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Things We Didn't Talk About When I Was a Girl: A Memoir

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Jeannie Vanasco has had the same nightmare since she was a teenager. She startles awake, saying his name. It is always about him: one of her closest high school friends, a boy named Mark. A boy who raped her. When her nightmares worsen, Jeannie decides—after fourteen years of silence—to reach out to Mark. He agrees to talk on the record and meet in person. "It's the least I Jeannie Vanasco has had the same nightmare since she was a teenager. She startles awake, saying his name. It is always about him: one of her closest high school friends, a boy named Mark. A boy who raped her. When her nightmares worsen, Jeannie decides—after fourteen years of silence—to reach out to Mark. He agrees to talk on the record and meet in person. "It's the least I can do," he says. Jeannie details her friendship with Mark before and after the assault, asking the brave and urgent question: Is it possible for a good person to commit a terrible act? Jeannie interviews Mark, exploring how rape has impacted his life as well as her own. She examines the language surrounding sexual assault and pushes against its confines, contributing to and deepening the #MeToo discussion. Exacting and courageous, Things We Didn't Talk About When I Was a Girl is part memoir, part true crime record, and part testament to the strength of female friendships—a recounting and reckoning that will inspire us to ask harder questions and interrogate our biases. Jeannie Vanasco examines and dismantles long-held myths of victimhood, discovering grace and power in this genre-bending investigation into the trauma of sexual violence.


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Jeannie Vanasco has had the same nightmare since she was a teenager. She startles awake, saying his name. It is always about him: one of her closest high school friends, a boy named Mark. A boy who raped her. When her nightmares worsen, Jeannie decides—after fourteen years of silence—to reach out to Mark. He agrees to talk on the record and meet in person. "It's the least I Jeannie Vanasco has had the same nightmare since she was a teenager. She startles awake, saying his name. It is always about him: one of her closest high school friends, a boy named Mark. A boy who raped her. When her nightmares worsen, Jeannie decides—after fourteen years of silence—to reach out to Mark. He agrees to talk on the record and meet in person. "It's the least I can do," he says. Jeannie details her friendship with Mark before and after the assault, asking the brave and urgent question: Is it possible for a good person to commit a terrible act? Jeannie interviews Mark, exploring how rape has impacted his life as well as her own. She examines the language surrounding sexual assault and pushes against its confines, contributing to and deepening the #MeToo discussion. Exacting and courageous, Things We Didn't Talk About When I Was a Girl is part memoir, part true crime record, and part testament to the strength of female friendships—a recounting and reckoning that will inspire us to ask harder questions and interrogate our biases. Jeannie Vanasco examines and dismantles long-held myths of victimhood, discovering grace and power in this genre-bending investigation into the trauma of sexual violence.

30 review for Things We Didn't Talk About When I Was a Girl: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Emily May

    We used to be friends. As you may have heard, this book is about the author, Jeannie Vanasco, interviewing the man and former friend who raped her when they were teenagers. After years of nightmares and trying to escape her past, Vanasco decided instead to confront it. To seek the answers she has needed for so long. To try and make sense of that one horrific night. This an arresting premise, to be sure, though whether you feel curious about what this asshole has to say for himself or angry tha We used to be friends. As you may have heard, this book is about the author, Jeannie Vanasco, interviewing the man and former friend who raped her when they were teenagers. After years of nightmares and trying to escape her past, Vanasco decided instead to confront it. To seek the answers she has needed for so long. To try and make sense of that one horrific night. This an arresting premise, to be sure, though whether you feel curious about what this asshole has to say for himself or angry that he has been offered a platform will obviously differ from person to person. Vanasco herself seems keenly aware that some vocal feminists will not appreciate what she is doing. It is a terrible shame, though, that even among those who should seek first to help and protect survivors, the author feels the constant need to explain and justify herself. I think this book tells us a great deal about the way we "feminists" continue to fail survivors. It seems almost trite to say it, but this is such a powerful, sad and raw memoir. Vanasco is constantly battling to keep control of the narrative, to get answers from Mark but not allow him to manipulate her or rewrite the story of what happened. A lot of the book focuses not on Mark, but on her feelings about reconnecting with him. The book is written in short, fragmented chapters, which I appreciate won't be for everyone, but it really pulled me inside the author's mind. She clearly has a lot of thoughts circling in her head and I personally didn’t grow tired of hearing about them. Maybe this book works better if you’re familiar with depression and anxiety. The author spends a lot of time in her own head, questioning why she wants to do this and the language she chooses to explain the sexual assault, such as the way she places emphasis on the fact she was drunk for the first time-- to make herself seem more innocent? She wonders. I could delete this rationale, or revise my stated motivations. But I would only be doing that in an effort to please or impress others. And I want to be honest here. Otherwise, why do this? This is a memoir, not a manifesto. I think the most important message this book leaves us with is the thing Vanasco feels hesitant to say and yet it lurks beneath each chapter: rapists are not monsters in dark alleyways. They are friends, they are sons, they are brothers, lovers, boys. Some people bristle at these attempts to humanize rapists, but I think they misunderstand the importance of doing so. It is not for the rapists. It is not to make us sympathize with them. It is to make us sympathize with survivors. So many women don't report sexual assault because they think they will be hated for it, or not believed. Why? Because it is easy to believe the monster in the alleyway is a rapist. It is not easy to believe a friend/son/brother/lover is. One last thing I wanted to note is that I am still struggling to make sense of the title. This is not really a criticism; I am just putting it out there in case anyone feels the same or wants to offer suggestions. Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube

