The audience is introduced to the early girlhood of Tonya. Her childhood was imprinted through growing up lower class and marked by intense physical abused (almost daily, it seems) committed by her mother Lavona. In one particularly heartbreaking scene of her childhood, the young Tonya remembers being abandoned by her father, who she has seen as someone who she could turn to in troubled times. Despite her desperate pleas, her father eventually disappears, divorcing Lavona and leaving Tonya abandoned to the mercy of her abuser. The filmic narrative of Tonya’s childhood is the beginning development of a person created in the grasp of hopelessness and resentment.


Tonya’s adolescence and early youth forces her to a deeper alienation as her days are continuously marred with classist mocking from her peers, both at her school and at her skating lessons. Tonya mentions, between these childhood filmic flashbacks, that she has always consider herself, and been open about the stance of, “being a redneck”. This declaration is both an ironic echo of the dual shame and pride of her lower-class origins, as well as a implementation of the harsh narrative arch forming the later tale of Tonya.

When Tonya becomes a teen, she meets her future husband Jeff. They bond almost immediately. In one particularly telling scene, Tonya and Jeff meet up and Tonya talks about her fur-coat, saying: “I bought this recently, my family has money – my stepdad was unemployed for a while but now we have money”. Jeff replies with a simple, matter-of-fact “My family is poor”, which brings a smile to Tonya’s face. Tonya is used to having to hide her poverty, so much that she tiptoes around the fact when speaking with Jeff. When Jeff, whom Tonya is attracted to, openly speaks of being poor, this gives a clear comfort to Tonya. The smile that we the audience see on her face shows us that Jeff is one of the first people to give Tonya the sense that she doesn’t have to face a stigma for her upbringing. This hope is later crushed when the abuse begins, now at the hands of a new loved one, Jeff.


“I, Tonya”’s narrative structure delves into a number of possible scenarios in the manifestations of Jeff and Tonya’s relationship. Jeff in the interviews claims he was not abusive, and that it was Tonya who abused him. Tonya claims that Jeff hit her almost from the start of their relationship. The third option, haunting this interchange, and one the audience sees with a subtle third eye of the film, is that both were abusive towards one another. Lingering over this interaction the film effectually connects the violence Tonya experiences at her mother’s hands and the violence between Tonya and Jeff. In the mid-section of this montage we see a Jeff abusing Tonya followed unsettlingly with them immediately having sex. This filmic section breaks when the younger Tonya turns her head to the camera and states: “My mum hits me and she loves me, so it must be the same with Jeff, right?”. The destructive, horrid link of Abuse and Love is continued when Lavona berates Tonya for staying with Jeff despite the obvious bruises, to which Tonya states: “Well, where must I have gotten the idea that hitting is ok from then, huh?”. As all interchanges between the mother and daughter this tense conversation leads to Lavona hurling a knife into Tonya’s arm (a scene so shocking that the audience gasped in horror).




Tonya ensnared in a (potentially mutual) abusive relationship is narratively linked to her abusive childhood. Circling continually in the warp connection of love and abuse, Tonya has learned to normalize violence as well as her resentment and bitterness steaming from Lavona’s mistreatment. Oppression begins at home where the anger and violence are justified in toxic affection. What sad events were to unfold already found ground in Tonya’s house, community and life.

While skating gives Tonya a sense of purpose, it also is a place of great conflict; from early on, despite her performances being impressive, the judges give her lower scores due to her costumes that are, as the film shows, homemade. Tonya, due to not being able to afford the outfits expected of a skater, is furiously frustrated at the disadvantage her class gives her, and, when finally finding the voice to confront a judge about this injustice, pleads “can’t it just be about the skating?”. The fact that Tonya financially struggles as well as having a non-nuclear (or healthy) family is a burden which is not easily carried and is socially realized in the skating community when one judge admits to her low-scoring being a function of her class and not “having a wholesome American family”. The filmic narrative looks deep into the realities of class and deconstructs a very old idea of the self-made person and the American dream.



A Furious Tonya

Being from an abusive family, and revolving continually about those whose love is professed in the ambiguous intents of violence, it is not strange that we experience a Tonya that lingers in the fields of anger. The film shows a Tonya often unable to cope with her temper. These bouts of fury devolve quickly becoming often unpleasant and uncontrolled. These elongated episodes of rage combined with the stigma of “white trash” attached to a kitschy costumed Tonya creates a valley of unfair treatment by the judges to which Tonya is not able to emerge from.


Often, in the style of holding up the idea of the American dream, the rags to riches trope overlooks the fact that being poor is, as Chris Kraus stated in “I Love Dick”, more than just the physical experience of lacking basic things, but also a mental experience – one that can leave actual psychological wounds. People that are able to escape and survive poverty have to still deal with the painful memories; for example people who have gone hungry will develop “quirks” later on in life, due to the fear of experiencing hunger again. In stories of people moving from one class to another, the psychological complications are often ignored. To further complicate things, classist behavior also exhibits itself in different ways in our society. “I, Tonya” avoids these problematics and explores an honest depiction of class and surviving poverty without sugar-coating. The journey of moving from lower class to the field of a sport founded on the upper residues of society creates a plethora of problems, hesitations and even scars. It is far from the clear-cut move and simplistic revision, from lower to upper as our society naively states. Tonya’s navigates a complex set of emotions and social emotions in regard to her. She deals with the insecurities and stigma of being poor, and the scars and traps of a dysfuntional family (another aspect where people judge the poor more harshly than other classes). A new narrative towards the poor is necessary. One that shows the actual horrific struggles, imprinting of the deadly experience of poverty, and the harsh insecurities caused in great lack. This new narrative is springing forth and is essential to the grand understandings of all classes within our social systems. “I, Tonya”, doesn’t shy away from this new, uncomfortable and frank narrative.


