I don’t know what it’s like to grow up being hit, slapped, punched, having hot oatmeal poured over my head, being told I’m stupid, worthless, and having my mother sorry I was even born. I don’t know what it’s like to try to figure out what my mother wants so just maybe I’ll manage to do the things that please her so she’ll love me and not hit me today. I don’t know what it’s like to have to endure sexual abuse as a child and not be able to tell anyone because I wouldn’t have been believed anyway.
But Jane Devin does, and it’s only the beginning of an incredibly difficult life she has lived as bravely and with as much perseverance as she could muster. She describes this life in her painfully raw and unrelentingly harrowing memoir, Elephant Girl. It’s a primer on what enduring child abuse and living in extreme poverty is like, yet it is also a testament to the human spirit, which continues to hope in the face of oftentimes overwhelming odds.
I purchased the book several months ago; I had been following Jane’s blog and articles on The Huffington Post since 2009 and looked forward to her first book being published. I knew it was a memoir, and I also knew it would be a difficult read, as I knew something of her past and childhood from the things I’d read online. Jane writes with a raw passion always, so I knew she would describe her life in agonizing detail, and I could not bring myself to read it for some time. I was enduring a fair amount of stress and sadness in my own life and kept setting the book aside until my own life lightened up a bit. So I finally picked it up a week ago Friday and read until Monday morning. And in that time I learned more about what it means to be unloved and perpetually poor than I think I’ve ever known before. And I feel this book should be required reading of anyone who works with the poor, or makes decisions that either directly or indirectly affect the poor.
This book doesn’t have the typical “happy ending” that memoirs by the rich and famous do, regardless of their sometimes “humble” beginnings. It merely affirms that we deal with the hand life has dealt to us and do the best we can for as long as we can; however, no reader will come away from this book without being affected in some way. I hope every reader has a bit more compassion for those with lives more difficult than his or her own after reading this book. It made me much more grateful that my own burdens have paled in comparison. A great read, by any measure…