I can’t remember how I discovered Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl (2019) by Jeannie Vanasco although I remember that the title sounded intriguing. This book is a memoir. When the author was in college, one of her closest high school friends sexually assaulted her in a friend’s basement. Now many years later, Vanasco is not only facing her thoughts about the assault, but she has decided to interview her assailant for this book.
Vanasco is very brave to bare her soul and feelings in this memoir. Not only does she have to relive a very traumatic incident from her past, but she also has fears that she didn’t react in the “right” way after the assault, and that even now she’s not angry enough at what he did to her. But mixed feelings are wholly understandable in this situation, and she shouldn’t feel badly for hers. I can imagine that this book could help other women who have been in similar situations.
***Triggers/Spoilers*** Vanasco’s father had only recently died, and she was still dealing with the grief. Vanasco was back at home, visiting from college, and hanging out with high school friends at a nearby house. When she got really drunk for the first time, her best friend from high school suggested that he and another friend carry her down into the basement. She woke up to that friend taking off her clothes, putting his hand inside her, and jerking off on top of her. She started to cry. He got up and left. ***
Vanasco has a lot of questions and emotions that have haunted her. She thought of him as a good friend and had lots of good memories of the two of them together. When she asked him what memories he had of her, at first he couldn’t come up with any and that upset her. She still wanted their relationship to mean something. She also wanted to know when he decided to assault her. Was it planned, and that’s why he suggested they carry her into the basement? Did he know she was more vulnerable because of her father’s death? She also wanted to know if he had done the same to anyone else and what his romantic life was like now.
Honestly, none of his answers to her questions were very satisfying, although I read this with a weird mix of feelings–perhaps similar, but very diluted to how the author felt. On the one hand, I appreciated that he was trying to make amends and that he was being straightforward about what he’d done. On the other hand, I was horrified by his actions.
My only complaint about this book is that it felt too drawn out and repetitive. Vanasco hits the same topics a number of times. She is worried that she’s not angry enough with him. She’s worried that other people will judge her for not being angry enough with him. There are a lot of thoughts and then conversations with friends that I felt didn’t need to be in the book. I also felt like there was a lot about Vanasco’s assailant that we could have learned but didn’t. Perhaps if an expert had weighed in on his personality, why he might have done what he did, and how prevalent his type of rapist is, it would have felt more well rounded.
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