Beyond the themes of class and abuse, “I, Tonya” has a great cast and uses the trope of the unreliable narrator excellently. The narrative progression of the film plays with the audiences expectations, granting the viewer space for their own interpretations, and opening speculation of how things may have truly have been. The uncertain is the progressive gear in the films structure and, in regards to the incident of the violent attack on another skater, the viewer is left unbound in knowing how much did Tonya and what understandings she had?

The film yields up a Tonya who is hot blooded and prone to anger, but is still a compelling anti-hero or anti-villain (depending on your interpretation). The characters are often unlikeable, but complex. The film is also visually stunning. When Tonya is first seen skating in competition, it feels like you’re on the ice with her. Moving, dynamic, uncertain, the film gives a ambiguous narrative of truth and a stunning visual of movement.


“I, Tonya” is a remarkable triumph: a movie about a controversial, upsetting subject that ends up saying much more than one would expect. It is definitely a film worth seeing in every sense of the word.

I Tonya - 2017

Dear readers, I joined a group on Goodreads called Top 5 Wednesday. It was created by a bookblogger and booktuber called Ginger Lainey, and is now hosted by Sam from the Youtube channel “Thoughts on Tomes”. Check Sam´s stuff out, she´s smart and classy. The topic which engaged me is a couple of weeks old but I was inspired to write about it regardless: novels that deal with disturbing issues.

1.“Holy Week” by Jerzy Andrejevski: This polish novel was published in 1947, and tells the story of a woman of Jewish descent named Irena who during WWII seeks refuge in hiding at her former lover Jan and his new wife´s home. What follows is the haunting anxiety of waiting and precarious hiding, while the trio discusses gentile privilege, hopes and cynicism in the face of war and genocide. While Irena revolves around her anger towards a society that is determined to wipe her kind out, the wife of the hiding couple follows a different path of denial as she is pregnant and therefore can´t afford to believe that the Germans will never leave Poland. Jan, numbed by events is clueless in the face of the horrors of the regime, but he knows he must go on hiding Irena. The book, though occurring in a horrid past, really revolves around issues that resonate even today and has one of the most brutal, heartbreaking endings of all time. This forgotten gem of a novel not only discusses what it meant in those times to have privilege in the face of the ultimate oppressed, but also discusses the religious side of anti-Semitism and even touches upon the sexual assaults that Jewish women experienced during the war. The novel, while keeping the reader in a tight grip, makes the reader continually hold their breath to find out what happens to Irena and the polish couple hiding her. “Holy Week” was a pioneering work, and should be rediscovered by new readers.


2. “The Hunger Angel” by Herta Müller: This novel is Nobel Prize winning Herta Müller´s magnum opus. It tells the story of a young man who is sentenced to a labor camp during Ceausescu´s regime in Romania. The man endures harsh, soul crushing labor while being essentially starved, like all of the other prisoners at the camp. The man, it is implied, is sentenced to the camp due to being of the German speaking population in Romania, much like many prisoners who find their sentences as the ultimate ghastly act of the absurd and arbitrary. Müller, through haunting poetic language and simple but deep symbols, exposes the reader to the constant hunger, the cruelty, and dehumanization that the labor camps were. Müller´s inspiration for the novel came from the witnesses that her own mother experienced, who was a survivor of such a camp, and a single other close friend who provided her with the majority of the research. “The Hunger Angel” is not only heartbreaking, but uncomfortably real. A must read.


3. “Native Son” by Richard Wright: This novel is about a young man named Bigger Thomas, who is a disillusioned black youth during the US´s era of segregation. Published in 1940, the novel tackles the stereotype of the dangerous black man and, through its shocking but subtle social commentary, deconstructs the racist caricature imposed on people. Bigger ends up killing two women, the first by accident in a state of panic, the second one in an act of expression of his rage. The novel digs into Bigger´s mind and psyche, showing how systematic racism effects and damages a person. “Native Son” shows alcoholism, poverty and the horrors of condescending language that is tough to read, but is a document of an uneasy time and an exploration of how society creates its own bad guys.


4. “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov: A classic novel about a man who falls in love with a 12-year old girl, and then proceeds to first marry the child’s mother, only to (possibly) kill the mother in order to rape the child. One of the most beautifully written, but also wildly misunderstood, books to ever be written, “Lolita” is from a manipulative, sadistic mans point of view. The novel is filled with nightmare-like context, making the reader squirm while reading it and creates a space in the narrative where you feel like a actual sociopath is sitting next to you, explaining away his atrocities, tempting you to believe him, but every once in a while his narration slips and the true horror is shown. One of the most chilling scenes is when Dolores (the girl’s real name) sees a police car and tries to escape, only for Humbert (the man) to blackmail her into silence. Worth a read, but disturbing.


