Reaching is Grace Peterson’s bold and revealing memoir of spiritual abuse stands as a testament to all the genre is capable of accomplishing. In nearly claustrophobic prose, the author recounts the parental neglect of her most formative years. This allows her to set the scene for how she would later avail herself to seeking help from the cult-like leader of her church.
It takes a brave soul to recount the number of abuses the author endured while growing up. Peterson creates a distant tone by referring to her parents as “the mother” and “the father.” Their divorce results in Grace and her siblings moving to Hawaii to live with their mother and the eventual stepfather. Grace is bullied by the local children and longs to make friends. It’s also revealed she was sexually abused by a neighborhood boy before she moved. Grace later returns to Oregon to live with her father, but her situation never really improves.
It’s agonizing to see how self-centered most of the adults are in this book, but it’s a truth that needs to be told. In a world that often lives by the saying, “Don’t worry, be happy,” this memoir shows just how deep some emotional scars go when it comes to trying to live a balanced life. I really enjoyed Peterson’s tactic of describing her surroundings as opposed to her feelings. Memories often form in relation to our physical environment, and the author excels in rendering memory this way.
About a fourth of Reaching centers around Grace’s struggle in her thirties to come to terms with what she decides is demonic possession. Even though she gives herself over to extreme thoughts, she never comes off as overly disturbed. That’s the beauty and the emotional kicker of the book. We all struggle in our different ways, and our sense of normalcy is a direct reflection of the many influences in our lives.
I expected more of a complete picture to form of the relationship between her and Brock. The narrative remained a bit distant when it needed time to grow more contemplative and detailed Much is left out regarding her relationship with her husband and children as well. Thankfully, after years of thinking about it, Grace sees a real therapist and begins to come to grips with her feelings.
As someone who grew up with a mentally ill parent, I truly appreciate this book and applaud Grace for sharing her story with the world.
What do you look for in a good memoir?
You can connect with Grace Peterson and her social sites via her blog. Her book as well as other memoirs I’ve enjoyed can be found on Amazon.
For more insight, read my Book Review Criteria. Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2014.
Sounds like a very difficult childhood – we bring those painful feelings along with us, whether we want to or not. It must have taken strength and courage to write up a memoir.
Leora, the way Grace handled the details of her memoir really struck me as being really well done. I would definitely read another book by her.
Exploring different aspects of other peoples lives can make for interesting reading. We can always learn something from the struggles others share with us.
Jon, I think too that memoirs allow a deeper connection with the reader since the reader can relate on a more realistic level than various other genres. But then again, I’m one of those types who tends to gravitate a bit more to creative nonfiction than fiction at times.
My life experience has shown me that we all have secrets to one degree or another. Having had some dysfunctional in my own past growing up I can relate to Grace. Though her’s is of the most extreme and I’m sorry she went through that. The flip side is the courage it took for her to write this book and share. That helps so many who either are yearning to speak out for others or often even more so, for themselves! Great review and thank you so much for bringing this to us, Jeri 🙂
Mike, I related to Grace’s book as well based on coming from a dysfunctional family as well. To endure so much, but to also be able to write about it so eloquently, is such a gift and I’m glad Grace contacted me to read and review her book. I will remember it for years to come.
What a courageous undertaking for Grace to share her story, and such a gift to those who may have suffered similarly and need to see someone else’s journey toward healing.
Jagoda, Reaching is such a fine example of a memoir that engrosses the reader in an author’s personal struggle toward healing. Her book really drives home how long so many of us can put off getting proper help to deal with various problems and instead seek quick fixes or alternate fixes that end up doing more harm than good. Even then, the seemingly harmful encounters in our life still lead us toward the road to getting better.
It does sound like a powerful read! Thanks Jeri for bringing it to our attention.
Christy, what I most liked was the way Grace can pull off prose that is at once distant and intimate. It’s hard to explain, but she does it so well.
Thank you Jeri for reading and reviewing my book. It is an honor. Yes, so many of the Brock years were spent in a stupor so remembering was not easy. I’m afraid my writing reflects this.Thank you for your honest evaluation.
Thank you Leora, Jon, Mike, Jagoda and Christy for your comments too. Happy New Year to all of you.
Grace, thank you so much for writing such a powerful memoir.
Truly difficult subject matter to tackle. I was chatting with friends about memoirs over the holidays, we were trying to determine why some work and why some are impossible to read. It really comes down to the voice. I like the way you described the voice in this review, it let me know whether the emotion would be so overwhelming that I couldn’t attempt the book or if there would be enough distance to allow me to access the story.
Debra, I agree that voice can either make or break a memoir. Also, great memoirs tend to read like novels. In too many I don’t think the author takes enough liberty in how to recount events. It’s okay to tweak “reality” for the sake of telling a good story in order to attend to elements of craft.
I have agree with Debra above, in that the voice, in a memoir, is everything. But personally, I think memoirs have include some elements of fiction as well. I find myself needing a connection to the other people in the book as well. They sort of all have redemption as a theme and I often am amazed at the courage it takes for anyone to share such deep pain.
Jacquie, I’ve often wondered what draws some writers to memoirs where some authors won’t even think of attempting one. I’m at a crossroads where I am wondering once again if I would be better off focusing more on creative nonfiction than fiction since I seem to have the memoir gene an the associated willingness and/or need to share the bits and pieces of what makes me who I am. I certainly feel like I really know Grace after reading her work.
I can relate to this. My childhood, like yours Jeri, was less than desirable.
Cheryl, I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have had a great childhood, but if that were the case, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. All said and done, our struggles make us better people in the end.
Wow. What an incredibly brave memoir to write! You do such a thorough and detailed review, Jeri. Great job.
Beth, thanks for the comment 🙂 I really do like to write reviews. In the year ahead, I hope to add reviews of apps and other products that writing and various freelancers will find useful.
I had a great childhood. I didn’t realize that until well into my adult years. That said, I had many a friend who had very difficult lives and often envied what I had. Most were silent about their difficulties, so I too applaud her for her courage in telling her story. 🙂
Susan, when I read memoirs like Grace’s, I’m reminded that even though my childhood was not the best, it was still relatively stable all things considered. When I read the book I was happy for her in that she comes across as such a caring mother.
Thank you all for your insightful comments. I loved reading them. And Jeri, you are my hero. Thank you for your kind words. If you decide to write your memoir, I will be first in line to read it.
Grace, I’m sure I’ll write a memoir someday… emphasis on someday 😉 It would be an emotional undertaking that’s for sure.
I had a difficult childhood too, but overcome early adversity. I admire anyone who can.
Jeannette, when I was a kid I used to spend so much time thinking about how much I wanted a normal family. Now I know that “normal” is prety near impossible to achieve.
It’s great to be able to overcome problems from our childhoods although at times that can be difficult. Nobodies life is perfect even if it may seem that way.
Krystle, well said. The school I used to work at seemed to be made of super-families, but all families really do have unique struggles.
That sounds like an amazing story. I would like to get the author’s take on why she decided to write a memoir.