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“Finding Me” Book Review

“I love life… My son is the most precious to me. I will give up anything to be with my son at home where I belong… Life changes from good to bad… in a blink of an eye your whole life can change, so you should live life like it’s your last days on earth because you never know when tragedy might strike… Some people don’t have a family to turn to in time of need… I can’t wait for this nightmare to end so I can wake up and be me again.”
– Finding Me (page 165)

I’m sure most people have heard about the Cleveland kidnappings and the amazing rescue that happened in May 2013; when one of the girls, after having been held captive for over a decade, managed to get the attention of a neighbor while their captor was out of the house.

“Finding Me” is an eye-witness account as told by Michelle Knight, the first girl Ariel Castro lured into his house on Aug. 21, 2002, and held captive for 11 years. Let me just say, while this book is very well-written, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Her life wasn’t easy to begin with. Knight’s family had a very small home, where the amount of relatives living with them made for cramped space and no extra beds. After being sexually abused for years by one those relatives, she finally runs away to live under an overpass for a couple of months, only to be recognized while walking around town. Her dad, after getting the call, picked her up and dragged her back home that night.

Forced to endure more sexual abuse from that same relative, Knight eventually becomes pregnant and has her son, Joey. She loses custody of him 4 years later after the abusive relative got rough with her and broke Joey’s bone when he toddled over to help her. The government stepped in and placed him in foster care, saying her living situation wasn’t safe for the child.

Struggling to gain back custody,  Knight accepts a ride from her friend’s dad, Ariel Castro, who offers to take her to one of her court meetings. They make a stop at his house first, where he tells her that she could pick out one of his puppies to take back home to her son. Bringing her upstairs to where he claimed the puppies were, Castro attacks her and ties her up, rendering her completely helpless.

Words can’t fully describe the awfulness that Knight had to endure throughout the next several years: tied up in the basement with a motorcycle helmet on her head and duct tape on her mouth to keep her from being heard, forced to do the most disgusting sexual acts for “the dude’s” pleasure, starved because he either forgot to bring her food or refused to do so, raped daily, beaten until she aborted her child when she got pregnant… 5 times.

In the book, Knight never refers to Castro by his real name once she starts talking about her kidnapping. She calls him “the dude,” which, in a way, strips him of his humanity for readers – presenting him as a monster who is driven by a desire for sex and his twisted fantasies.

Knight said that “the dude” also kidnapped Amanda Berry on April 21, 2003, and Gina DeJesus on April 2, 2004, bringing them together to complete his “family,” as he called it. All three girls had some connection to Castro’s daughter.

Throughout the book, Knight keeps mentioning how many times “the dude” told her that she was worthless, that no one was bothering to look for her because they didn’t care, that she was ugly and unloved. I can’t even begin to imagine what that would do to me, having to hear that day after day, week after week for years.

“I truly believe no one cares for me. I feel like I’m dying in here. Sometimes I feel powerless to the pain and destruction. I find myself paralyzed. I’m going out of my mind thinking about if I’ll ever get home to see my lil’ angel. I’m sitting in a prison with no windows and waiting for someone to come rescue me. I’m lying here cold, shivering, but I am still not totally broken.” – Finding Me (page 176)

Yet, there is one thing that keeps her going and gives her the strength she needs to keep going: her son, Joey.

“To My Son: You are my shining star, you are the reason I look forward to a new day. 
You’ll always be in my heart, and that’s where you’ll always stay. You light the way for me, 
the day gets hard and I think of you and how we will be together forever. 
Never apart and one day have a fresh new start with you, because you are my hope to survive.” 
– Finding Me (page 179)

Finally, after a decade of abuse, on May 6, 2013, Berry manages to get the attention of a neighbor by pushing the chain-bolted front door out as far as it would go and sticking her arm out, screaming for help.

The police came, broke down the front door and found Knight and DeJesus in the upstairs room. They were brought out to the ambulances to be checked and taken to the hospital. Castro was arrested shortly after and brought to court, where he was charged with 937 counts of kidnapping, rape and aggravated murder. He was sentenced to life in prison and was later found dead in his cell on Sept. 3, 2013.