5. “Prince de la rue” (“The prince of the street”) by Dominique Mwankumi: This is a picture book aimed for toddler aged children about two homeless young boys in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of The Congo. The story is based on the experience of many children in Mr. Mwankumis homeland. Shégué is a young, inventive small child (around 8-9) who makes a living by using thrown away objects and trash to make toys, which he sells. It is mentioned early that his parents simply didn´t want him and since his early childhood he has been living on the streets. The picture book has a clear, sad tone with beautiful, gentle drawings that feel like an art museum of its own. The book follows the boy’s survival tactics and the constant struggle to avoid adults who wish to harm them. Yet, despite this cruel situation, the boys strive to overcome their setbacks and the story implies that one day their luck may turn. A sad tale, but important and with fantastic art.


A picture from the book

There´s my picks. Anyone else read a really good book with a really tough subject? Comment below!

Trigger warning: This post will have discussions of sexual abuse. Reader precaution advised.

This is my third post for Child Abuse Awareness Month.

My first introduction to Dr. Patton was when I read her piece in the Washington Post, “Why is America celebrating the beating of a black child?”. This article cast a critical eye on the heaps of praise a woman got for forcefully getting her son to leave a protest in Baltimore. Taken with Patton´s arguments, I ordered a copy of her memoir which delved into the subject of child abuse from the perspective of her own survival of brutal physical abuse. Patton is known for her work with children´s rights issues as well as race, which her memoir discusses in great lengths.


The memoir opens up with college student Stacey suffering from flashbacks of abuse and deciding that the means to end her suffering was to kill the people responsible for the abuse, her adoptive parents. However, this plan did not succeed as she forgets to add bullets to her gun, and decides to abandon the plan. Motivated by the memories of her own past, and the desperate act that she felt pushed into is followed with the adult Doctor Patton’s research into the institution of American slavery; this begins the memoirs journey. Stacey Patton recalls all the times her foster mother beat her, with telephone cords and twitches; a pain so great she often thought she “will surely never survive this”. Such beatings were consistent through her childhood, with some of the beatings going so far as the young Stacey having to go to the emergency room.

When five years old, the young Stacey Patton was removed from foster care and adopted by a couple. The mother turned out to be an irritable, constantly angry woman who beat Stacey for the slightest and absent provocation. The memoir captures the sorrows and fears that abuse has on the mind; Stacey recalls crying herself to sleep many nights and being terrified when her adoptive father informs her will be late home as the absent father means she will be completely at the mercy of the violent whims of the mother. Ms. Patton mentions more than once that as a child, she feared that she might even end up dying one day as a result from the violence. These are feelings and emotions that many abuse survivors will recognize and the anxieties of a child locked in such a situation are beautifully, heartbreakingly captured.


The scenes of physical abuse are not just directed towards a young Stacey. The memoir recounts how other members of her adoptive family beat other children for simply playing/pretending to be preachers or how she witnesses a classmate being beaten by his mother for calling a white girl “honky”. Even at an early age Stacey questioned these actions, where we can see the beginning of the seeds to her later activism.

Her years in school were tumultuous and troubled, since the teachers only saw Ms. Patton as a slow child, to which Patton states: “Let me tell you that your mind is changed if you are beaten every single day”. The text is tragic in its description of abuse, but what makes “That mean old yesterday” a diamond in the rough is that Ms. Patton not only details her years of abuse, but also finds a link to her situation and to the horrendous legacy that American history has had on its own disenfranchised people, with special concentration on the Black American community. Using the springboard of her own brutalization Ms. Patton delves into the abuse of children and offers a critique of societal norms when it comes to violence and children.

The memoir is about the double oppression and marginalization of being a black child. When speaking of her adoptive family, where her silence and capitulation are enforced, the young Stacey lives with both fear of abuse from the hands of the mother, and a terror of being abandoned by her. Stacey as a young girl learns from her parents that her thoughts and experiences are secondary to the adults. Adults are the ones that call all the shots. The memoir discusses how violence seems common place in the house holds around her. Which through the books narration on the history of slavery gives a certain historical explanation to the violence. Institutional racism and racial violence has forced Black Americans to live in the constant shadow of white terrorism. Patton argues that this leads to a mindset that is reflected in that the parents try to protect their children by giving rough upbringings to make sure their children won´t end up dead or hurt by white supremacy. two running themes in the memoir are best expressed in a scene where Stacey and her foster mother visit a hair salon.


While the women there all critique white paretns for being too “soft” on their children, and explaining how beating their children will ultimately protect them, a single black woman offers a counter opinion. She expresses that this rationalization dates back to the days of slavery, where slaves beat their own children in hopes it would spare them from the punishments from the slave owners. The woman explains that her own parents did not use corporal punishment on her, which shows that this kind of upbringing is possible. The salons other women silence and dismiss her, but the young Stacey feels hope after hearing her words. For the first time Stacey witnesses that someone is actually speaking up for children.

In that scene, Patton illustrates what the whole book is about: how history has shaped and still plagues us today, how children are marginalized and how, without knowing it, speaking up on injustice might spark someone to reconsider their views, to inspire someone or give comfort to someone. The scene greatly shows that speaking up is worth it, even if it seems like the opposite.


