April 04, 2017
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For readers of Girl Interrupted and Tweak, Cyndy Etler's gripping memoir gives readers a glimpse into the harrowing reality of her sixteen months in the notorious "tough love" program the ACLU called "a concentration camp for throwaway kids."The Dead Inside is one of those books that you want to pretend is fictional, but you know it is not. You want to believe it wouldn't be possible for that many people to act that wrongly, but, again, you know that they did.
I never was a badass. Or a slut, a junkie, a stoner, like they told me I was. I was just a kid looking for something good, something that felt like love. I was a wannabe in a Levi's jean jacket. Anybody could see that. Except my mother. And the professionals at Straight.
From the outside, Straight Inc. was a drug rehab. But on the inside it was...well, it was something else.
All Cyndy wanted was to be loved and accepted. By age fourteen, she had escaped from her violent home, only to be reported as a runaway and sent to a "drug rehabilitation" facility that changed her world.
To the public, Straight Inc. was a place of recovery. But behind closed doors, the program used bizarre and intimidating methods to "treat" its patients. In her raw and fearless memoir, Cyndy Etler recounts her sixteen months in the living nightmare that Straight Inc. considered "healing."
The things the author describes as having happened at Straight are things I not only never would have imagined but had difficulty even imagining how they came to be. They weren't things where you (or I, at least) could see the good intentions they'd begun with and understand that they'd degraded or diverged into their present state. These were things that I couldn't interpret some other, more benign, not abusive and manipulative way.
I appreciated that the author gave us a look at her life prior to entering Straight, Inc at fourteen. We really got to see who she was, what she was facing at home, how she was dealing with it, and how it all affected her. It made it even more disheartening or, rather, heartbreaking, when you then read what she experienced at Straight. Even if it had been a 'proper' drug rehabilitation, it's hard to imagine she had any place there.
I loved that this memoir is presented in the present tense. Reading as if Cyndy is currently experiencing these things, rather than an adult recollecting them really gives it that much more impact. It also allows us to really understand her mindset and how Straight, their practices and her time spent there got into her head. (And how abuse had shaped her way of thinking and reacting even before she was sent there.)
It is a bit like if you took The Program, removed all of the nice or sanitized or logical pieces, then made it both worse and real . . . then you might have something almost close to Straight, Inc and what the author endured. Knowing this was all fact made for a troubling read but one I think you really do need to read.
digital review copy received from publisher, via NetGalley