Books Saved Me Growing Up—And Now My Books Help To Save Others by Cheryl Rainfield
I am a book lover to my core. As a child and teen I read almost constantly. I read getting dressed in the morning, I read walking to school, I read when I should have been doing my homework, and I read in bed even after my light was turned out, even though I’d get abused for it.
I needed books desperately. I was being sexually and ritually abused—tortured by my parents who were part of cults. Books were my escape from a life I didn’t feel I could or want to survive. They gave me hope in the goodness of people when I didn’t experience that in my own life. Fantasy novels helped me dream and hope and escape, and realistic fiction gave me bits of validation and knowing that other people understood my pain, my longing for a good family, for safety and love and happiness. Life felt unbearable—I wanted to die so much of the time—and books helped me get through. They were my friends, my counselors, my comfort, and my escape. Books helped save me.
I read all over the place. Even as a teen, I was reading picture books (they were a delight), middle grade books, especially fantasy (they had a light-heartedness I needed), YA novels (they had emotion I identified with), and adult books—and I still read all those genres. They speak to me in different ways and give me different things I need. I read Dick Francis’ books over and over because I understood the often life-threatening situations the characters faced, their tortured inner lives, and their desire to help others and do the right thing. I still re-read his books and think he’s a master of suspense. I read Anne of Green Gables over and over—how I identified with the (initially) unloved orphan who felt everything so deeply, was so intensely creative, and who had such high highs and such low lows. And I read Lois Duncan’s paranormal suspense over and over, wishing I had paranormal powers that would protect me from the abuse, and understanding the tension and longing in them.
I also devoured comics, especially Superman. I longed to be like him, to have bullets bounce off my chest, to not have any of the torture and abuse hurt me. Or to get angry like the Hulk and burst out of the places I was held in so often. I put some of that love of comics and the need to have the protective powers of superheroes in my newest book STAINED.
My love and need of books drew me into writing. I also wrote because writing came easier to me than speaking aloud; I was a shy, terrified, abused kid, and my abusers frequently threatened to kill me if I talked. I’d seen them murder, so I knew they could do it. But writing wasn’t talking, at least not in the literal sense, so writing became my voice, my way of being heard and of healing, and later, my way to try to make positive change.
Through all the books I read, I was always looking for validation of my own experiences to know that I wasn’t alone, wasn’t crazy even though my abusers told me I was, wasn’t the only one going through incest or torture or self-harm to cope, or being bullied, or being queer. I never found that—or not enough. I found small bits of validation, such as the bullying that Linda experiences in Blubber, or the way that Simon in Black Hearts in Battersea kept his love of art and innate goodness even though he was tormented—but nothing that told me I wasn’t completely alone in my pain. And I needed that so badly.
So now I write books that I needed as a teen. And I think because I do that, because I write honestly and emotionally about painful things, and also with hope, my books are reaching other teens who need them—as well as teens who’ve never been through those experiences. I hear from teens who tell me SCARS helped them not kill themselves, or stop cutting, or talk to someone for the very first time about what they’re going through, or know they’re not alone. It’s incredible to hear that, to know that my books are helping to save others the way books helped save me. It feels so right.
For every book I write I draw on my trauma experience and my healing. In STAINED, Sarah, a teen who thinks she knows what pain and fear are, is abducted. Now she must find a way to save herself—before she’s killed. Like Sarah, I know what it’s like to be held captive, withheld food and water, raped, and have my life threatened. Like Sarah, I’ve struggled with hating my body and low self esteem, have a love for comics and tried to write them, and was able to stand up to bullies who were bullying others, even when I couldn’t stand up for myself. And like Sarah, I had to save myself—over and over again—until I was finally safe.
So many teens have been sexually abused; I think the stats are about 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys. We’re also constantly assaulted by the media with “perfect” images that none of us live up to, leading to more and more body hatred. I think most teens go through rough times, no matter what the source, and they need to know that they’re strong, that they can survive and find other good people, and that they can save themselves. They need to know that things will get better. I hope STAINED will reach everyone who needs it, the way SCARS has. And I hope STAINED will bring a little more compassion into the world, as well as the enjoyment of a good story.
Extra Tidbit: For readers who’ve read SCARS and will also read STAINED, I thought they might enjoy knowing that the Java Cup—a coffee shop I mention—appears in both books. It was a small thing I enjoyed doing, a nod to SCARS through STAINED, and for me, an imagining of Kendra and Sarah being in the same world, maybe even the same neighborhood.
Cheryl Rainfield is the author of Hunted, Scars, Parallel Visions, and the recently released Stained. She writes the books that she needed as a teen. You can find her online at her website, on Twitter as @cherylrainfield, on Facebook.
In this heart-wrenching and suspenseful teen thriller, sixteen-year-old Sarah Meadows longs for “normal.” Born with a port-wine stain covering half her face, all her life she’s been plagued by stares, giggles, bullying, and disgust. But when she’s abducted on the way home from school, Sarah is forced to uncover the courage she never knew she had, become a hero rather than a victim, and learn to look beyond her face to find the beauty and strength she has inside. It’s that—or succumb to a killer.
Cheryl has been kind enough to offer a lucky Nerdy Book Club reader a $15 gift card for a local bookstore and another lucky Nerdy Book Club winner ebook copies of her previous titles (Hunted, Scars, and Parallel Visions). Sign up in the form below to be one of the winners for those giveaways.
Cheryl has also extended the opportunity to win a blog tour GRAND PRIZE of an ebook reader for those who leave comments at the blogs on her blog tour. You will get an extra entry into the grand prize of an ebook reader for every comment they leave on a blog in the tour (one extra entry per blog). Click on the image below to see where else Cheryl is blogging on her tour.