Sorry for the silence lately. School has resumed, and the last couple of weeks have been extremely busy because of it, in addition to some other pressing writing deadlines I’ve been trying to meet. But today the Women Writers Wednesday series resumes!
In this week’s post, Gina Tron takes a critical look at a memoir about a timely subject, sexual assault, in her guest post about Amy Jo Burns’ Cinderland.
A Review by Gina Tron
With Cinderland, Amy Jo Burns was brave enough to write about a sex assault scandal, one she was involved in. The only problem is that she brought up the idea, but never really went into depth about it.
I absolutely enjoyed the book, and its writing style. Burns did a wonderful job of painting the landscape and describing the desperate vibes and feelings of entrapment that are so prevalent in small town living. She grew up in Mercury, located in the Pennsylvanian Rust Belt.
I am right there beside the author as she feels she needs to escape the town, that seems to stifle so many. She writes about topics important to teenagers: boys, friendships, loneliness. She successfully paints the subtle oppression of what it’s like to be female: always riding a thin line of how you present yourself, always worried that image will be shattered, always worried about others thinking you are promiscuous, and often the ones receiving the brunt of a situation while boys are allowed to be boys.
I commend Burns for her bravery and honesty. She writes about how she kept quiet about the assault of herself and others. It takes guts to admit that. She was molested. She lied about it. She allowed the other girls who were vocal about it to take the brunt of the blame from the often harsh town. Based on her excellent description of Mercury, it wasn’t hard to imagine how difficult it may have been for those girls who did speak up. The whole ordeal tore the town apart. The problem is, I don’t think the book conveys Burn’s feelings about that or if she herself was torn up inside.
The molestation scandal was always hinted at and subtly written about, and I kept waiting for some secrets to be revealed, but they never were. How Burns felt about it was never truly revealed either. I can’t tell if she felt guilt or shame. She pretty much just came off as a normal teenager writing about normal teenager situations. The feelings she did express about the scandal seem self-involved. She seems more worried about her lies being uncovered than guilt about the other girls being called liars.
At one point, she goes into great detail about her relationship with a best female friend, which becomes tumultuous when a boy gets involved, and although I can relate I’m not sure that storyline warrants as much time in the book as it had. I feel it did little to the overall theme of the book, which was supposed to be about the abuse dealt to girls in the town by a piano teacher. The teacher groomed the girls and abused them. Some of them spoke up. Others, like Burns, did not. Instead of focusing on that that book focuses on mundanities, which takes away from its powerful potential.
Sometimes she comes off as someone who looks down on others, on those who told the truth. Even in the book’s description she writes: of the girls who kept silent, they were smarter. I am trying to give her credit because I know how hard it can be to write in the first person, especially about difficult topics. Sometimes portraying others comes off as judging them or being arrogant. The first things I wrote in first-person came off as though I was bragging and better than others, but that couldn’t have been farther from what I felt inside.
I love that Cinderland takes on the important topic of staying quiet during a sex scandal: I just wish that Burns had become a bit more vulnerable and honest and addressed the issues at hand more.
Gina Tron is a writer and journalist who has contributed to The Washington Post, VICE, Politico, XoJane, Daily Beast, Ladygunn, and Westword (a Denver paper owned by the Village Voice.) As a journalist, she helped break the heroin in Vermont story with a VICE and Politico articles and speaking about the issue on NPR and MPR. Her personal essay in VICE about being a suspected school shooter got her international recognition and the story is in the process of being turned into a feature film by Screen Australia. Tron will be in an upcoming documentary “Slut” produced by WWE wrestler Mick Foley. She and photographer Jena Cumbo collaborated for a project called “We Met on The Internet,” which the New York Times called an anthropological study.
Tron’s first book You’re Fine., a memoir about her time in a psych ward / rehab center, was published in 2014 by a small Brooklyn publishing company Papercut Press. NYC’s The Strand has placed it on their “Best of the Best” table. She currently reports for the Barre Montpelier Times Argus (a paper in Vermont) while contributing to other publications. For more info, visit www.ginatronic.com.
To see more kinds of reviews like the ones in this series, check out these blogs by Melanie Page and Lynn Kanter. And of course go to the Sappho’s Torque Books page here to see other reviews by me and by other contributors to the Women Writers Wednesday series.
The Women Writers Wednesday series seeks to highlight the contributions of women in literature by featuring excellent literature written by women authors via reviews/responses written by other women authors. If you’d like to be a contributor, wonderful! Leave a comment below or send me an email, tweet, or Facebook message with your idea.