  2. 4 out of 5

    Laurie Anderson

    4.5 stars I got to review Jeannie Vanasco's memoir about confronting her rapist (who had been a close friend) fourteen years after he assaulted her. Thoughtful, provocative, and raw; you want to read this one. Want to know more? Here's a link to my TIME review: https://time.com/5686831/things-we-di... 4.5 stars I got to review Jeannie Vanasco's memoir about confronting her rapist (who had been a close friend) fourteen years after he assaulted her. Thoughtful, provocative, and raw; you want to read this one. Want to know more? Here's a link to my TIME review: https://time.com/5686831/things-we-di...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Oof. I suspected this would be great but it packs more of a punch than I even expected - Vanasco, a woman in her early 30s and teacher of memoir writing at a university, decides to get back in touch with her rapist, a guy she was close friends with as a teenager until he assaulted her at a party when she was 19. The book then chronicles the process of getting back in touch with this guy ("Mark"), first through a series of phone calls and how the process of revisiting the rape and her friendship Oof. I suspected this would be great but it packs more of a punch than I even expected - Vanasco, a woman in her early 30s and teacher of memoir writing at a university, decides to get back in touch with her rapist, a guy she was close friends with as a teenager until he assaulted her at a party when she was 19. The book then chronicles the process of getting back in touch with this guy ("Mark"), first through a series of phone calls and how the process of revisiting the rape and her friendship with him - while also trying to write about it - impacts upon her, building up to when she decides to travel to meet him and interview him face to face. Jeannie decides to record the phone calls, allowing for a level of self-analysis/reflection as well as being able to go over and really think about what Mark says during these conversations. She quickly realises that she is trying to reassure and comfort Mark through the language she uses to make sure she isn't making him feel uncomfortable. The level of introspection is, I guess, expected from someone who teaches memoir writing, but I found it added so much to the narrative. Why do (some) women find it so hard to put their own feelings above those of (almost invariably) men around them? Jeannie also discusses the writing process with a number of writer friends throughout the period spanning her conversations with Mark, helping her to further pick apart and analyse her own reaction to events, as well as how Mark responds to her getting back in touch. I found this impossible to put down and a thought-provoking read on a number of levels. Highly recommended. Thank you Netgalley and Prelude Books for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an honest review.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Polly

    "I doubt I'm the only woman sexually assaulted by a friend and confused about her feelings." Wow. This is one powerful read. Heavy content warnings for rape and sexual assault. 15 years ago, Jeannie Vanasco was raped by a close friend. In this memoir, she explores how that incident affected her then, affects her now, and - in a move that makes this book not only unique but a necessary read - talks to her rapist about his view on the assault. Despite being written in a simple style that's easy to fol "I doubt I'm the only woman sexually assaulted by a friend and confused about her feelings." Wow. This is one powerful read. Heavy content warnings for rape and sexual assault. 15 years ago, Jeannie Vanasco was raped by a close friend. In this memoir, she explores how that incident affected her then, affects her now, and - in a move that makes this book not only unique but a necessary read - talks to her rapist about his view on the assault. Despite being written in a simple style that's easy to follow, it's taken a week for me to get through this because the heavy subject matter was mentally exhausting at times. It reads like a stream of consciousness - at times it is messy but that only makes it feel more real. Throughout the writing, Vanasco is exploring her feelings and coming to new ones, and the fact that she is constantly battling between what she, as a Good Feminist, should be feeling versus what she is actually feeling makes it a very interesting and relatable read. The fact that the book is written in a kind of "real time" - the author describes writing the memoir while doing so - makes it feel very much like reading a diary. It's a very intimate feeling to read this book, but never feels intrusive. The prevalence of sexual assault is felt heavily throughout the book. This was not the author's only experience of this, and she talks candidly about other times she's been violated. She also talks about the depressing number of her students who have had similar experiences, as well as friends of hers. Many books exist about rape and sexual assault, but the nuance that this one offers by bringing the assailant's voice is brought to the table makes it a standout in a world of #MeToo and other movements that have made the topic an important talking point. While this, as Vanasco herself acknowledges several times throughout the book, may be a red flag for many women, I'd encourage people to go in with an open mind. The perpetrator doesn't get an easy ride in this, and there's never a point where he's portrayed as either a someone without blame. It's interesting to see both Jeannie and Mark (not his real name) process their feelings about that one night, 15 years later. "This story isn't original, and that's the story. Sexual assault happens all the time. What makes this story sort of unusual is we're having the conversation. I don't think that happens very often." 4.5 stars.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Holly Tracy

