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Book Review: The Dead Inside by Cyndy Etler

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Amazon.com – The Dead Inside: A True Story by Cyndy Etler

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Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher, Sourcebooks Fire, via NetGalley for an honest review.

Genre: YA/Non-Fiction

Plot: I never was a badass. Or a slut, a junkie, a stoner, like they told me I was. I was just a kid looking for something good, something that felt like love. I was a wannabe in a Levi’s jean jacket. Anybody could see that. Except my mother. And the professionals at Straight.

From the outside, Straight Inc. was a drug rehab. But on the inside it was…well, it was something else.

All Cyndy wanted was to be loved and accepted. By age fourteen, she had escaped from her violent home, only to be reported as a runaway and sent to a “drug rehabilitation” facility that changed her world.

To the public, Straight Inc. was a place of recovery. But behind closed doors, the program used bizarre and intimidating methods to “treat” its patients. In her raw and fearless memoir, Cyndy Etler recounts her sixteen months in the living nightmare that Straight Inc. considered “healing.”

Opinion:

WOW.

When I say WOW, I mean…Holy S*** WOW.

I have to say guys, I wasn’t expecting this story to turn out like that at all. A few months ago I was looking through the new books on Netgalley, found this story and immediately requested it. I had heard about these types of camps and institutions years ago, but I have never looked into them that deeply. This story follows Cyndy Etler as she recounts her adolescence and her time in a “tough love” style rehabilitation camp.

At the young age of fourteen, Cyndy is thrown into a boarding school by her mother, or so she thinks. Cyndy quickly realizes that her new home is called Straight Inc., and it is actually a drug rehabilitation center for youths. From her first moments stepping inside Straight, Cyndy begins to realize that the methods used in the facility are far from normal. From being dragged down hallways by her pant loops, group meetings where teenagers wave their arms around erratically chanting, and frightening moments of being broken down by her peers…Cyndy has to decide how she is going to survive in this program.

So let’s first begin with how SERIOUSLY BIZARRE these programs are. Cyndy explains the more than frightening and psychologically damaging rules and things that went on at Straight, and I am still in shock. Kids are lead around by the back of their pants, forced to believe they have drug problems even if they don’t, screamed at and put down by their peers, and encouraged to report each other in order to get ahead in the program. The rules that the program instills is even more absurd. If you lean on the back of your chair in group, a peer will roughly drag their first down your spine to remind you to keep your back straight. As a newcomer, Cyndy wasn’t allowed to look or speak to any boys, and she was monitored at all times…even in the bathroom.

I think the oddest aspect of this program for me was what they called “motivating”. “Motivating” entails all these kids to be sitting in plastic chairs, boys and girls separated on either side of the room. Basically what happens is they flail their arms around above their heads, jerking and screaming about. Cyndy describes this process as a way to motivate each other to want to share your experiences, but admits that many of the kids “motivate” so hard so that they won’t be called on. Once called on, the kids are expected to stand up and admit a story from their past…but in most cases these kids are forced to make something up in order to impress the staff. If you mess up or do something wrong, you are confronted. This is where a peer may run up to you and start screaming in your face, or even psychically harm you.

The list truly goes on and on with all of the strange things these kids were forced to do, and from the outside this program made it look like they were only using tough love and peer pressure techniques to get these kids off drugs (see the below video). Cyndy expresses that it took her years to get “back to normal” after all of the psychological abuse and brainwashing that she went through at Straight. She wrote her story in a way that it felt like the reader was actually with her at fourteen, listening to her describe the horrors that became her life. Her writing style becomes a little confusing when she starts to describe “THE BEAST” or her group when she is first introduced to the “motivating” technique. It got me a little jumbled up, but as I continued to read her writing started to feel like a horrifically beautiful style of poetry which I really began to enjoy.

Honestly, EVERYONE needs to read this. For parents who are thinking of giving this to their kids to read, please keep in mind that there is a bit of sexual abuse that happens in the beginning of the story. That aside, this is a tale that anyone would be enthralled by. As soon as I finished this book I immediately started researching Straight Inc. and other programs like it. This is a disturbing story that will make your heart droop, but it is a MUST read! GO GET THIS!! You will not be disappointed.

