Tag Archive: Theme month

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