    Update: I decided to change this to two stars from one. It deserves at least an additional star for the act of doing this at all, what it took emotionally to be able to write anything down, let alone interviewing and seeing her rapist, someone who was a good friend and betrayed that relationship. First: brave topic and approach. However, the execution is flawed. Most obvious: nothing in this book implies a list of things that weren’t taught to the author as a girl. Nothing was mentioned in any wa Update: I decided to change this to two stars from one. It deserves at least an additional star for the act of doing this at all, what it took emotionally to be able to write anything down, let alone interviewing and seeing her rapist, someone who was a good friend and betrayed that relationship. First: brave topic and approach. However, the execution is flawed. Most obvious: nothing in this book implies a list of things that weren’t taught to the author as a girl. Nothing was mentioned in any way, so the title just...doesn’t make any sense. My biggest problem is that it’s basically the story of her process interviewing the friend that assaulted her and putting it into a book, not the book itself. It feels like a long, drawn-out, repetitive Q&A with herself. She transcribes the conversations with him, so it becomes a Q&A with him. There seems to be no point, no lesson, no insight at all. The guy feels terrible, guilty, and feels he owes it to her to talk to her for this book...but it’s like you never get to the point. Several times in the book I had to flip back to make sure I hadn’t misplaced my bookmark because I’d already heard the same things, chapter after chapter. I appreciate what I think she was trying to do which I think is prove how any guy, even the nice guys, can do something awful. But it doesn’t ever quite get there because the sample set is just “Mark”, it’s just (again) the process of talking through WANTING to make this point and wanting to write a book that achieves that, but not getting down to it. The author wants this to reach an audience, but to what end? I hope it helped her work through some things, but it just reads like someone talking about the book they’re GOING to write, an author’s work product, but not the book itself.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    I finished Things We Didn't Talk About When I Was A Girl, a memoir about sexual assault/rape where the author contacts and interviews her former "friend" who assaulted her 14 years prior. It's a powerful story of friendship, betrayal, gender, sexual assault, forgiveness but mostly about the performance of gender for good and ill. "Mark" is not redeemed but also not demonized. Essential reading. It will be read and discussed mostly by women but should also be read by boys/men.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    DNF at 22%. I don't remember how I encountered this book, but I want to say that it was a "books similar to" recommendation from my library after reading Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture. So I added it, and then waited for ages on hold for it... and now I've read less than a quarter of it, which has taken me four days already, and I'm returning it. This is a memoir about a woman's sexual assault when she was a teen, and her coming to terms with all that that entails - regarding what co DNF at 22%. I don't remember how I encountered this book, but I want to say that it was a "books similar to" recommendation from my library after reading Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture. So I added it, and then waited for ages on hold for it... and now I've read less than a quarter of it, which has taken me four days already, and I'm returning it. This is a memoir about a woman's sexual assault when she was a teen, and her coming to terms with all that that entails - regarding what counts as rape (and how that has changed SINCE her rape), how she should feel about it, how she should feel about the man who assaulted her, how she should feel about how she feels, how she feels about how HE feels about what happened, how she feels about caring about how he feels... How she feels about writing about this, how she feels about how HE will feel about her writing about this, how she feels about her feeling anything about him feeling something about writing this... etc etc etc. On the surface, this seems right up my alley. Examinations of the nuance of rape culture are important, and I appreciate them. But this one just did not work for me. The style, right off the bat, was off-putting. This is written in staccato sentence clusters, sans quotation marks, and on top of that, it jumps around not only in time - one sentence speaking about now, and the next about the past - but also randomly among disparate and seemingly unconnected thoughts and ideas. And because of that, it has a very... mishmash, unfocused, first draft feel. Because a lot of this so far is the author's thoughts and feelings about the PROCESS of writing this book, it enhances that first draft feel even more. It's so meta that it bothers me. I get that it's relevant, but my Kindle informs me that there are approximately 78% and 5 hours left to read in the book, and I already feel the repetitiveness and my interest is waning. In addition to that, I'm finding it hard to identify with the author and her friends here, and their responses and analyses of his actions, her actions, her reactions, his words, her words, etc. I know that everyone's experience is different, and people react and process very differently to their assaults than I have to mine. But these examinations of all of the feelings and underlying intent and analysis of every word, etc and the WAY that they discuss it... It feels less like friends discussing a traumatic experience and offering support than it does a critical analysis of a writing assignment. Already I've lost count of how many times the phrase "performance of gender" has been used. But THIS paragraph is where I stopped reading because... it's just too much. Rebekah says, You're wrestling with a really important question, which is, How can someone who seems so harmless or acts so well or is so intelligent be capable of committing what is understandably kind of an evil act and how can it happen? I'm going into the whole banality of evil thing - but not in an Arendtian sense, more in like a how can that act occur in such a commonplace setting - and now you're going back and talking to the guy and the guy is still himself. It's just fascinating to me. It's a fascinating work of journalism and memoir. I think that a lot of what gets shown online is conforming to a very flat intersectional narrative, simply because it has to be flat, it has to be blunt, or else it's not consumable. Your narrative is to be chewed and thought over and reflected upon in a way that maybe #MeToo isn't. #MeToo is more political activism. I think I would do the exact same, be the exact same way as you are, figuring this all out. Really. It takes a certain amount of guts to write a memoir solely focused on one's sexual assault and reactions to it and to incorporate confronting one's abuser into it. I'll give it that. But... She's hardly the first person to write about their assault. Hardly the first to think about it or ask these questions, to wonder how it could have happened, how the person they trusted could have done this, etc etc etc. This paragraph comes across as so pretentiously congratulatory that it just Noped me right out of the rest of the book. I am sorry that she was raped. I'm sorry that I was, and that millions of women have been and will be raped. I read a lot of difficult subject matter, so it's not the depictions of rape or suicide or mental illness or any of that that is bothering me and making this hard to read. It's the writing and the style and all the rest. Honestly, I feel like the way that this is structured and written is so clinically detached that I just... don't like it. It feels more about her writing than anything, and the assault is just the catalyst for it. That may work for some people, but it's not working for me. So I'm out.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Neville Longbottom

    Wow. This was an extremely heavy book. Jeannie Vanasco wrote a memoir about how she was raped by one of her best friends when she was nineteen and now in her thirties gets back in contact to interview him about what happened. The book is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It shows all of the complicated and conflicting feelings that can come after a sexual assault. Jeannie worries that she’s not angry enough, that she’s letting other women down by giving “Mark” a voice, that she’s too forgiv Wow. This was an extremely heavy book. Jeannie Vanasco wrote a memoir about how she was raped by one of her best friends when she was nineteen and now in her thirties gets back in contact to interview him about what happened. The book is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It shows all of the complicated and conflicting feelings that can come after a sexual assault. Jeannie worries that she’s not angry enough, that she’s letting other women down by giving “Mark” a voice, that she’s too forgiving towards him, and so on. A lot of the book details how she wrestled with the idea of writing the book. How interviewing “Mark” and hearing his side of things is what makes it different in terms of the market, but then why is the story only worth telling when you get his voice and hear how the assault impacted his life? The format of the book was also interesting, there are large parts of the book that are transcripts of the conversations that Jeannie had with “Mark.” But then she’d cut in and analyze what he was saying and have input from her friends and her partner Chris. This isn’t a light book by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a very compelling read. I’d highly recommend reading it if you feel equipped to handle the subject matter.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    5 big huge giant stars for this memoir. I’ve not read anything like this before. I loved her style, transparency, honesty, and heartfelt true emotion in this. Transcribing conversations with her perpetrator was smart, but then analyzing her own behavior in each interaction after transcription was genius. If you or anybody you know has experienced sexual assault or a confusing sexual encounter with anybody in your life, this book will shed some light. It did for me.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Anita Pomerantz