The most disturbing parts of the memoir are however the scenes where Stacey is sexually abused. The mother had an unhealthy obsession with the small child´s genitals, having rituals where she “inspected” and touched the girls private parts. This trauma is further shown when the young Stacey tries to insert a tampon for the first time and has horrible flashbacks to the mothers unwanted touching. Later when Stacey, after hearing a testimony from another young girl who has been molested, states that no one could really understand what it felt like, “when someone treats your own private parts as if they are not your own, but someone else´s playthings”; this line is one of the most poignant, heartbreaking ways of writing about the damage done from sexual abuse that I have ever read.

Ms. Patton states in all honesty that it took her years to realize that she had been sexually abused and in her memoir she is shown denying the abuse more than once. This form of sexual abuse is one that is not often discussed or talked about; that of when the molester of a child is female. And in addition, when the violating touching doesn´t seem to come from pedophilic desires, but from the non-sexual desire to completely control, humiliate and/or hurt the child. Sexual abuse of children takes many shapes and forms, and this form where the motivation is other than desire is one that should be more discussed and talked about. Some parents, in their tyranny, go so far to control and frightened their children that they demand control over everything and therefore they commit illicit touching.


As a final note, a fair warning that the book dives into slavery and the history is heavily disturbing. However the importance of speaking of these crimes cannot be underestimated; racism against Black Americans is so deeply rooted that even today, violence against Black Americas perpetrated by White Americans is at horrific proportions’, which unlawful killings by policemen and mass incarnation being a huge part of everyday racism. To discuss race in America, one must be honest with the bloody history. The past must be visited to move forward.

Ms. Patton depicts her college years as a place of learning but also a place of sorrow. There she for the first time clearly encountered everyday racism. The white girls Stacey shared her dorms with belittled and verbally humiliated blacks, her literary and historical canon was entirely white, and her teachers were not always varying of any racist comments the white students made. Stacey went into a depression. The turning point was when she one day opened up to one kind teacher in which she was able to find a kindred spirit who willingly listened to her point of view.

As a reader, I was moved by how just one teacher could offer so much comfort by just listening and believing the struggles Stacey was going through. Even if the memoir didn´t state this, it seems that if anything, sometimes when people of color speak out and talk about their experiences with racism the right thing to do is to listen and believe them. Your place is not to tell them they are overreacting or misunderstanding, your place is to show support. Something so simple, yet so rarely seen.


As a last small note, the book also shares Stacey´s skeptical views on religion and on god. In the memoir she identifies as non-believing. It´s always great to come across books with skeptics and other non-believers; if any of you readers can recommend me any other memoirs with skeptic/non-believing narrators please tell me.

A fantastic memoir, with lots of provocative and insightful views into many important, complex issues. “That mean old yesterday” is a sharp critic on all forms of violence against children, as well as a explosion of the poison and destruction that white supremacy and racism has had on black lives, destroying the myth of there being no constitutional racism anymore. Check it out, it´s more than worth it.

Stacey Patton also has a website about alternative parenting ways free from violence. It´s called “Spare the kids”, go check it here.

Note/Spoiler alert!: If you have not read this book, It is my sincere suggestion that you should read this fine novel first before reading this post. It is a book that´s fantastic with a surpising and well done plot twist.This is also my second post for Child Abuse Awareness Month.

Lygia Bojunga, like Guus Kuijer in my previous post regarding child abuse, has won the Astrid Lingren Memorial Prize. Bojunga was born and lives in Brazil, and received the Alma award in 2004. Her books are petite, as with ”Seis Vezes Lucas” being discussed here, and the novel ”My friend the painter”, barely reaching the length of a hundred pages. Her main motives in her writing is seeking out a strong solidarity with children, and questioning “adult” society . She mixes a stark, harsh realism with the recurrent sense of wonder of childhood, with often clear criticism of a society which forgets and ignores the fragility of the young.


Lygia Bojunga

Aiming to capture the child´s perspective, Bojunga formulates a prose which sounds believable for the young while detailing a story coherent and focused in its intent to interrogate the adult social world. In ”Seis Vezes Lucas” Bojunga delightfully captures just the right tone in the experiences and feelings of the six years old Lucas. His voice, actions, considerations and mannerisms are evocative of childhoods groping, and the young protagonist Lucas stands in the novel as a true personality in his own right. He is more than a the stereotypical little boy, he is an individual.

The form of child mistreatment that Lucas is subjected to is active emotional abuse which consist of belittling, mockery and erasure of personhood, as well as a general neglect. Lucas’s selfish and spiteful father abandons the responsible role of parent and nurturer, turning instead to hostile abuse. The mother enables the horrors meted out to Lucas by the father despite it being clearly destructive for the growing Lucas.


From the very first chapter we are shown the fearful abandonment of the young Lucas by the father for all night soirees. When Lucas confronts his mother about the fears, and terrors that are apart of the long nights alone, pleading to be allowed to accompany his parents for just one night, his fears are causally glossed over in their hurry to leave for the night and the only concern is that the father hates having to wait. The parents then returning very late is however no relief for the anxious Lucas, but another horror as it is filled with a continuous fight due to the father´s constant philandering leading inevitably to the father violently bellowing and belittlement of both the mother and Lucas. Enclosing the young Lucas and the mother as “against him” the father scripts the young Lucas as anything but ”manly”. A tirade continually pointed at the brittle youngster.


