(Image from Barnes & Noble)
After years of being imprisoned and abused, Joy Nielsons is finally free. With her mother behind bars, the 15-year-old should feel safe. Especially now that she's living with the perfect family—Aunt Nicole, Uncle Rob and their kids, Tara and Trent—in their perfect Seattle home. And yet, Joy can't stop the panic attacks and terrifying flashbacks that continue to plague her. She longs for a normal life, but worries it's not possible. Maybe she's just too broken.
As Joy settles in, even opening up to a few friends, she makes gradual progression. All her steps forward, however, are put into jeopardy when she's faced with the biggest hurdle of all—testifying against her mother in court. Can Joy find the strength to endure such a traumatizing ordeal? Or will the very thought destroy her, erasing any chance at the happy, healthy future she's trying to create for herself?
Given its title and synopsis, you can probably tell that Stronger Than You Know by Jolene Perry is a straight-shooting, what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of novel. Joy's story is simply that—her story. It describes her journey to heal from hellish abuse by learning to trust other people as well as herself. That's about it. Her budding romance with Justin adds a little subplot action, but other than that, the novel revolves around Joy's recovery. Which is inspiring, as it sends a powerful message (You're stronger than you know!). Truth is, though, I got a little tired of the extreme focus on the victim-trying-to-overcome-past-abuse plot line. Call me heartless, but I wanted more to happen in this story. I especially would have liked to see Joy acting, (maybe reaching out to help someone else as a way of healing), instead of just reacting all the time. Despite that—as well as the book's many copyediting issues that kept pulling me out of the story—I did find Stronger Than You Know to be a powerful read. It deals with tough issues, but does so in a sensitive, stirring way. Like other problem novels, it creates awareness of a disturbing—and all too common—issue, while promoting empathy for its victims. I wanted more from it, yes, but overall, it's an honest, hopeful novel with a strong, important message.
(Readalikes: Reminds me of other novels about victimized teens trying to find healing, but no specific titles are coming to mind. Any ideas?)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), depictions of child/sexual abuse, sexual innuendo, and depictions of underage drinking
To the FTC, with love: Another library