    The premise of this memoir was very original, and for me, that's what made it a compelling read. How the story was related to the reader didn't totally work for me and seemed very repetitive, but I still really appreciated what the author was trying to do. Jeannie was sexually assaulted (by some legal definitions she was raped) by a good friend of hers, aka Mark, when she was 19 years old. 14 years later, she tracks him down, and basically attempts to get his side of the story, and to process th The premise of this memoir was very original, and for me, that's what made it a compelling read. How the story was related to the reader didn't totally work for me and seemed very repetitive, but I still really appreciated what the author was trying to do. Jeannie was sexually assaulted (by some legal definitions she was raped) by a good friend of hers, aka Mark, when she was 19 years old. 14 years later, she tracks him down, and basically attempts to get his side of the story, and to process the event in her own mind. There's a lot of things about the book that surprised me. (view spoiler)[The author's honest appraisal that she wasn't really all that mad at Mark. Mark's willingness to participate in the project and his frank admission that the assault occurred and was all his fault. The fact that both parties had pretty serious mental health issues prior to the incident. (hide spoiler)] In the end, I'm not completely sure what conclusion the reader was supposed to draw, and I liked that the author allowed for that. Personally, I think this book would be amazing for a book club just because there's a lot to discuss and unpack, but I'm sure some people might find it too distressing. I don't know. I think these things need to be discussed more openly. Kudos to the author for taking on the challenge.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Sullivan