Lucas has found some relief from the misery of this abuse in a children´s art class where the frail child has developed a formative crush on the teacher. She teaches Lucas that good art pieces have to express, in some way, the soul of the creator artist. Therefore Lucas begins an exploration of his dismay which results in a tiny mask. Lucas begins an exploration of his heart and fears in the speaking of his very own art.


On his birthday, Lucas ´father goes out and finds a stray dog, and gives it to Lucas as a present. Lucas is instantly enamored with the dog as in the long and forbidding nights of solitude he has often dreamed of a pet to dissipate his loneliness and fears. He and the dog soon become inseparable, and even in her dismissals of the child the mother notes grudgingly how the dogs presence is helping Lucas to become brave and independent. Unfortunately, this turns the father´s irritable focus upon the dog and a grand dislike begins to ferment.

Abusive words hurt

The focus of the dog, and Lucas’s feelings of connection and emotions to the dog, become the beginnings of a tipping point for Lucas in the novel. As the family one day is driving out of town for a short visit, the father suddenly becomes so angry at the dog that he stops the car and forcefully throws the dog out, leaving the beloved dog behind. Lucas enters a state of shock, but a budding distance is created in Lucas from the father and a founding ground is created to give Lucas the possibility of growth.


The second tipping point is when the father begins an affair with Lucas art teacher. While the father has previously mocked Lucas ´artistic interest, he fakes interest later to be able to seduce and begin an affair with Lucas teacher. Lucas ends up witnessing parts of the seduction, that pushes him to verbalize in his mind what he has long denied to himself; his mounting rejections of the verbal violence and abuse embodied in the father.

Lucas grows to the realization that it “is not fun to like daddy anymore”. Due to the fathers belittlement and violent rejections, Lucas has always been pushed forcefully to a distance with his father, but due to the twin betrayals of the father in abandoning the comfort and safe haven of the dog, and then the seduction of his teacher (whom the father knows Lucas´ has a crush on but still goes ahead with the affair anyway), Lucas admits to himself that it is difficult for him to like his own father. This insight of rejection of the cruelty of the father is hard fought in Lucas however, leading to a great load of shame and a wonder by Lucas about his abnormality.


“Lonely child” by Emma Jane Beech

Bojunga masterfully says so much in so little, in a simplicity that is complex. Lucas´ thoughts are of shame for realizing that his father is less than agreeable. However, as it is with many victims of abuse (emotional or any other kind) Lucas feels shame for something that is not his fault. This is due to the taboo of speaking of less than ideal, less than loving families. There´s also the fact that children´s thoughts and emotions are often looked down on, not seen as worth notifying. Lucas is especially been told he is not important, and, due to the father overruling anything Lucas ´says and his mother constantly prioritizing the father over Lucas and herself, Lucas is positioned to reject himself instead of beginning the building of the personality he will become.


The ending is particularly heartbreaking, but yet quite empowering. The mother, tired of the father´s affairs, decides to move away. This delights Lucas, in that he won´t have to be near his father anymore. Unfortunately the mother becomes too fearful of being alone and due to this phobia moves back to her husband after an extremely short separation. Wondering if the affair with the teacher was a precipitation of his mothers leaving, Lucas comes to find a web of lies and deceits his father lives and imposes, along with his aggressions, on all around him. His returning mother is told by the father that he will end his philandering and become a faithful husband, but to the art teacher he has given the impression that he loves her in return and will leave his wife. Gathering his feelings and beliefs finally into himself, Lucas calls his mother out on once again prioritizing the father over him and concludes that adults don´t make such great decisions. As he puts it: ”I thought that you adults knew better”.

This somber ending, tells of a violence and deceit which must be rejected. The constant deceptions and ruthless bullying are shown as unforgivable. The child most certainly does not have to love or like their parent, in this case, and even in doing so circumvents what will make them possible to become as independent adults themselves. Lucas concludes that his parents are neither rational nor kind, and even if he does not state so explicably, Bojunga tells the reader, through Lucas´actions, that he has found it impossible to like his father, and that it is okay to feel this way. Lucas may be too young to change his situation, yet he can still empower himself by knowing that his parents are in the wrong in the way he has been treated. This rejection is the true path to adulthood, and a rational world.


Many adults have noted the dark tones of the book, and have considered it untenable for children. However, I strongly disagree. What this book tells children is necessary and, ultimately, can be comforting. If a child is a victim of emotional abuse, they have a right to be displeased and that love is not a mandatory of anyone. By giving children an option instead of telling them to always blindly love and honor, Bojunga´s work empowers children who are stuck. Bojunga´s novel, ”Seis Vezes Lucas”, tells verbally bullied and neglected children that they have a right to be angry, a right to see the fault – because it is true, if the feeling of liking your parent ”is no longer fun” for a long period of time, that is no shame on the child. Despite its gloom, Seis Vezes Lucas is a powerful, helpful book for children who´s needs are too often not considered. A unique, honest and important masterpiece for children and for adults.

(This is Part 1 in the theme month of Child Abuse Awareness)

Guus Kuijer is a respected children´s books author who has won several awards, including the prestigious Astrid Lingren memorial prize. His bibliography includes novels for both young and old, and is a household name for exploring faith, multiculturalism and dementia in his works. His magnum opus however is “The Book of Everything”, about a young boy named Thomas who, like his mother, is ruthlessly and routinely physically abused by his zealot father.


