Monday, October 23, 2017

We Can't Be Friends ~ Cyndy Etler (earc) review [@SourcebooksFire @cdetler]

We Can't Be Friends: A True Story
Sourcebooks Fire
October 03, 2017
304 pages
add to Goodreads/buy from Book Depository/or Amazon

The companion to The Dead Inside, "[An] unnerving and heartrending memoir" (Publishers Weekly)

This is the story of my return to high school. This is the true story of how I didn't die.

High school sucks for a lot of people. High school extra sucks when you believe, deep in your soul, that every kid in the school is out to get you. I wasn't popular before I got locked up in Straight Inc., the notorious "tough love" program for troubled teens. So it's not like I was walking around thinking everyone liked me.

But when you're psychologically beaten for sixteen months, you start to absorb the lessons. The lessons in Straight were: You are evil. Your peers are evil. Everything is evil except Straight, Inc.

Before long, you're a true believer.

And when you're finally released, sent back into the world, you crave safety. Crave being back in the warehouse. And if you can't be there, you'd rather be dead.
 “This is what happened to my mind and my heart and my soul and my relationship with humanity.”
-Cyndy Etler (Mooresville Weekly article, May 31, 2013*)

Everything that you wanted to hope was going to be okay or fixed or normal after the ending of The Dead Inside for Cyndy Etler's life? We Can't Be Friends shows you just how much it is not.

The present tense narration continues in this follow-up/companion to The Dead Inside. Reading it as if it is currently happening, not something from years ago (even as you know it's in 1989/1990) makes everything that much more real. What's happening is something Cyndy - and you as the reader - are experiencing. You feel one less step removed from things.

So, so many times I wanted to ask the people in her life if they really, truly believed what they were saying, what they seemed to think of Cyndy. If they actually thought it was appropriate or remotely logical.  (Though there was one adult I did want to thank or hug or something.)

I appreciated that the author didn't try to just tie a big bow on things and pretend it was all neat and tidy once she left Straight. There is no way to spend sixteen months - especially not as young as the author was - under those circumstances, with that kind of daily treatment and not have it mess with your head. This memoir is incredibly honest and we see all the stupid, misunderstood, painful, confused, naive and needy things she does.

I understood Cyndy's mother even less here than I did in The Dead Inside. Cyndy could have a horribly low opinion of herself, but when people have spent sixteen months convincing you you're 'a druggie whore' and that you're always one step away from slipping back into addiction, it's kind of hard to think you're great. We Can't Be Friends shows you just how much Straight Inc harmed Cyndy Etler (and so many others) but also how much of a difference a few people (or birds, even) can make.

I applaud the author for giving us two such honest, real memoirs. She doesn't shy away from things that might make her look 'bad' and it means we really get the full story, as painful, heartbraking, ahd hopefully, ultimately, hopeful as it is.

*the author originally published her memoir Straightling in 2012

digital review copy received from publisher, via NetGalley

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