    “I’m interested in writing about us, because I want to understand, I want to believe, that it’s possible to be a good person, a really good person, who makes a mistake.” Wow. Okay. This is the #MeToo era book I’ve been waiting for. The movement has been so crucial from an activism standpoint, but I’ve often felt like the mainstream conversation lacks the nuance that has shaped my personal experiences. When Jeannie Vanasco was 19 years old, her good friend Mark raped her at a party. Now, years late “I’m interested in writing about us, because I want to understand, I want to believe, that it’s possible to be a good person, a really good person, who makes a mistake.” Wow. Okay. This is the #MeToo era book I’ve been waiting for. The movement has been so crucial from an activism standpoint, but I’ve often felt like the mainstream conversation lacks the nuance that has shaped my personal experiences. When Jeannie Vanasco was 19 years old, her good friend Mark raped her at a party. Now, years later, she revisits this experience from an intellectual perspective: the banality of contemptible acts, the philosophy of forgiveness, the psychology of a good person capable of doing terrible things. From her standpoint, Mark isn’t an “easily digestible bad guy;” he’s more complex than that, and her prior friendship with him complicates things even further. This is a mix of a memoir and a recorded conversation between Jeannie and Mark, who agreed to talk to her and help her unpack what happened. It’s extremely self-referential and introspective, as much of the book is Jeannie processing her uncomfortable feelings about writing it, and the self-aware realizations she reaches throughout. She notices the things she does—the things that many women are conditioned to do—to minimize her own experiences and protect those around her, including her abuser. She questions herself constantly, wondering if she’s centering Mark too much, if she should be more angry at him. She struggles with the language of what happened to her, finally coming around to labeling it “rape.” I found so much of this to be extremely relatable. It’s the parts of the #MeToo dialogue that are most uncomfortable to talk about, as gray areas often are. The complexity of being raped or sexually assaulted by someone you know and care about. The reluctance to use certain terms, such as “rape,” because an experience doesn’t fit preconceived notions of what that means. The question of whether a single bad act should define someone, and what accountability and forgiveness might look like. Smart, challenging and incredibly thought-provoking. There are no easy answers here, but lots to think about.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    I wish I could give this book ten stars, but even then it still wouldn’t do it justice. This is such an important book that applies to all women and girls, whether or not we have been assaulted. The need to apologize, to think about others first before ourselves, to downplay violent crime, and to continue to contact rapists after they have violated trust in the most inhumane way—she includes all of the ways girls and women have been conditioned to be nice.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    Things We Didn't Talk about When I was a Girl by Jeannie Vanasco details her sexual assault victimization and the aftermath. The memoir is quite insightful and provides many interesting observations when it comes to victims, society and those that do wrong. Fourteen years after a sexual assault incident, Jeannie Vanasco reestablishes contact with the perpetrator and details her life before, during and after the incident. Along the way, Jeannie Vanasco insightfully discusses the subject of sexual Things We Didn't Talk about When I was a Girl by Jeannie Vanasco details her sexual assault victimization and the aftermath. The memoir is quite insightful and provides many interesting observations when it comes to victims, society and those that do wrong. Fourteen years after a sexual assault incident, Jeannie Vanasco reestablishes contact with the perpetrator and details her life before, during and after the incident. Along the way, Jeannie Vanasco insightfully discusses the subject of sexual assault from problematic definitions, stigmatization, and how issues both follow and haunt the victim, oftentimes at the hands of the perpetrator. In the memoir, one effective thing Jeannie Vanasco does that increases the impact of the content of her memoir is to definitively explain the event as it occurred and that what happened is not in dispute by either her or her perpetrator. This allows the reader to react more strongly to Jeannie Vanasco's writing without the encumbrance of being concerned with conflicting memories and interpretations of both of those involved. Jeannie Vanasco's writing is open, powerfully honest, and quite revealing, which adds to the importance of her memoir.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    [trigger warning: rape, suicide] Where to begin reviewing this book? When Jeannie Vanasco was a sophomore in college, grieving the recent death of her father, her close friend - who she refers to as Mark - rapes her. This book follows Jeannie 14 yr later as she decides to reach out to & begin conversation with Mark around the rape & their friendship. THINGS WE DIDN’T TALK ABOUT WHEN I WAS A GIRL hauntingly addresses redemption, rape culture, accountability, performative gender, and so much more. [trigger warning: rape, suicide] Where to begin reviewing this book? When Jeannie Vanasco was a sophomore in college, grieving the recent death of her father, her close friend - who she refers to as Mark - rapes her. This book follows Jeannie 14 yr later as she decides to reach out to & begin conversation with Mark around the rape & their friendship. THINGS WE DIDN’T TALK ABOUT WHEN I WAS A GIRL hauntingly addresses redemption, rape culture, accountability, performative gender, and so much more. What makes the book truly outstanding to me is the way Vanasco shares her process in an open & vulnerable way. It’s very meta which I love in creative nonfiction. She worries she’s not being a good feminist by wanting to speak to Mark, by giving him a voice. She records their conversations & while transcribing finds herself constantly reassuring & thanking him & then reflects on why she feels the need to center his comfort. I also loved the portrayals of female friendships, Vanasco’s many confidantes who champion her work & honor her agency. This book is so damn complex. Why do I care for Mark when I’ve read books like MISSOULA that shows how little consequences there are for teenage boys that engage in harmful, violent behavior towards girls? I saw so much of myself in Jeannie, her impulse to be reassuring even when her thoughts & actions diverged. Her politics vs the reality of her nostalgia for a destroyed friendship. I’m sure everyone who reads this will each come away feeling differently. This book asks difficult questions about redemption, can someone be good & have done a horrible thing - and even after reading this book & finding it so valuable, I’m still unsure if those are the questions we as a society need to be asking about men who rape. Still, it’s the question Jeannie Vanasco needed to ask, and I’m so grateful she shared her inquiry with us. The publisher sent me this book for free but all thoughts my own!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    TW: discussions of rape and sexual assault throughout Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with an eARC of this book. All opinions and comments made here are my own. "Don't back down, she said. Don't let them twist what you know is true" Oof let me start by saying that my review, is in no way going to do this book justice. I implore you to read this, incredibly thought-provoking memoir. "I'll tell him: I still have nightmares about you" I've never read a memoir before so really wasn't sure what to e TW: discussions of rape and sexual assault throughout Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with an eARC of this book. All opinions and comments made here are my own. "Don't back down, she said. Don't let them twist what you know is true" Oof let me start by saying that my review, is in no way going to do this book justice. I implore you to read this, incredibly thought-provoking memoir. "I'll tell him: I still have nightmares about you" I've never read a memoir before so really wasn't sure what to expect of the writing style going in but I absolutely loved it. It enabled us to follow Jeannie on her journey as she experienced it and it made it even more heartfelt that way in my view. Just reading the premise I knew this wasn't going to be an easy read. And boy was I right. This book really packed a punch on every page and every chapter. It's uncomfortable, but not necessarily in a bad way. I think the whole basis of the book is so interesting and it's something i've never really seen explored before. Your best friend sexually assaults you; your best friend who, up until that moment, seemed like a decent and good guy. How on earth do you reconcile the person you've spent years building a friendship with to the person who could take you apart in one night. This is a question that has haunted Jeannie since her friend "Mark" attacked her, and finally, she's decided to get answers by contacting Mark and asking him why. "why do I need his permission, anyway? I never gave mine" I know i've said this but i'm saying it again; the way in which Jeannie writes is incredible. I really felt like she took us on the journey with her. Jeannie decides to record her conversations with Mark so that she can have the opportunity to reflect on the conversations, and whilst doing so realises that she is offering him comfort and reassurance, and that his comments appear to be trying to equate their experiences. This brought such an interesting dynamic to the book; I loved the sections where she meets with her friends and reflects with them. Because whilst this book is undoubtedly about the assault, it is also about the power of friendship and the strength that you can find in others. I just found these sections so interesting because it was the other people who offered their opinions about his language and the way in which she was diminishing her feelings for him "we were only 19" etc. Women shouldn't be made to put their feelings aside for me. Especially rapists. "If he says yes, I won't thank him. I won't tell him that everything is OK between us. I won't comfort him. I am assuming he'll need comforting. Politeness isn't needed. You ruined everything, I'll tell him. You realise that, right? I can say everything" This was just such a unique and stunning memoir and perspective. Jeannie is clear throughout that she doesn't want to demonize Mark, and she doesn't. She recalls a large range of good memories that she shared with him, and in doing so, is trying to discover whether that one destroying night overpowers the rest of their friendship. Jeannie spends a large portion of the book trying to wrestle with whether she can call what happened to her 'rape' and again this is such an interesting perspective, and one you see over and over in articles and reports. I'm glad the law changed, it was about time. "and then the way they talked about women: It could have been my daughter or my wife or my mother or my sister. It's like, you don't have to connect this to women in relation to you. A woman can be a woman" Although this book mostly focuses on her experience with Mark she also explores the previous occasions where she has been sexually assaulted; as a child and as an adult, and explores her feelings in how she can class previous occasions as sexual assault, but struggles with the incident with Mark. "Don't worry about protecting the guy who assaulted you. Don't worry about the feelings of the guy's family or friends. Your job is not to protect them. He screwed up. He messed up those relationships, not you. And yet, here I am, not talking to Mark's family. Part of that is fourteen years have passed. Part of that is it'd be so much work. It's so much work to come forward. And yet a lot of people blame the victims for not reporting sexual assault, as if it's entirely their responsibility to rid the world of rapists" I highlighted so many sections of this book. It is such a powerful read overall and is really well-written by Jeannie. This is such a unique read and I would love to read her other book because I just became entranced by her writing style; there wasn't anything I didn't like about it. She takes you on the journey of her throughout processes throughout the book. I really really recommend this book, and I will be desperately seeking out a physical copy when it comes out. It is unflinching, uncomfortable, honest, and powerful.