Guus Kuijer

The novel is slim, yet captures and intertwines many issues in a complex manor. The main focus of the story is the devastating effect physical abuse has on young Thomas and his mother. The novel chronicles their struggle to survive in a violent home and their forlorn attempts to overcome the mental prison the father has created. The book also shows the problematic aspects of loyalty inside families while baring witness to the strengths of such loyalty as well and illustrates the residency of the unimaginable power positive communities can bestow. Kuijer, while following this predominate story of abuse, additionally, tackles the issues of superficial appearances and our uncritical responses in a tangent thread which the story details with Thomas coming to different realizations regarding his thinking towards many of the characters in the novel. As Thomas grows in the storyline he comes to see many people around him in a completely different light than what he does at the novels beginning. By combining all of these themes, Kuijer paints a breathtaking and moving story of how, through courage and altruism, one can use the willpower and thinking to right the wronged.


From the first chapter Kuijer presents us with Thomas who is often and regularly beaten by his father for so-called sins. While this is devastating for Thomas, he is much more concerned about his mother, who is as often beaten for her “sins”. From the very first pages, we are pitted into Thomas’s deep despair and abject feelings of powerless to save himself or his mother and the first chapter ends on a prayer where Thomas in his devotion pleads to god: “I hope you exist. He (the father) hit mother just now and it was not for the first time”.

90 Final- Child Abuse, Nada Al-g,08

As the story unfolds we discover more about nine year old Thomas and the 50´s Dutch town he lives in. Thomas is in love with a teen girl who is often ostracized for having a fake leg and he is very much afraid of his neighbor, whom the children have gossiped about being a witch. However one day, after being beaten senseless by his father the previous night, Thomas happens upon his “witchy” neighbor and spontaneously offers to help her carry her bags. This leads to the surprising discovery that she is in fact a kind and generous person and one who, in her kindness, introduces Thomas to the realm of books. After establishing a friendship, the woman asks Thomas if he is beaten at home. Thomas, out of fear and confused loyalty, quickly denies this well-founded charge. Kuijer in this scene illustrates a sad yet very realistic event for the abused. Where the vast chaos of the abused subjects mind, created by confusions of the ever present trauma of violence, fuses with the constant fear and hate with an immeasurably, and horribly misplaced, loyalty to the abuser. Thomas´ emotions are a bundle of self-blame, anxiety and hopelessness.


The father (per classical abuser manipulations) upon finding out Thomas has found a passage outside of his control, condemns Thomas’s reading of books (other than the bible) and demands he revoke the companionship of the neighbor, whom he sees as a “dirty communist”. Yet the real tale of the neighbor is whispered to Thomas in the absence of the horrific father when the mother recounts how the woman had hidden people from the Nazis during WWII and grants Thomas access and encouragement to foster the friendship. Even in the despairing prison of abuse the mother encourages Thomas in the appreciation and harboring of the altruistic, and that she struggles against the onslaught of destroying violence to give alternative life advice to her children differing from the father´s absolutism. Her bravery shines multiple times as beacons of hope in the dark cruelty, where she repeatedly attempts to defend Thomas from her husband´s aggression. Kuijer’s novel is continually punctuated with scenes like these, describing the ghastly nuances used in abuse and in fleshing out a subtle horror and hope in Thomas´ character as well as his mother´s.


The Book of Everything”, though looking appallingly askance at the violent religious fundamentalism of the father, is embedded with strong sacred elements combined with magical realism; for instance throughout the entirety of the book Thomas witnesses odd things that resemble the plagues of Egypt. Whether these are real or not are dubious, adding an unsettling but lingering touch to questioning the reader about its authenticity. As with most classic magic realism tradition, the fantastical is strongly symbolic and reflective of the strong emotional situation that Thomas is in while, as occurrences of events, play a titanic task in giving Thomas psychological strength.


But the real emotive power of this novel lies in its climax, where Kuijer illustrates the possibility of depowerment of the tyrannical abuser and the gaining confidences of the suppressed and abused. From the onset of the novel the character of Margot, Thomas´s teenage sister, is seen as “stupid”, however this assessment comes to a startling change when her character takes surprising action. Late in the book once again we find the vicious repetitions of the father threatening Thomas with violence, yet now the simple Margot dives at her father and holding a knife to his throat, exclaiming: “Now I have had enough. I´ve had it up to my throat with this. You always say mum and Thomas are bad, but you´re wrong, they are more than kind, but you are not kind. Don´t think I won´t do it, I’m just like you, I am not nice neither”. With this final desperate act we come to understand, finally, that throughout trails of the family the supposedly simple Margot has been persistently challenging the brutality of the father in subtle ways, and now, when all else has failed, she goes to the final resource of physical in a scene that will have the reader cheering her on. Through this instance of Margot’s rage and agency, the mother finds an inner strength, and she, together with the kindly neighbor, arrange for a celebratory party later that day. The mother, motivated by Margot´s counterexample, rejects now all of the father´s opinions, manipulations, enticements, and lastly the importance of his person: “´But what about me? Yelled dad from upstairs. ´What am I suppose to do tonight?´. He got no reply”. Margot’s act gives the mother a chance to wrench herself and Thomas from the obliteration of the father and to become a part of a whole community which calls to them. The community opens them up to new possibilities, a place to become oneself with others who encourage and, as a final nurturing, a place which will protect her, and her family from the violence of the husband. Through new found friendships and community, the mother and Thomas rekindle there lust for life.


