Title: What Girls Know: A Memoir Novel
Author: Neesha Meminger
Publisher: See It Be It Productions
Availability: On shelves now
Review copy: Final copy via author
Summary: Anji is holding on to big secrets. When she begins to spiral into a scary depression, she realizes she will need to do something drastic to bring herself out of it. With the help of a guidance counselor at school, Anji starts working through what, exactly, led her to the desperate feelings she’s now drowning in. She joins a group of other girls who’ve been through experiences of sexual assault and violence, and learns to face her secrets with the help of the girls and a caring group leader. Together, they help one another heal old wounds through art, creativity, mobilizing for social justice, and learning to trust again.
Review: (Content warning for sexual assault and violence)
This is a story about pain, but even more so, it’s a story about healing. Broken trust causes deep scars. Children expect to be safe. The job of their parents is to take care of them and they trust that anyone their parent chooses to leave them with will also keep them safe. Anji has had that trust broken in a religious space. There are multiple levels of broken trust there. Throughout the book, readers are led through the many relationships and interactions that lead to healing in her life.
I’ve always been partial to novels-in-verse and this one did not disappoint. Poetry is a wonderful format for untangling the emotions connected with painful experiences. With poems, the words can weave and flow in dramatic movements, but can also whisper. Meminger did both and even more. There is beauty in the verses, but also some harsh moments that are hard to read especially if someone has experienced similar pain. Fortunately, poetry packages things into many individual compartments so the emotions come in small doses. This is helpful and is another reason I’m glad Meminger shared this via poetry.
The pain from the actual abuse is hard to look at, but Anji shares the many ways this has affected her life. She begins to find her voice, but one of the harshest things is how her parents react to her revelations. They had been unable to protect her, but when she shares and offers them the opportunity to be a part of her healing, she finds that they still cannot provide what she wants and needs.
The book had many things going on as Anji and others were on their healing journey. The girls she is creating art with are all trying to find a voice. They are also seeing parallels in the broader world. They see that they have been conditioned to be silent. The status quo is maintained when people are compliant and protect the perpetrators. Resisting and speaking up can be terrifying, but also empowering.
The only hiccup for me was the mention of a spirit animal. It was fairly incidental, but it was jarring to have that show up with little to no Native context. There is an animal that has played a part in Anji’s life, but I didn’t think it needed to be labeled a spirit animal for it to be meaningful. *Edited 9/19/2019: After communicating with the author, I would note that the spirit animal conversation was autobiographical. The person in the conversation was Indigenous and this was not simply a creative addition to the story.
Recommendation: Get it now especially if you appreciate novels-in-verse. There is pain here, but there is so much healing and Anji’s story shares lots of hope. The therapy, the art, the connections with others, and the thoughtful conversations really model some great ways to work through such an experience.