  16. 5 out of 5

    cat

    Really 4.5 stars -- also content warning for open discussion of sexual violence -- I read Jeannie Vanasco's first memoir, The Glass Eye, a few years ago and enjoyed it. And as in so many memoirs where women (and genderqueer and other folks who are often marginalized) are telling their stories, I wondered aloud about whether she had experienced sexual violence that she was not including. I have done anti-rape work for 25+ years and this is OFTEN something that I wonder. A difficult year that the a Really 4.5 stars -- also content warning for open discussion of sexual violence -- I read Jeannie Vanasco's first memoir, The Glass Eye, a few years ago and enjoyed it. And as in so many memoirs where women (and genderqueer and other folks who are often marginalized) are telling their stories, I wondered aloud about whether she had experienced sexual violence that she was not including. I have done anti-rape work for 25+ years and this is OFTEN something that I wonder. A difficult year that the author glosses over, an ongoing mental health struggle or some form of disordered eating that is mentioned, but not discussed, any of those is enough (and really, the author just being a woman or marginalized person) to make me pause and wonder about trauma responses to a form of trauma not shared with the reader. And now, here is Jeannie Vanasco's 2nd memoir, this one focused on a rape that happened when she was in her teens by a trusted friend. And while that is the central victimization in this powerful exploration of sexual violence, forgiveness, and healing, it isn't the only one that the author experienced. She also details a teacher's inappropriate sexual behavior and a rape by another friend later in her life. Ah, I thought, those were the invisible traumas that I sensed hiding. And in this book, they are doing the opposite of hiding - the rape by her childhood friend *is* the book. Her experience of it, her need to contextualize it more thoroughly by actually talking with her former friend/rapist to try to better understand so much about the situation. She says, early in the book, “I’ll ask him: Do you still think about what happened? Is it the reason you dropped out of college? Did you ever tell anyone? A therapist, maybe? How did you feel the next morning? The next month? The next year? Today? Do you remember how I felt, or seemed to feel? Did you ever miss me? Has my contacting you upset you? Have you dated anyone? Have you done to anyone else what you did to me?” and she also says in the same list of things that she will ask him, remind him, tell him, "I'll tell him: I still have nightmares about you." The review in the Columbia Journal says, "At multiple points in Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl, Jeannie Vanasco says that the goal of her project — contacting the man who raped her after years of close friendship when they were both teenagers — is to “show what seemingly nice guys are capable of.” “Mark” (she gives the rapist a pseudonym) speaks with her openly about the assault which does, I suppose, seem like something a nice guy would do. His reflections on his own actions in their conversations reveal apparent remorse and indicate that the rape, 14 years in the past at that point, has had a major impact on his life. At the very least, he’s thoughtful about it. The text, however, does not actually function as the banality-of-evil accounting that her statement of intent promises. Instead, it’s an exploration of the messiness of confrontation and the possibility of forgiveness." That is part of why I welcome this memoir, this different experience of rape and confrontation. Because for so many survivors, the script that Vanasco says she can't follow, that she describes as “boy rapes girl, girl never talks to boy again.”, is not the script at all. There is such complexity in what survivors need for healing, for closure, for a new way of thinking about the experience of rape, especially when it is at the hands of someone trusted, loved, known to us. She wonders in the book, if writing it will end the nightmares, and also says, “But that’s not why I’m writing this. I’m writing this because I want to interview Mark, interrogate Mark, confirm that Mark feels terrible—because if he does feel terrible, then our friendship mattered to him. Also, I want him to call the assault significant—because if he does, I might stop feeling ashamed about the occasional flashbacks and nightmares. Sometimes I question whether my feelings are too big for the crime. I often remind myself, He only used his fingers. Sure, I could censor my antiquated, patriarchal logic (sexual assault only matters if the man says it matters), but I want to be honest here—because I doubt I’m the only woman sexually assaulted by a friend and confused about her feelings.” And I can say loudly and clearly that the author is definitely not the only one sexually assaulted by a friend and confused about her feelings - even 15 years or more later. That was a fairly consistent theme with the survivors of sexual violence that I have worked or spoken with - sometimes YEARS and YEARS after the assault. Confusion and uncertainty because the way they felt didn't seem like the "right" way to feel, not following the cultural script that we expect survivors to play their part in after the assault. Twenty five years after I began this work with survivors of sexual violence, I am WAY more able to articulate and embrace the complexity of responses and forms of healing that survivors have shared with me. The amazing variety of things that would feel like justice to survivors. The ways that punitive or retributive justice is not what survivors may want, yet what feels often, like their only option. I am so grateful for this book where Jeannie Vanasco is willing to dig into her own messy feelings and desires for a different form of justice, and in doing so, opens that conversation for many others. At one point in the book, as she continues to grapple with her need to be in dialogue with her rapist/ former friend and to hear directly from him about "things we didn't talk about when I was girl", as the title lays out, she says, “Kant argued that retributive harshness was a good thing—because it expresses respect for the perpetrator by holding him responsible for his act. If we hold criminals responsible and then offer ways to make reparations and reenter society, we strengthen our commitment to human dignity. This, then, can be Mark’s community service.” Thank you, Jeannie Vanasco, for allowing Mark's community service to be shared with us through your eyes, your words, and your book. Book 7 of 2020

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ruth

    Wowza. I've never read anything like "Things We Didn't Talk About When I Was a Girl" before. It's a fascinating look into the mind of a "nice guy" who rapes a friend, how that particular kind of betrayal is processed by both the victim and the perpetrator, and the complications of writing about it. It's so rare to get the perspective of the perpetrator, and the result here is stunning. I was especially moved by Vanasco's wrestling with whether or not to describe what happened to her as rape; tha Wowza. I've never read anything like "Things We Didn't Talk About When I Was a Girl" before. It's a fascinating look into the mind of a "nice guy" who rapes a friend, how that particular kind of betrayal is processed by both the victim and the perpetrator, and the complications of writing about it. It's so rare to get the perspective of the perpetrator, and the result here is stunning. I was especially moved by Vanasco's wrestling with whether or not to describe what happened to her as rape; that entire thread is devastatingly relatable. I'm so happy and grateful that this book was published.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Bernard O'Leary