For more information and personal stories on Straight Inc., check out SurvivingStraightInc.com

4-5-stars

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Book Review: Private (Book 1) by Kate Brian

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Amazon.com – Private (Private, Book 1) by Kate Brian

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Genre: Young Adult/Fiction

Plot: Tradition, Honor, Excellence…and secrets so dark they’re almost invisible

Fifteen-year-old Reed Brennan wins a scholarship to Easton Academy — the golden ticket away from her pill-popping mother and run-of-the-mill suburban life. But when she arrives on the beautiful, tradition-steeped campus of Easton, everyone is just a bit more sophisticated, a bit more gorgeous, and a lot wealthier than she ever thought possible. Reed realizes that even though she has been accepted to Easton, Easton has not accepted her. She feels like she’s on the outside, looking in.

Until she meets the Billings Girls.

They are the most beautiful, intelligent, and intensely confident girls on campus. And they know it. They hold all the power in a world where power is fleeting but means everything. Reed vows to do whatever it takes to be accepted into their inner circle.

Reed uses every part of herself — the good, the bad, the beautiful — to get closer to the Billings Girls. She quickly discovers that inside their secret parties and mountains of attitude, hanging in their designer clothing-packed closets the Billings Girls have skeletons. And they’ll do anything to keep their secrets private.

Opinion: OoOoOo…it’s starting to feel like high school again! I started reading this series when I was in high school, and my oh my was I HOOKED. I recently found this series again and figured I would relive the overly dramatic and pretentious characters that make up this wonderfully snooty tale. It’s the story we all know and love, a scholarship girl comes to a prestigious academy and chases after the rich and popular preps that inhabit it…and don’t forget the scandals!

Reed Brennan has just been accepted at Easton Academy on scholarship, and the chance to get away from her family couldn’t have come sooner. Coming from Pennsylvania and from a family that just barely makes it financially, Reed is about to enter a world where money and power is everything. Soon after her arrival at Easton, Reed comes face to face with the elite “Billing Girls” who have the entire campus wrapped around their fingers. Unfortunately for Reed, her first impression with the girls is anything but positive, and she finds herself in the firing range of the girls tormenting and dangerous requests. Determined to make a place for herself and enter Billings, Reed goes to extreme lengths to become accepted.

So let’s start with Reed, our wonderful main character. To me she feels…how shall I put this…desperate? I am constantly rolling my eyes at this girl for allowing this HORRIBLE girls to treat her like they do. They are VICIOUS. Though she did stick up for herself once or twice, the reader will constantly find her cowering down to Noelle and the rest of the Billings girls. Though when I do think back to what it was like in high school, I can understand her actions to a point. The need to be accepted among your peers, especially females, is crazy. Plus if Reed can infiltrate Billings, she will then have the world at her finger tips.

As Reed becomes consumed in the upscale lifestyle and mysterious Billing girls, she is also enraptured by the gorgeous Thomas. Thomas is surrounded by the popular crowd but it doesn’t take him long to start chasing after Reed. Thomas has a wonderful “bad boy” feeling about him, so it is no wonder that this is the first male character that us female readers will fall in love with. What becomes of their relationship is shocking, and this is where our story will truly pick up and start to become dark and twisted.

This series is PACKED with scandals and dirty little secrets. Think gossip girl, but at a boarding school where everyone just gossips to each other. Most of the characters in this story come from a lot of money and have family members that had previously attended Easton, making many of these characters “legacies”. With such money and power surrounding our main character Reed, it’s obvious that there is bound to be some trouble afoot. I guarantee that you guys will FLY though this Series. I am already on book 6 and I still can’t put these down. Though I would have LOVED to do a review of each book, which just doesn’t seem possible with how quickly I am devouring this series again.

4-stars

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Book Review: Ill Will by Dan Chaon

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Amazon.com – Ill Will: A Novel by Dan Chaon

Goodreads.com – Ill Will by Dan Chaon

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Disclaimer: This ARC copy was sent to me by the publisher, Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, via NetGalley for an honest review.

Genre: Adult/Mature Adult/Mystery/Thriller

Plot:We are always telling a story to ourselves, about ourselves.” This is one of the little mantras Dustin Tillman likes to share with his patients, and it’s meant to be reassuring. But what if that story is a lie?

A psychologist in suburban Cleveland, Dustin is drifting through his forties when he hears the news: His adopted brother, Rusty, is being released from prison. Thirty years ago, Rusty received a life sentence for the massacre of Dustin’s parents, aunt, and uncle. The trial came to epitomize the 1980s hysteria over Satanic cults; despite the lack of physical evidence, the jury believed the outlandish accusations Dustin and his cousin made against Rusty. Now, after DNA analysis has overturned the conviction, Dustin braces for a reckoning.