Knight says that having her freedom back is still kind of surreal. She doesn’t downplay what she went through, but she also says that she won’t let it define her:

“The horrors I survived don’t have to define me – and with God’s help I’m not going to let them. One day at a time, one breath at a time, I am choosing to move forward. After crawling my way out of a dark bedroom and into a brand new life, that’s the best gift I can give myself.” 
– Finding Me (page 240)

After being released from the hospital and getting her own apartment, Knight is
currently working to touch other people’s lives and give back to her community. She says that she wants to be a voice for the girls who are still in captivity and wants to give them and their families hope.

“When I was on my last breath in that house, God kept me alive for some reason. I believe the reason is so I can help others who have been in my situation. When I’m feeling lost, that’s the purpose I hold onto. Becoming a voice for those who can’t speak, sharing love with other people around me – that’s the only way I’ve been able to find myself again.” 
– Finding Me (page 249 )

I personally enjoyed getting a first-hand account of what happened behind those doors and, while it was really hard to read without getting teary-eyed, it brings to light how she was able to survive that dark time.

I highly recommend this well-written, well-thought-out book to those who are looking for a real, down-to-earth account that provides all the facts and an underlying message of hope, or those who, like me, enjoy reading/hearing other people’s stories, getting into their heads and discovering how they experience things, what they think and how they choose to be defined by the circumstances they find themselves in.

I mean, everyone has a story to tell.

If you want to get a copy of the book for yourself, visit Amazon.com or any other store or online site that carries it.

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“So many books, so little time”

Books… the smell of the pages… the feel of the paper turning in your fingers… the soft corners of the cover tucked snugly between your hand, so many lands just waiting for you to explore, adventures to be had, friends to meet and mysteries to be solved… all behind the covers of a book.

If you’re an avid reader like I am, you’ll understand when I say that there is a world of adventure between the covers of a book, just waiting for the right person to come along and lose themselves among the words. As you start reading, the story takes hold of your imagination, drawing you deeper and deeper into the pages until you lose all track of time. And if it’s a really good book, there come a point where you feel like you’re actually living it and the world around you just seems to fade away.

Each book contains an entire world full of people, animals and places you never seen before or even dreamed of. You can explore across the Western United States with Lewis and Clark, solve mysteries with Sherlock Holmes, steal from the rich and give to the poor with Robin Hood and soar through the clouds on the back of a dragon – all without leaving your room.

Honestly, I was into books since I was born. Well, ok, maybe that’s not completely true… my parents have read to me ever since I was a baby. The day I discovered that I could actually understand and read the words on the page for myself was the day my addiction officially started. The library never even stood a chance. I would take out a large pile of books (maybe 10 or more) and would finish them all that same day.DSCN2519

While I enjoyed reading on my own, having my parents read to us was (and still is) a guilty pleasure of mine. My Dad read “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis to all of us older kids at night and my Mom read “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien, “Eragon” by Christopher Paolini and many other books to us as part of our school day (since we were all homeschooled).

Some of the books I would consider my “best friends” would have to be “Between the Lines” by Jodi Picoult, “Hood” by Stephen R. Lawhead, “Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers and “Emma” by Jane Austen, just to name a few. Believe me… there are plenty more where they came from! I’m pretty sure I have more friends in the world of books than I do in real life.

DSCN2520My reading speed has definitely slowed down as I’ve gotten older (haha, yeah, I know, 23 isn’t THAT old, but it can feel like it at times) and my schedule has filled up with working full-time, Bible studies, friends and family-time, but I try to get in a little reading whenever I can. If you know me well enough, you know that I always have a book with me wherever I go. There are plenty of moments where you’re forced to just stop and wait for a long period of time (waiting rooms, waiting for rides… you get the picture) and it’s nice to know that there is a book just waiting for you pick it up and get away from reality for a few minutes or longer (depending on the wait).

There’s so much more I could say about books because I love them so much and I’m pretty sure I’ll be writing about them again in the near future. One of my suggestions if you’re ever stuck on what to read is this: look for authors that you know you enjoy or be brave and try something new. You can always put a book down and pick up a new one until you find the perfect fit.

Like I stated before, each book is an entire world just waiting for you behind its covers… just waiting to be discovered and explored. Go ahead… I dare you… read 🙂

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Writing is…

What does writing mean to you? Think about it. When you think of writing, what comes to mind? The countless research papers that your professors forced you to write in order to keep up your grades? Or do you see it as an outlet? A way to express yourself?