    Not so much a book as a book about a book. Most of the wordcount is spent on Vanasco wrestling with questions of authorship: how to frame the story, how to portray her rapist, how to portray herself, whether she's using writing techniques to hide from the truth. This approach will probably frustrate anyone hoping for cathartic fury, but it's the right means to her ends. Vanasco's book isn't really about rape so much as it's about living with trauma, about how we rewrite narratives when our world Not so much a book as a book about a book. Most of the wordcount is spent on Vanasco wrestling with questions of authorship: how to frame the story, how to portray her rapist, how to portray herself, whether she's using writing techniques to hide from the truth. This approach will probably frustrate anyone hoping for cathartic fury, but it's the right means to her ends. Vanasco's book isn't really about rape so much as it's about living with trauma, about how we rewrite narratives when our world falls apart. A difficult but unforgettable read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Unfortunately Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl was a DNF for me. I had high hopes for this book so I’m extremely disappointed. I found it incredibly hard to stay engaged, the writing style was just not for me. It was choppy, disjointed and very repetitive. It was a brave topic but the execution was lacking, it read more like a Q&A with notes for a book someone plans to write, rather than an actual book. Unfortunately Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl was a DNF for me. I had high hopes for this book so I’m extremely disappointed. I found it incredibly hard to stay engaged, the writing style was just not for me. It was choppy, disjointed and very repetitive. It was a brave topic but the execution was lacking, it read more like a Q&A with notes for a book someone plans to write, rather than an actual book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

    Wow! And what I loved the most was her ability to show the gray area where rape and sexual assault lie, because often these acts occur within our family and social communities and involve individuals we trust. It's damned uncomfortable to say the least but having conversations about this is good and we need more.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Anna Rubingh

    an uncomfortable read at times but super important in the conversation surrounding the destigmatisation of rape written from a very uncommon but interesting perspective. left feeling more connected to the female experience, highly recommend

  22. 4 out of 5

    Cookies_Comforts

    TW - rape and sexual assault. Due to the nature of this book, I don’t want to write anything negative about the subject matter. I feel, it was a different and unique way to write life events. The only thing I struggled with was the length of the book.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Aoife

    I had high expectations of this book and it exceeded even those. As cathartic as it is challenging this book should be read by all. The style itself is beautiful and perfectly encapsulates the complexity of assault, accountability and the myriad of other emotions and issues in between. Its candour provides sharp relief to the rhetoric that has emerged following the #MeToo movement and explores, interrogates and reflects on the true multiplicity of issues This really is essential reading.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    This is a very interesting book. At its foundation, it's a memoir focusing on a sexual assault the author experienced in high school at the hands of a very good friend. It has a twist in that the author interviews her attacker to discuss what he was thinking, why he did what he did, how it has affected him throughout his life and sharing with him how it affected her and her wondering if their friendship never was real. That's the idea of the book in a nutshell, but really it's so much more than This is a very interesting book. At its foundation, it's a memoir focusing on a sexual assault the author experienced in high school at the hands of a very good friend. It has a twist in that the author interviews her attacker to discuss what he was thinking, why he did what he did, how it has affected him throughout his life and sharing with him how it affected her and her wondering if their friendship never was real. That's the idea of the book in a nutshell, but really it's so much more than this,but it's sort of hard to describe The book is very meta, in that Vanasco is writing about writing the book throughout the book. It starts with her approaching the idea and thinking about contacting "Mark" (and even coming up with a pseudonym "Mark" for her one time friend/attacker.) Her planning how to contact him and what she will do if he says no or yes to her project idea. As she begins talking to him on the phone, she puts the transcripts in the book and then writes about her thoughts on the conversation after re-reading the transcripts, usually upset with herself for being overly nice and grateful and reassuring. (Though I've never been sexually assaulted, I can certainly relate to being overly nice and obsequious when confronting someone--usually a guy--over upsetting behavior. I suspect a lot of women can.) She also mulls over why she has a hard time calling the assault rape and how she diminished it throughout the years. She also discusses the conversations she has with Mark with her partner, her therapist, and with different friends, asking for their opinions and thoughts. She shares her concerns about the project (mainly that women will be upset with her giving a voice to her rapist.) Each provides different insights--her therapist telling her it's not her responsibility to find a therapist for Mark, her friends pointing out that Mark keeps equating their two experiences though they are not close to being the same--things Vanasco didn't necessarily notice herself which results in more self reflection. In addition to the process of writing the book and interviewing Mark, Vanasco reflects on other sexual assaults she experienced (one by a high school teacher and the other by a friend) as well as all the stories she gets on sexual assault written by students in her creative writing classes, including the eventual suicide of one of those students who insisted she was over the rape she experienced. She ruminates on the power dynamics and the different experiences each of these students shared in their stories. It really showed how pervasive sexual assault is. Overall, this is a well-written, powerful book. Vanasco's style is unique--I've never read a memoir written in this style where the reader is let into the writing process and all the thoughts and feelings the author is going through as she embarks on the project and goes through the process of talking to Mark and writing the book. Usually it is presented as a narrative about a past event with all the questions and feelings quietly figured out behind the scenes and presented as a cohesive finished product. I think this style of basically breaking the fourth wall (literary-wise) really makes the book more powerful. I think many women will relate to Vanasco's own concerns about giving a voice to her attacker and painting him in a sympathetic light. And also the wondering about the friendship they had pre-assault. So many women are assault by people they consider friends, they must all wonder--Were we never really friends? Was he always waiting for an opportunity to do this? How could he do this if we were friends? It's just a great book. I highly recommend it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    thebookishlinguist