Meanwhile, one of Dustin’s patients has been plying him with stories of the drowning deaths of a string of drunk college boys. At first Dustin dismisses his patient’s suggestions that a serial killer is at work as paranoid thinking, but as the two embark on an amateur investigation, Dustin starts to believe that there’s more to the deaths than coincidence. Soon he becomes obsessed, crossing all professional boundaries—and putting his own family in harm’s way.

From one of today’s most renowned practitioners of literary suspense, Ill Will is an intimate thriller about the failures of memory and the perils of self-deception. In Dan Chaon’s nimble, chilling prose, the past looms over the present, turning each into a haunted place.

Opinion: WHEW! What a whirlwind that story was! After becoming introduced to The Girl on the Train, I have been in a frenzy trying to find similar books. I came across Ill Will on Netgalley and HAD to give it a go. Let me tell you readers, I have so many STRONG and INSANE emotions rushing through me right now…I barely know where to start! This book is like a bad mushroom trip that feels WAY too real.

Thirty years ago, Dustin and his cousins woke up to find their parents brutally murdered in their home. Already flushed with loss at a young age, a life sentence is handed down on Dustin’s adopted brother Rusty who is blamed for the crimes. Now years later with children of his own, Dustin works as a psychologist in Cleveland. Soon a call from Dustin’s cousin brings panic into his life, as he is told that Rusty’s sentence has been thrown out and he is being released. Now Dustin begins to reflect back on the night that changed his life forever, and whether he and his cousins were right about testifying against Rusty and blaming him for the murders. All the while, a staggering number of male college students being found dead is making headlines. Though the police call the strange occurrences “accidental drownings”, Dustin’s new patient feels otherwise and suspects foul play. Could there be a link to this madness, or is Dustin slowly falling down a rabbit hole?

This is a truly interesting and dark story. There are tons of misleading twists and shocking occurrences, and the characters are truly gritty. Dustin is our main character and the reader follows him as he relives moments from his past, while also dealing with his present. One day Dustin gets a call from his cousin who tells him that Rusty, his adopted brother and the person who took the fall for the murders, is being released from prison. He is told that new DNA results were discovered which proves that Rusty couldn’t have murdered his new family. This brings a panic into Dustin’s life because now he is unsure if Rusty was the culprit of the crime, or if he was just blamed because of the things he had done in his past.

As Dustin reflects on his past growing up with Rusty, I was…how should I say this…COMPLETELY f***ing disturbed. There is some SERIOUSLY dark and grimy things that go on between these boys. Rusty can be described as a tough and hardheaded boy at an early age, and grows into a metal loving hooligan that likes talking about satanic rituals and even goes as far as sacrificing small rabbits. Dustin is a young an impressionable boy, and sees Rusty as his knight in shining armor. He proves to be a more than gullible child, and will allow his mind to be overturned by suggestions and hints by his older cousins and Rusty. In each flashback that these characters take the reader in, we are given glimpses of each characters flaws as a child and reasons why they could or couldn’t have been the ones to murder their family.

Another huge part of this story is Dustin and his patient Aqil. Aqil is a former police officer who has more than an obsessive and compulsive personality. He becomes fascinated by the mass amounts of local drownings of college males, and brings it upon himself to start investigating. As Aqil attends sessions with Dustin, Dustin starts to get wrapped up in the ideas and theories that Aqil presents him. Soon he finds himself spending all of his time with Aqil and latched onto the idea that there is a murderer on the loose killing these boys. The end result for these murders is truly…SHOCKING. I was so blindsided when this portion of the story was SOMEWHAT answered. Yes, in this book you will find that the author likes to leave you guessing.

For me though, I think the ending is where this story really shines. At first I wasn’t too keen on the fact that the ending didn’t completely tie everything together. I ended the book and thought to myself WAIT, what happened?? As it has now been a few days since I have finished the book, I have a different feeling towards the ending. I actually enjoy the fact of where the author took it, because there are so many actual cases where things end up in that fashion. I think I have a pretty decent idea of what could have happened, and I think you guys will too if you give this read a go. But honestly, the best part is knowing that you have no idea what actually happened. So touché Dan Chaon, touché. All in all, I am only giving this 3 stars because this book took me a LONG time to get through and because I was rather uncomfortable for most of the read. I prefer a thriller that THRILLS me, not a story that makes my skin crawl and forces me to put it down. It is an interesting story, but I could have done without all the in-depth sexual scenes.

3-stars

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