These were the questions I was asking myself as I sat at my computer at work last week, trying to find the inspiration to start blogging again. Ever since graduating from college and leaving the student newspaper, I haven’t really written anything of my own. Well, I’ve spit out numerous facts and information that I’ve gleaned from the hundreds of press releases I deal with at work from week to week…

… but that’s not me…

… that’s not the kind of writer I want to be defined as.

What some people don’t seem to realize is that words carry a lot of power. They can bring to life whole worlds that exist in between the covers of a book. They can inspire an entire nation to turn against the king and fight for their independence. Words can be the window into an author’s mind and reveal their innermost desires and dreams.

For me, there is so much more to writing than just repeating the facts. Writing is expression, thought, feeling, sensuality… freedom! It’s a doorway into strange, new lands full of adventure… and the only way we can open that door and make it available for the whole world to see, is by letting the creativity flow through our fingers and discovering where it takes us.

Whether you’re sitting at your desk staring at a blank Word document, nearly at the breaking point because you can’t figure out what to write or how to even get started; or you’re curled up in a chair with your journal trying to figure out how to put your life into words, just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind, no matter how silly it may sound, and go with it. Who knows? You might just unlock that creativity that’s just waiting to spill out.

It doesn’t matter if you have horrendous grammar or if your DSCN2516thought process doesn’t quite seem to line up at first… the only thing that matters is that you’re creating, constructing, expressing…

… you’re writing!

That’s really all there is to it. When you’re writing on your own, there’s no pressure of grades, getting the grammar correct and all that fun stuff you had to try to keep track of in school. No. Out here, it’s just you, the pen (or computer keyboard) and the blank sheet of paper just waiting to be filled with your words.

So, what are you waiting for? Grab a pen or a laptop, your favorite drink and a snack, get comfortable and let your creative juices flow!

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Discovery

Sentinels standing at attention on the shelves,
Dryads, nymphs, centaurs, and elves
Pages barely held together by glue,
Coverings faded, some cloudy blue.
Adventure, romance, classic, and mystery
All just waiting for the right person, you see,
To come and open the cover
Just to discover
A whole new world of possibility.
-Anna Tielmann
(Written for Creative Writing)
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Friends Can Be Found in the Oddest of Places

“If the history of Polly’s girlish experiences suggests a hint or insinuates a lesson, I shall feel that, in spite of many obstacles, I have not entirely neglected my duty toward the little men and women, for whom it is an honor and a pleasure to write, since in them I have always found my kindest patrons, gentlest critics, and warmest friends.”

Louisa May Alcott wrote this paragraph in the preface to her book An Old-Fashioned Girl. The story is about young Polly Milton, who grew up in the country and visited her city friend, Fannie Shaw, from time to time. Alcott introduces the characters when they’re in their early teens and tells her readers about the differences of the two worlds. Polly is completely shocked at Fannie’s ideas of fun, while Fannie can’t seem to understand how Polly can bear to live without any finery or money.

Alcott then jumps ahead several years and brings Polly to the city to live near the Shaws in a quaint little boarding house run by Miss Mills. Teaching music to young girls keeps Polly busy, but throughout the next few years, both Fannie and Polly learn several different lessons, such as being true to yourself and standing by your friends through thick and thin.

Now, the reason I bring up Alcott’s book isn’t to talk about what a great read it is. I want to show how the author can easily become a reader’s best friend through the books that she writes. Alcott has that magical touch that helps her to relate to her readers, as well as becoming their trusted mentor by giving them advice within the pages of a well-written novel.

Alcott has always written in each of her books that she regards her readers as her dear friends and critics and I would say that I consider her to be one of my best friends and advisers from classic literature. An Old-Fashioned Girl is a great example of how Alcott has become a dearly loved friend to all of her readers in the way that she can make them laugh and give them advice at the same time.

For example:

Alcott apologizes for shocking her readers with the truths about the young people of America and says this:

“I feel bound to depict my honored patrons as faithfully as my limited powers permit; otherwise, I must expect the crushing criticism, ‘Well, I dare say it’s all very prim and proper, but it isn’t a bit like us,’ and never hope to arrive at the distinction of finding the covers of  ‘An Old-Fashioned Girl’ the dirtiest in the library” (pg. 203).

