The Dead Inside is a memoir. Cyndy Drew Etler writes here about her childhood, including the abuse of her stepfather and her eventual admittance to a substance abuse program by her mother and stepfather. The substance abuse program in question is Straight, Inc., a controversial program out of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Etler describes herself as a teenager who tried pot a handful of times, and who rarely drank, but her mother admits her against her will nonetheless. In Straight, Inc., Etler was subjected to various forms of emotional and physical abuse in an effort to convince her to stop being a “druggie”, and to accept that she is in fact an addict (though she is not).
This memoir is written in a tone reminiscent of a young teenager’s voice, which felt a little odd to me, but eventually I realized it worked, since that’s the period of time in her life Etler is discussing. The book reads quickly and discusses her experiences somewhat matter of factly, which adds to their horror. What Etler endured in this program is horrible, and research shows that she is not alone in speaking out against the program, which seemed aimed to create creepy automaton-like children and teenagers, who cruelly judge others and feel superior themselves.
The only criticism I have of the memoir is that it ended rather abruptly and made a rather abrupt jump forward near the end. Without the details filled in, I was a little lost and confused. That being said, I feel like the abrupt jump may be due to what actually happened during the missing time, and how painful it must have been for Etler to relive those details. Of course, that may not be the reason for the jump, but I admit it’s a possibility and that my criticism may be unfair. Also, upon further research, I realize there is a sequel to this memoir coming out in October, which may answer some of my questions. Regardless, this memoir is an important read for those interested in issues surrounding institutional abuse, as well as mental health issues. I have seen it compared to Girl, Interrupted, and while it is very different, it is in the same vein. Also, trigger warnings for physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.
Note: I received this book from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
I will not be rating this novel, as I don’t feel I can really say I “enjoyed” this memoir, but rather found it important.
What additional books would you recommend that deal with these issues? Let me know in the comments!