Friday, June 3, 2016

A review of Michelle Knight's Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed: A Memoir of the Cleveland Kidnappings

Wow.  I started Michelle Knight's 2015 book Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed: A Memoir of the Cleveland Kidnappings yesterday morning and managed to finish it last night.  It's been awhile since the last time I zipped through a book.  I happen to be a sucker for true crime, true stories, and damsels in distress.  Not to be flippant about damsels in distress, of course.  Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus all went through hell after they were kidnapped by the repulsive and thankfully dead rapist Ariel Castro.

In August 2002, Michelle Knight was kidnapped.  She spent eleven years living in a disgusting dungeon with a madman.  In May 2013, she and the other two victims were finally rescued from Ariel Castro, who cheated his victims by killing himself in jail.  I well remember the day Knight, Berry, and DeJesus were rescued.  Bill and I were in Florence, Italy and the news was all over CNN.  After reading Knight's version of her years of torture at Castro's hands, I am left amazed by her resilience and will to survive.

Michelle Knight's book, penned with help by ghostwriter Michelle Burford, is not just about her years of captivity.  Knight also gives readers the story of her tragic upbringing in Ohio.  She starts at the beginning, remembering how she and several siblings lived in a car for awhile.  When they finally moved into a house, there were other friends and family members there and Knight had to endure sexual abuse for years.

School was a nightmare for Michelle Knight.  Kids can often be cruel and that was definitely the case for her, as she wore dirty handmedown clothes from Goodwill and went days without bathing.  She smelled bad and she had bad breath, because she couldn't brush her teeth or get proper dental care.  Her classmates treated her very badly.  When teachers would try to correct the other kids for being mean, it was even worse.  Knight knew they were only being nice because they were being forced.

When she'd finally had enough abuse, Michelle ran away from home.  For awhile, she lived in a trash can under a bridge.  She got some help from a local church, where she was fed good soul food and give a winter coat.  At one point, a man "hired" her to run drugs.  But then he got arrested and she was soon out on the streets again, until a friend of her parents' spotted her.  Her dad came and got her and forced her to go "home", where the abuse continued apace.

Michelle Knight's bad luck continued into her early adulthood.  She got pregnant by a guy she knew in high school, but they eventually broke up.  The baby was a source of great joy for Michelle Knight, but she needed to find work.  When one of her mother's "friends" neglected the boy, he ended up in the hands of social workers.  Michelle had to prove to them that she could be a good mother, which she found impossible to do because she had no job or transportation.  On the day Knight was kidnapped, she was on her way to a visitation session.  She was running late because she had to walk to the facility where the visitation was taking place.  She stepped into a Family Dollar store, where she ran into Ariel Castro.  She knew his daughter and trusted him when he offered her a ride.  That's when her life fell completely out of her control

I think most people would read Finding Me because they are morbidly curious about Knight's ordeal living in Castro's revolting lair.  Knight does go into heartbreaking detail about what it was like to be chained, starved, and beaten for eleven years.  What makes her story even more shocking is that apparently no one even cared that she was missing.  She was estranged from her family and had no one looking for her.  When she was abducted, Knight was fighting for custody of her toddler aged son.  When she didn't show up to visit him, social workers must have assumed he'd simply been abandoned.  He was adopted at four years old while his mother, who loved him and never wanted to give him up for adoption, was being raped and beaten by a monster on a daily basis.

When I read Michelle Knight's story, I couldn't help but reflect on how fortunate I've been in my life. I've never been so filthy that when I shower, the water turns black.  I've never had teeth so grimy that it felt like they were covered in butter.  I've never had hair so matted that I needed to cut it off with dull children's scissors.  I've never been raped.  I've never been pregnant and had some monster beat me until I aborted.  I've never had to sleep in chains.  I've never been forced to watch anyone kill my dog with his bear hands.  I've never lost a child to social services.  These were all things that Michelle Knight experienced before she was thirty years old.  I can only hope the rest of her life is fabulous to make up for the first decades.

I can't say Finding Me is the most cheerful reading, although I do feel somewhat uplifted when I realize that through everything, Michelle Knight survived.  She has changed her name and is embarking on a culinary career.  She's written a book.  She's a survivor.  I find that aspect of her story very inspiring.  And I'd like to congratulate Michelle Burford for doing a decent job on her part of relating Knight's story.  I thought the book was written in a voice that seemed authentic.  That's not an easy task for a writer.  It may not have been the best writing, but it rang true given the fact that Knight never had much education.  The story is what kept my attention, horrible as the ordeal was, and the fact that Knight ultimately emerged triumphant.

I'd give Finding Me a solid four stars.

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