A novel of immanent power, this book for older children is a MUST read for even adults. It´s a portrait of the damage of abuse, but also of survival and love. “The Book of Everything” is above all, a story of two souls who not only survive abuse but find the power to live on and embrace new changes.

Since April is considered a national “Child Abuse Prevention Month”, I have decided to dedicate the following blog post this month to novels that discuss physical abuse aimed at children and teenagers. Three of the books are aimed at children, while one is a memoir meant for adults. The books I´ll write reviews for and discuss are the following:

“The book of everything” by Guus Kuijer,which tackles domestic abuse where both children and women are subjected to this horror.

“Seis veces Lucas” by Lygia Boujunga, which tackles emotional abuse.

“That mean old yesterday: a memoir” by Stacey Patton, which tackles child physical and sexual abuse as well as racism and the legacy of slavery and other racial oppression.

“Secrets” by Jacqueline Wilson, which tackles both physical and emotional abuse.

Feel free to tell me if there´s any books or films I should look into regarding this subject!

Best wishes/ Maaretta


(Trigger warning for discussions of Child physical abuse and Mental Illness)

Elina Hirvonen is a Finnish writer and documentary filmmaker residing in Helsinki who has written three novels to date with her first foray into the literary world being nominated for the2003 Finlandia Literary Prize. Her latest novel, “Kun aika loppuu” (“When Time Ends”) was published in 2014, and has been getting prominent praise for her insightful grappling with a slew of difficult political and existential questions highlighted with frank considerations and bare depictions of often grim subject matters,  such as mass suicides. Her cultural work as a writer also includes numerous columns in major newspapers such as “Helsingin Sanomat” which have detailed and delved into such diverse subject matters as censorship, racism and even into the questions and struggles of writing itself. Notably, in an interview with the newspaper “Kodin kuvalehti”,  Hirvonen candidly discussed the myriad of normative social pressures applied to us all with her recounting of her teenage years under the constant stress of trying to be a straight A student and to be constantly perfect. This pressure also meant that she felt forced into being constantly polite and happy, which lead to self-harm; something that the adults circling around her and her anxiousness seemed oblivious to. Hirvonen has made a name for herself in her frankness in her opinions, telling her own story of mental health and last, but by no least, writing books that brutally show the dark side in everyday life. This brings us to the review of her debut novel, “When I Forgot”.


When her debut was translated into English in 2009 the novel obtained a review in “The New York Times”, and was in 2014 translated into Swedish, where it saw an outpouring of favorable reviews from the Swedish literary press.  Both of these, along with being translated into Polish and other numerous languages, gave the book an international audience which is unusual for a Finnish Language novel and novelist. The story is a merger of narrative lines navigated between the course of a single day, and the exploration of memories triggered by its events. The plot is put into motion when Anna, a young woman, gets a phone call from her mother asking her to visit her brother in the psychiatric hospital in Helsinki. Anna is reluctant and expresses huge resentment towards her brother, stating her constant and adamant resolve to reject the company of her brother. This request for a visit to her brother unleashes memories of her first meeting of her soon to be American live-in boyfriend, and begins a mental wandering tracing the memory landscape of her childhood traumas.


Exploring the terrain of her childhood Anna recalls the vicious and abusive actions her father lashed out onto her older brother, beating him savagely. It is not only physical abuse Anna remembers her father committing; he was also frequently cruel and dismissive, unreservedly malicious regarding the deadly spiral of Joona´s growing mental health problems, which in turn seem to be inexorably linked to the violence Joona suffered at the hands of his father. Even in the midst of this obvious abuse to her brother, the deadly dynamics of this abuse casts Anna in a web of insecurity mentally making her see herself as secondary to Joona. This lethal doubt of Anna is fueled as the fathers own violence towards Joona being spontaneous and unpredictable, which are followed by a discordant favoring of Joona. The father also insisted that the family just simply ignore his violent behavior, and its effects on Joona´s mental health. Anna´s pathway through her memories fills her with guilt, horror, and exhaustions in the web of violence and ignorance – they bring her to many times struggle with taking care for her ill brother.


Original Finnish cover

Along with the strong narrative trail of weaving Anna’s past and present to explore her mental and moral struggles, the novel interestingly breaks this rotation of past and present in featured letters and papers Joona writes throughout his life, giving glimpses into his feelings of happiness, sadness and paranoia. And we find a added sphere of examination to Anna’s enclosure in the horrors of memory in Ian, her American boyfriend, who’s intersection with events entice another angle and question to the story .


I´ll try not to spoil too much, so this review is going to focus more on the themes in this novel. A major themed explored is family dynamics and domestic abuse. Anna is haunted by the violence her father played out on the body and mind of her brother, which leads her to feel uncertain and axious about herself as a individual. This violent past also haunts Joona insistently, as explored in the narrative device of the biographical papers he writes as a child detailing his growing unstable mind. The descriptions of the assaults are graphic, which makes them all the more unsettling. Even more disturbingly, one assault occurs after Joona lights a small fire; Anna´s narration makes it clear that he starts the fire because of his mental health problems. Despite this behavior being motivated by the growing mental problems in Joona, the father still fails to recognize this action as a current in Joona’s declining mental condition and viciously beats Joona.

