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.
“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