Book Reviews

STARRED REVIEW: FROM PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY: “At age 37, Janine Latus’s younger sister, Amy, was strangled to death by her live-in boyfriend, bundled in a plastic tarp and buried beside a remote country road. It was a wretched end to a too-short life, one frequently marked by disappointment, sadness and struggle. In the hands of a less gifted writer, Amy’s story might stand only as an encomium or a cautionary tale: a glimpse into the life of one abused woman, representative of thousands like it. But Latus weaves a double strand. ”

“Part memoir, part biography, the book (which grew out of an article in O Magazine) explores Latus’s own relationships with abusive men-and her eventual emancipation from a marriage riven by emotional and physical violence. Latus has a spare, economical style, softened by an undercurrent of humor and marked by a total absence of self-pity. When on a ski vacation, a boyfriend brutally beats her, breaking several of her ribs and her nose-and then makes love to her, in a twisted form of penance-Latus doesn’t wince in the retelling. She lets ambiguities and contradictions abide: she loved her husband, even as he humiliated and hurt her. Had things been slightly different, she seems to say, she-and not Amy-might have perished at the hands of her partner.”

“Unforgettable, unsentimental and profoundly affecting, Latus’s book resonates long after the final page is turned. ”

FROM PEOPLE MAGAZINE (April 30, 2007): When journalist Latus’s younger sister Amy vanishes at age 37 in 2002, authorities find a chiller of a note in Amy’s desk: “If I am missing or dead … question Ron.” Ron Ball is Amy’s ex-con boyfriend, and when Amy’s body is found, something shatters in Latus. A victim of abuse herself, Latus tunnels back to her difficult suburban childhood to decode why two smart, talented sisters might be so starving for love that they would risk their lives to get it.

Latus’s book unfolds like a gripping novel, getting at the brutal heart of darkness that underscores domestic violence. She writes gorgeous prose, but her real gift is bravery, which shines in her struggle to rediscover her own self-worth. For anyone who, like the author, has ever asked, “Why is there no finish line? Why must I always be better” this is a story that can break your heart, and then start to heal it.

STARRED REVIEW: FROM KIRKUS: “Journalist Latus’s straight-shooting memoir about dutiful Catholic sisters growing up in 1970s Michigan dilates into a haunting story of abuse at the hands of the men in their lives.”

“In 2002, the author picked up the phone to learn that her younger sister was missing and the prime suspect was Amy’s freeloading ex-con boyfriend. In the ensuing chapters about the sisters’ childhood and youth, Latus attempts to figure what went wrong in the relationships both women endured with the men they loved. Clues begin to center around their father, an insurance salesman who is both seductive and hypercritical. On the one hand, when Janine is a girl, he routinely tells her how flat-chested she is, what a stupid laugh she has. On the other, he “feels her up” with his eyes and praises her sexy legs. Her mother remains passive while the girls’ Catholic religious teaching hammers home the message that women are seductresses and men have uncontrollable urges.”

“Obviously, the only way for someone as pathetic as Janine to get men’s approval is by sleeping with them; she grows into a rebellious, fairly promiscuous, academic dilettante. Janine graduates and marries her lover (after he gets a divorce). Stuck at home, much younger Amy marries early, gains weight and lets her education languish. But she eventually gets a divorce, builds a career as a pricing analyst and starts over. Then she meets a dangerous, two-timing criminal who’s obviously bad news-but he keeps telling Amy he loves her. Just as the author finds the courage to turn around her life, Amy dies. And Dad’s still clueless, telling suggestive stories about his daughter at the memorial service. Latus writes here to save the lives of women like her sister and herself, so desperate for love that they’ll pay any price for it.”

“An honest, unsparing look at the deadly erosion of self-worth.”