    *Trigger warning* This book, and my review, is primarily concerned with sexual assault, rape and suicide. I would also like to highlight that anyone of any gender can be raped by anyone, and whilst this book acknowledges this, it mainly deals with men being raped by women. This book was fascinating. It was interesting, insightful and thought provoking, and I have never read a book like it. Jeannie’s memoir alternates between conversations with her partner, friends and past memories, and the dialogu *Trigger warning* This book, and my review, is primarily concerned with sexual assault, rape and suicide. I would also like to highlight that anyone of any gender can be raped by anyone, and whilst this book acknowledges this, it mainly deals with men being raped by women. This book was fascinating. It was interesting, insightful and thought provoking, and I have never read a book like it. Jeannie’s memoir alternates between conversations with her partner, friends and past memories, and the dialogue transcripts between her and her rapist. Named Mark for the purposes of the hiding his identity, Jeannie explores the friendship the two of them had, and strives to answer many questions surrounding the night he sexually assaulted her, mainly why he did it and what circumstances led to the rape. The monologue style of her narrative was highly effective. It allowed me to see Jeannie’s thought process and it was like glimpsing into her brain. In this way it was a slow read, but I felt this was necessary anyway as it required thought and careful consideration. I really loved the conclusion she came to over the course of the memoir, such as that the book is also about her friendships with other women, as well as her friendship with Mark. The perspective of the perpetrator was something that Jeannie wrestled with throughout the book. She worried that it would anger women as it gave him a voice, but I found this angle really interesting. On the one hand I do not believe he deserved a voice, or any attempt to justify his actions, but at the same time it was intriguing to think about how his actions had impacted on his life. And although it is not enough retribution, it was nice to find out that he has suffered some repercussions from assaulting his friend - that he has never been with a woman or in a relationship, has not started a family and has very few friends and almost no social life. I would have been disappointed to learn that he had continued with life with no consequences or thought towards his rape. I also liked the exploration of many ‘beliefs’ about rape and sexual assault. Jeannie challenges the notion that rape has to be classified by severity, and that women can believe their assault is less severe than it would have been, and is therefore less valid. It highlights that the wording in the definitions of ‘rape’ and ‘sexual assault’ have had a real impact on men and women in comprehending what has happened to them. The ‘good guy mentality’ and its’ impact is also explored by Jeannie. I would really recommend this book to everyone. It deals with a very difficult topic, but it is a discussion that needs to be had. It really highlights the different emotions that can arise following a rape, and that no one should feel invalid. Thank you to @netgalley and Prelude Books for this e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Catherine M

    This was one of my favorite reads of 2019 and whatever review I give it will not do it's justice. But here goes: In this memoir, Vanasco voiced all my inner questions about consent and the nuances of trauma in close relationships. It broke my freakin heart. I emailed the author immediately after reading this memoir because never before has an author struck me so close to home, putting words to things I've always reckoned with but had been unable to voice. This is a memoir not only documenting one This was one of my favorite reads of 2019 and whatever review I give it will not do it's justice. But here goes: In this memoir, Vanasco voiced all my inner questions about consent and the nuances of trauma in close relationships. It broke my freakin heart. I emailed the author immediately after reading this memoir because never before has an author struck me so close to home, putting words to things I've always reckoned with but had been unable to voice. This is a memoir not only documenting one woman's confrontation with her rapist, 18 years after the occurrence, but also the deconstruction of rape culture and its effects on both the victim and the perpetrator. I am astounded with how well exemplified Vanasco illustrated the consideration of gender performance and accountability, the uncomfortable subtleties of confrontation, and the heartbreaking threads between friend and assailant. What I found most unique about this memoir was its self-aware way of deconstructing the narrative as it was being written; the author confronting her own responses and train of thoughts - that which reflect a culture that invalidates her experience, and teaches her to internalize such invalidation. This memoir is special. Give it a read, let it be a friend to you.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Emma Byrne

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the Kindle edition from NetGalley. I approached this book with trepidation, but the writing is so approachable, so honest, so grounded that I found the experience of reading this book like swapping notes with a trusted friend. *Spoilers ahead* When the author talks about not being able to make small talk as she goes through the process of writing the book, I had a jolt of recognition for the months of not being able to make small talk while dealing with the I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the Kindle edition from NetGalley. I approached this book with trepidation, but the writing is so approachable, so honest, so grounded that I found the experience of reading this book like swapping notes with a trusted friend. *Spoilers ahead* When the author talks about not being able to make small talk as she goes through the process of writing the book, I had a jolt of recognition for the months of not being able to make small talk while dealing with the fallout from disclosure to the police. When she talks about prioritising the feelings of others, I see my own experiences where "consent" was a matter of not wanting to enrage or even to offend. Although the circumstances are different, and the decision to reach out to Mark seems almost masochistic on the author's part, I found so much in this book that helped me articulate my own thoughts and feelings, if only to myself. If #MeToo is a megaphone, this book is a microscope. The structure of rape, the identity of rapists, is far less comfortable than the stranger danger myth we've been taught. If shame and silence keep us in the dark about the universals of rape, memoirs like this in their unsensational analysis shine a spotlight on the truth.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cat

    Very brave. I have a difficult time with the title. We certainly talked about out assaults back in the 1970's. Most of the girls (some of the boys, too) I knew by the time was 17 had been sexually assaulted and we spoke very openly about it. I can recall my parents generation trying to shut us up to no avail. We were outraged that the "grownups" around us felt it was just boys being boys and we needed to stand up for ourselves, just smack them, we were told. Actually looking up her aggressor was Very brave. I have a difficult time with the title. We certainly talked about out assaults back in the 1970's. Most of the girls (some of the boys, too) I knew by the time was 17 had been sexually assaulted and we spoke very openly about it. I can recall my parents generation trying to shut us up to no avail. We were outraged that the "grownups" around us felt it was just boys being boys and we needed to stand up for ourselves, just smack them, we were told. Actually looking up her aggressor was truly brave. I couldn't do it, even these very many years later. Stuff from those years, I left in those years. Kudos to you Jeannie Vanasco. I am sure this book will prompt many needed discussions. No subject should be taboo if there are victims. I can't believe Sandusky was so inhibited back in the 80's ! Sad. I certainly hope things are more open now. I received a Kindle arc from Netgalley in echange for a fair review.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Frances Houseman

    Wow. So much to wrestle with. So relatable and also maddening. Read it so we can discuss.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Asia

    An incredibly fraught, poignant, maddening book. I loved it and will read Vanasco’s previous memoir.

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