Why Me?

by Sarah Burleton

Verdict: Though the title, “Why Me?” suggests self-pity, the book is not a cry for pity but more about the author’s success in spite of her traumatic childhood.

IR Rating



IR Rating

“Why Me?” is Sarah Burleton’s heart wrenching and thought-provoking memoir of living with a mother who abused her as a child and teenager.

Sarah’s mother is constantly reminding Sarah that she was a failed abortion and abuses her in many ways. Sometimes the abuse is physical with beatings or it’s verbal abuse with the name calling, but other times the abuse is more subtle and manipulative ways that systematically break her down or torment her – such as torturing her pet goat with a bb gun, or creating situations for Sarah that keeps her friendless. But no matter how abusive her mother is, Sarah does not betray her mother by revealing the truth to her teachers or the child protective services, because a life of abuse is still more reassuring than a life being passed around foster homes.

As the abuse get more violent, a teenage Sarah with the support of some new friends, who are tough and loyal, finally breaks away from her dangerous relationship with her mother. Later in life, Sarah attempts to reconcile with her mother, but upon visiting her, realizes that this is not a relationship that she wants to maintain, and bids her mother and a painful, unhealthy past goodbye.

Author Sarah Burleton writes a powerful and thought provoking story about children in abusive relationships, revealing a complexity that relationships that keeps the children trapped in the abusive pattern: Sarah is more afraid of an unknown future in child protective services than staying in her abusive situation; Sarah stays as long as she can for her younger sister Emily.

Burleton’s memories are clear and evoke both anger and sorrow for the abused child. Burleton portrays her mother as a frightening woman who is able to act sweet and nurturing in public but turns into a crazed monster when she sets her sights on abusing Sarah. One of the most penetrating and disturbing points in the story is how Sarah can be subject to the abuse for so long without anyone in her everyday life outside her home, stepping in and putting an end to it. Thereby leaving a child and later a teenager to manage the situation on her own.

The writing in the main body of the story is tight but the prologue and epilogue diminish the strength of the author’s voice somewhat. In the prologue the author cites some of the abuse, which she later reveals in the main story, she explains why she took so long to write the book, stating that she didn’t want to hurt anyone and that she didn’t want the book to be about pity. In the epilogue, the author jumps to her present life with all its joys and achievements, explaining how she tried to reconcile with her mother. Since the main story speaks for itself with candor and lucidity, certain parts of Burleton’s prologue and epilogue are repetitive and unnecessary, for example stating the purpose of the book, which is to inspire; or to further explain the letter to her mother, when the letter itself was precise and powerful on its own.

Though the title, “Why Me?” suggests self-pity, the book is not a cry for pity but more about the author’s success in spite of her traumatic childhood.

Reviewed by Maya Fleischmann

2 replies
  1. avatar
    Paravati says:

    I am an avid reader of memoirs, and enjoy inspiring tales of survival despite overwhelming odds. This book, however, was not that. The author tried to paint her story as an oft-abused, innocent child who didn’t deserve to be treated as she was. But her story just doesn’t ring true. Certainly, being told that she was a mistake or putting her through being slapped and kicked etc. was pretty awful, but in no way does Sarah describe these events in enough detail for you to really feel like they happened. She describes staying out all night long in high school with some admittedly hard characters that she had “never met before,” as if it was a bible school study group lock in with a few cans of beer. Her mother calls her a “druggie” and has her arrested when she had never tried beer or other drugs at all? Come on. I don’t think so.

    Out of all the misery porn memoirs I’ve read in the past, from amazing (such as the work of Mary Karr) to a little too lengthy yet still believable (A little piece of cake), this was the only memoir I’ve ever read that left me entirely less sympathetic to the author than I was when I started reading the book. Perhaps if Sarah had been more specific, admitted any wrong doing of her own, told more family history, fleshed out her characters with a little more detail, or if she had had even ONE sympathetic adult around who had helped her through problems which should have been obvious to anybody, her account might have been more believable. But as it is, no. It’s too hard a sell and reads more like somebody ghostwrote a vengeance piece than a true exploration of survival and triumph.

    I was abused as a child and young adult, and by the time I was thirteen I had a whole group of adults who were aware of it and who actively helped, which led to my being able to leave home at sixteen and make my own way in the world. Such abuse really is hard to contain, and to blithely describe sixteen years of my life in a few short essays would be impossible.

    Sorry, but I call pity-seeking shenanigans.

  2. avatar
    Angela says:

    I Recommend reading “Etched in Sand” by Regina Calcaterra, her story is much more believable. Maybe, my opinion is skewed because I read Regina’s book first?


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