Not wanting to offend her young readers, Alcott slips in that small explanation of the reason why she depicted young adults in such a way. She felt obligated to write about life as she saw it and hoped her readers would benefit more from it; and it’s true! As she had hoped, her books are read over and over again and never seem to go out of style.

But there are also random spots throughout the book that catch you off your guard and leave you laughing until tears come trickling down your cheeks:

“She did not mean to flirt; but somehow ‘it flirted’ itself,’ and she couldn’t help it” (pg. 207).

And:

“Her telltale face answered for her, as well as the impulse which made her hide her head in the sofa cushion, like a foolish ostrich when the hunters are after it” (pg. 307).

While these descriptions may seem like they were just put in for laughs, they tell the truth as well. Flirting with cute guys is in a young woman’s nature and it’s hard to resist it when the opportunity arises. And when someone discovers a secret love, our first instinct is to hide our “telltale faces.”

Alcott understood her audience well and knew how to get their attention. She told them the truth about themselves without being overly offensive or blunt. She just observed the society around her and wrote her characters accordingly.

Even though she lived over a hundred years ago, her books still hold truth for young girls today. Our society may have change and “modernized,” but girls still go through puberty and have little fantasies about the future. Alcott covers all those points in An Old-Fashioned Girl. She knows that we all want to be accepted and appreciated for who we are, but warns that putting on airs and striving to be fashionable is not the way to do it.

Just like Polly discovered in her life journey: working hard, becoming who you were meant to be, and being a friend is what will give every woman what they desire in the end: love.

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Women in Literature Panel

EDINBORO UNIVERSITY – In honor of Women’s History Month, four students participated in a  “Women in Literature Student Panel” on March 31 in the Frank G. Pogue Student Center’s Multipurpose Room A.

Discussion focused upon  women authors and characters don’t receiving the recognition that they each deserve.

“Recognizing the importance of women in literature… is an important step in a journey to developing a more dynamic view of the role of women in society,” said Morgan Larchuk, vice president of Sigma Tau Delta at Edinboro University.

Corey Saxton, a sophomore English Literature major, analyzed the characters in Virginia Woolf’s book To the Lighthouse and how they display the concept of the ideal woman.

Saxton said that Woolf’s perception of the “perfect woman is… so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the mind and wishes of others.”

Yet, this could create a problem for women writers who want to publish their own work. According to Saxton, Woolf states: “this perception of women… stands in the way of any female author wishing to express her true thoughts on morals, sexuality and human relations.”

Next, Edward Jackson, a junior secondary education and English major, introduced and spoke about Judy Blume and how her writing impacted literature.

“Overstated moral lessons have caused [Judy Blume] to become the center of censorship controversies,” he said.

“Judy Blume’s books have not only directly touched generations of readers,” Jackson stated, “but have also helped to pave the way for a whole genre of realistic fiction for young people.”

The panel also examined the stereotypes in the stories. Larchuk talked about why stepmothers in fairy tales and other types of stories are seen as “usurpers” (taking a position that doesn’t belong to them) and “deviants” (lack of fitting in with the social norms).

Since the stories were written down a long time ago, many of the ideas from that time are still passed around, she said.

“Women who did not represent the traits of conventional femininity are cast as villains because cleverness, will power and manipulative skill are allied with vanity, shrewishness and ugliness,” Larchuk said.

“While fairy tales may seem innocent and cute, said Larchuk, they send an underlying message to women who don’t conform to expected role women are supposed to play in society.

“But not all independent women are pictured as evil. Megan DeLancey, a sophomore English major, ended the panel with a discussion on one of the best known characters of the Harry Potter’s series: Hermoine Granger.

“Since 1997… one witch has shown what it takes to be an amazing role model to girls and women alike,” said DeLancey. “[She demonstrates] what it means to be herself and stand up for what is right.”

“As readers follow Hermoine through the her years of growing up and learning at Hogwarts, she teaches them that girls don’t need to wait for a man and don’t need one to complete them, DeLancey pointed out.

The panel was held by Sigma Tau Delta in order to show the importance of women in literature and stories. According the program, Women’s History Month is a time when many of us look forward to hearing new ideas and broadening our perspectives on women throughout the world and throughout history. Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

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