When I agreed to review Believe Like a Chile by Paige Dearth, I knew I was in for a bit of a tough story. Just the synopsis of the book, which is in some ways like Ms. Dearth’s own background, as she explained in her email, was bracing and eye-opening. The subject of child abuse and pedophilia are very tough subjects, but it was Dearth’s candor in talking about these subjects in her email that definitely caught my attention. I decided then and there that this story needed a wider audience, as its message is very important. So, albeit in a small way, I decided to review this book and promote it as best I could here on the blog. So, here it is.
Dearth begins her book with a young girl named Alessa. Alessa’s home life leaves a lot to be desired, with a mother that constantly berates her over her appearance (she is paler and lankier than her siblings) and her demeanor. Although she does nothing to deserve it, Alessa is beaten by her mother with a wooden spoon. This changes, however, when her Uncle Danny moves in with the family. Although her earlier memories of the man are pleasant and fun, Uncle Danny becomes a very different person when he begins to live with Alessa. At night he begins to psychologically manipulate and rape her, which continues for years unchecked. Once, Alessa gathered the courage to tell her mother, but she was met with a barrage of insults and comments that she was a liar. Eventually, Alessa befriends a schoolmate and is able to escape Uncle Danny more often, only to end up in a situation where she must leave her home due to something that occurs with this schoolmate (I won’t give too much away). She flees to North Philadelphia with a train ticket and $2,000 in cash, and is able to secure a dingy apartment and a job at a discount store. She soon befriends a woman named Tasha, who eventually introduces her to her brother, Harlin. Harlin is a drug dealer and is known for his violence and protection he provides to those he deems worthy in North Philadelphia. Although she is initially scared of Harlin, Alessa eventually begins to befriend him, and even thinks she may like him. This all changes, however, when things again spiral out of control for Alessa and she is forced to flee again to save her own life. What will become of her? Will she ever be able to escape her demons?
So, with that short synopsis, you can see why this book is definitely an intense read. What struck me most about Dearth’s writing style is that she pulled no punches, nor elaborated on any detail too profusely. It read like a detached third person narrative, explaining the facts and nothing more in the worst sections of Alessa’s life, then providing a short section on how Alessa felt and how hopeless she felt after the repeated abuses. It was definitely interesting, as it was in no way influencing the reader to feel a particular way, or encouraging him/her to feel bad for Alessa. Obviously, I felt extremely bad for her, and in a way I think the bracing format that described everything exactly as it happened is a good way to go about telling these kinds of stories. We’re often confronted with tales of sexual assault (e.g. Sandusky trial), yet often we talk about it in abstract ways, never actually describing the horrors the abused must endure. By specifically stating what happens, Dearth is plainly laying out the facts and forcing us to deal with the gravity of the situation. I applaud her for doing this, as it will start a dialogue that hopefully will end with better protection of young people from pedophiles and ensure that these crimes never happen again. Until we really face this problem head on, instead of pretending it isn’t happening (e.g. Catholic Church scandals, Boy Scouts), we can’t adequately treat it. I’m glad that Dearth was able to write this, as I believe it probably helped her heal as much as it helped me realize that these crimes aren’t something we can ignore. So, if you aren’t moved enough to already do so, pick up a copy of this book and read it. The help that Alessa eventually receives is enough to restore your faith in humanity.
5 out of 5 Stars
Believe Like a Child by Paige Dearth
Paperback: 424 pages
Special thanks to Ms. Dearth for my review copy!