Elina Hirvonen explores the toxic series of abuse and mental degradation in this scene detailing the horrific enclosure of abuse and its social/behavioral ramifications where it is ignored that the child´s disadvantages prove that their actions are out of their control, an aspect unhappily not often investigated in stories and media. “When I Forgot” explores societies silences around this aspect in child abuse and brings to light the ableism that sadly exist more than often in domestic abuse causes. Hirvonen stands on steady narrative grounds here as statistics actually have shown that a large percentage of children with disabilities and illnesses (whether physical or mental) are in fact more likely to face excessive violence in home environments.


Painting by Bruno Amadio

As hinted from this direction of the novels  themes comes also a nuanced examination into  the despairing struggles  of being mentally ill, and the conflicting feelings tormenting the loved ones operating around the individual with these dreadful battles. Joona, through the letters he writes, illustrates the fear and suspicion people around him express towards him in the midst of his battles of the mind. These letters describe a fierce rejection for openly and honestly admitting his health issues, both in dating scenes and in contact with his landlords. Anna on the other hand despairs that her brother may never have a normal life or even his own family. When others recognize Joona´s struggles with his mental issues, his opinions are directly discounted, his thoughts dismissed, and his personhood ignored. He is branded only as a mad man outside of community and the social. This aspect was particularly interestingly discussed in the novel, since Joona has legitimate concerns and thoughts about the world, but whenever his ideas or desires are expressed they are considered irrational at best, and nonsense in the usual case. However the mode of the narrative, and the line of thinking detailed in the novel, shows the reader that similar expressions, when stated by the “normal” actor, are taken seriously and considered evidently rational.  Hirvonen plays here with double standards. Actions/thoughts, even if irrational, are taken more seriously if we view the person as sane, if we don´t we dismiss the very same actions and thoughts.


Polish cover

Anna throughout the entire novel struggles with her role as caretaker for Joona. While usually these plotlines paint the ill loved one solely as a burden, Joona is explored in the novel in a much more subtle and complex fashion. His erratic behavior, while in most instances is a burden for Anna, have also occasionally bordered on the heroic in situations where she has needed him. Anna, also, honestly describes her own actions toward Joona as sibling rejection, and often as straight out betrayal. Anna has complex emotions in these situations; she loves Joona but is uncertain what to do about him most of the time. She wonders if her actions really help him or not, if she is a hand in stabilizing Joona or if she contributes to the shove downward adding to his misery. This despair is exposed on the surface of Anna’s ambivalence as reflected in the face of a Joona who may never be able to fit into society, to be seen as “normal”.


German cover

In the midst of this morass of confusions, though, we still see a Joona who attempts to grasp and control his own life and actions.  His narration is often motivated in the attempt to defend himself from rejections and accusations, and depicts a person with a deep sense of what´s right and what´s wrong. He has a strong moral compass, which tragically is drowned out often by his severe problems. And the relationship of brother and sister, regardless of the disintegrations of abuse and mind shattering problems, strives and achieves a strong bond. Under the guise of this bond and struggle the true trajectory of novel, transcending the horrors of abuse, could be read as Anna and Joona´s unconditional love for each other being tested, and whether or not it can remain. Intense stuff.


The final theme I want to discuss is the novels depiction of the growing Anti-Americanism that started to grow in the early 2000´s. At the onset of “When I Forgot” Ian, as an expat American,  struggles in Finland Post 9/11 and, with the Iraq war just emerging, he finds himself branded only as a political and social outlier. Ian has moved to Finland and speaks Finnish, yet can sense that his students and colleges at the University he works at are, quite unsubtly, being passive-aggressive towards him or aggressively dismissive. This escalates into full blown nasty remarks, which leads him mentally into a confused state and creates doubts about his identity to himself (since he doesn´t sit well with being “just another American”). Ian realizes that people will now look at him only through the distorting and singular prism of the nation/state.  As his own identity is quite tangential to the notion of a “nation”, and since he has few happy memories from back home, returning to the states seems an impossible option.  Hirvonen uses the cliqued reading of individuals as bounded by only state (as well as others are bound by race and ethnicity) and explores how this misreading (here the anger towards Americans) is a misguided and a confusion and often dripping with hypocrisy and self-righteousness.  Hirvonen explores how this mentality (which reduces individuals to nations, races, sexes, etc:) is injudicious and only makes Others who are guiltless a focus of hateful dismissal.  In this device the novel interrogates why Anti-Americanism (as with any prejudice: to racism, ageism, sexism) is so simplistic and toxic, especially inside of progressive movements (this can be accepted since Americans have “power”. But the reading should be individual as the government of a Nation should not be ideologically bound to individuals).


One of the most Infamous anti-American propaganda works

Being hostile to someone just for being from a nation, a religion, ethnicity, etc. shows our irrationality and inclinations for simplistic aggressions, and we can find great thanks that this form of “Othering” the individual is grappled with by Hirvonen in the midst of all of the other despairs and hates she explores in this strong and forceful work.

Go check this novel out. It´s got great themes, it´s short so it won´t be difficult to get trough, and it´s utterly touching. A solid work.

For another account on Anti-Americanism, check out Bess Rattnay´s account on it at Salon.