It’s complicated to say that I loved reading this book – the experience was difficult because the subject matter is so heavy, and I often felt very frustrated, or sad, or just horrified at what humans are capable of while I was reading this book. But at its core, this is a book about an important subject told really well. For me, this book was a five-star read.
Early in the book Krouse shares that she has the sort of face that leads people to tell her things – they divulge their fears about divorce, or grief. They share that they want to leave their jobs – as a man in a bookstore, known here as Grayson, does after they both reach for the same Paul Aster novel. Grayson turns out to be a lawyer, and instead of leaving his job, he decides to hire Krouse for her uncanny ability to get people to share things they otherwise would not. She becomes a private eye, working a Title IX case at her alma mater. One note: everyone, every institution, in the book receives a name change here, to protect the privacy of the real people involved in these cases – however, it doesn’t take much effort on Google to figure out which cases she’s referring to, and although I won’t link them here the information is relatively available on the internet.
Grayson is attempting to demonstrate liability on the part of the University for fostering a horrendous culture within its popular (and money generating) football team. Specifically, at least one student has come forward with allegations of rape (a truly horrific incident described sensitively here), and Grayson needs Krouse to get more people to talk. He needs help connecting this student’s rape to the other instances of sexual misconduct that are rampant within that department – but it’s hard to get people to talk when the department exerts so much power and influence.
Krouse intersperses an account (lightly edited for timelines) of the case in a more journalistic fashion, while also telling her own personal history of abuse at the hands of X. She leaves this person unnamed, as they are still alive – this person seems to have a close relationship with her family, my guess was this was her father (or certainly her mother’s partner). She suffered sexual, physical, and emotional abuse from X, and emotional abuse from her mother throughout her life. Even after the sexual abuse ended, the psychological toll of the abuse endures for Krouse – and it becomes clear that her fight for justice for the women at this University is also an expression of her own desire for justice in her own life. She needs someone to say that sexual abuse of any kind is WRONG. The book details her heartbreaking attempts to get her own family to come to terms with the abuse that she suffered. More than once she makes it clear that it’s so important to feel that you’re able to tell your story.
Krouse does a wonderful job with the many nuanced layers of her work and the cases that she helped to investigate. While she felt strongly that prosecuting the case was an unequivocal good, she still needed to contend with the number of ways that she may have caused real harm to people whose lives were bound up in the case or the University system. Victims are not only victimized during the crime itself – often, the reaction, and the search for justice, includes many ways to re-victimize. She portrays her own role in potentially harming others by encouraging them to take part in the lawsuit. She also addresses the impact of race and class on the lawsuit as a whole. In this university, many of the football players (and most of the accused) are black, despite a largely white community. She is clear that the system itself is exploitive and that while these young men made choices to victimize someone else, they are also a product of a racist system.
I couldn’t put this book down, I just wanted to keep reading about both the case and Krouse’s life. I highly recommend this blend of memoir and journalism!