The Long Term Effects of Childhood Trauma and THE FALL OF INNOCENCE BY Jenny Torres Sanchez
Earlier this week, Junot Diaz wrote one of the most compelling and heartbreaking looks at the long term effects of childhood trauma in a personal essay for the New Yorker. In it, he discusses being raped at the age of 8 and how that trauma played out over and over again into his adult life and affected his mental health, his ability to form meaningful relationships, and his ability to maintain a solid career. If you haven’t yet read it, I highly recommend that you do so now.
As I read an early ARC of THE FALL OF INNOCENCE by Jenny Torres Sanchez earlier this year, I was equally moved by how Sanchez takes on the the long term effects of childhood trauma. From school shootings, domestic violence, parental loss and natural disasters, our children are effected many ways by childhood trauma. My children were forced to flee their home in the midst of dangerous flooding in the early morning hours and it effected every aspect of our lives. There were not only those moments of terror as we waded through waist deep raging waters to get to higher ground and safety, but the many months afterwards where we had to clean up and rebuild our lives. It has been seven years since that natural disaster and to this day we still have moments where we remember something that we lost in that flood. And in many ways that flood was nothing compared to the trauma many of our children are facing.
As a victim myself of repeated childhood sexual violence in the 8th grade, I am all too well aware of how long that trauma can effect you, how difficult it is to overcome it, and how even more than 30 years later the most innocent of moments can trigger you. We owe it to our children and to the health and well being of the human race to do more to protect and preserve our children and to address that various ways in which trauma can impact their lives.
The Fall of Innocence in particular takes on the topic of violence. The main character, Emilia Dejesus, is the victim of violence by a stranger near her elementary school at a young age. Fast forward to the future, now in high school, Emilia believes she is doing okay, until triggering events occur that remind her of that trauma. It effects her relationship with her boyfriend, her ability to be intimate, her sense of self and safety in the world. But that’s not all it effects, as it effects everyone around her. Her brother, her parents, and even her boyfriend can not escape the tentacles of consequence that radiate out from that traumatic moment in her life. Every individual caught within the radius of her life is impacted by that trauma, because we do not suffer in isolation.
What follows is Emilia’s unraveling, which the reader is invited to experience intimately through this gut wrenching and emotional tale. There is no happy ending here, as there often isn’t when a child suffers trauma that haunts them throughout their life. Addiction, mental health issues, ability to form meaningful attachments, self-doubt and self-sabotage, these are just a few of the long term effects that can be traced back to childhood trauma. When looking at the data, one can’t help but notice that there are a high number of sexual abuse victims that populate our prisons, especially our female prisons. And today we know that 1 in 4 adults are facing a mental health crisis at the same time that over 100 people die a day in our country as part of the opioid epidemic. It is important, I think, that we began to really examine how childhood trauma really impacts not only our children, but the adults they will become.
The Fall of Innocence is hands down a must read book for every man, woman, and teen. It uses the gift of storytelling to help us examine the long term effects of childhood trauma and asks us to start a conversation that we need to be having. It pulls no punches as it dives in deep to the emotional wreckage of a life left in ruins. You will sob. The Teen also read this book but she had to take some breaks in between readings to read something that she found more uplifting to help break up the emotional intensity. In the end, she came to me and we talked a lot about this book. I will talk a lot about this book for the rest of my life as not only is it moving and haunting, but it is necessary and relevant. This is a topic we should be talking about more prolifically and I’m thankful that Sanchez did the hard work of setting this story to page, and she did so quite well indeed.
Publisher’s Book Description:
For the past eight years, sixteen-year-old Emilia DeJesus has done her best to move on from the traumatic attack she suffered in the woods behind her elementary school. She’s forced down the memories–the feeling of the twigs cracking beneath her, choking on her own blood, unable to scream. Most of all, she’s tried to forget about Jeremy Lance, the boy responsible, the boy who caused her such pain. Emilia believes that the crows who watched over her that day, who helped her survive, are still on her side, encouraging her to live fully. And with the love and support of her mother, brother, and her caring boyfriend, Emilia is doing just that.
But when a startling discovery about her attacker’s identity comes to light, and the memories of that day break through the mental box in which she’d shut them away, Emilia is forced to confront her new reality and make sense of shifting truths about her past, her family, and herself.
Will be published June, 2018 from Philomel Books
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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