Book on missing sister misses mark

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Unlike fiction, memoir speaks the truth.

A candid, honest retelling of personal events and the lessons learned from within has the power to captivate, move and inspire me. That’s why I am inextricably drawn to this genre of literature.

A few weeks ago, I saw the book “If I Am Missing or Dead: A Sister’s Story of Love, Murder, and Liberation.” Drawn in by the title, I began to read the back jacket. It revealed an insider’s story about the headlines we read all too often in the paper.

Immediately, I was hooked. I wanted to know what happens in between the public pleas, press conferences and sound bites that give us only the smallest of glimpses into a family member’s unimaginable nightmare.

Contrary to the title and the book jacket, this book barely discusses Amy, the missing sister, and the circumstances of her disappearance and death. Instead, it focuses on the author, her life, her abusive relationships and her divorce.

The story is told in chronological order, using Amy’s birth and funeral as beginning and ending markers. The author describes early life with a sexually inappropriate father; her high school years living on her own; a physically abusive boyfriend; and finally her marriage to a doctor who emotionally assaults her almost daily, leaving her to feel afraid, controlled and inadequate.

Despite very close relationships with her siblings, the author refuses to share her plight with anyone, and everyone believes that she lives an ideal life. However, after her sister’s death, the author realizes that Amy mimicked her confident persona and hid the reality of the abuse that she, too, suffered. Through this parallel, the author asks us to use her experiences as a window into her sister’s life and conclude what life must have been like for Amy.

I didn’t like this book, for several reasons: First, this book is told entirely in present verb tense which was initially disorienting and distracting. It took me several chapters to feel comfortable with this style.

I expected this book to follow the description on the jacket: a story about searching for a missing family member. I kept waiting for the book to turn to the sister’s disappearance. That did not occur until the last few chapters. Finally, the book was completely devoid of emotional honesty. Facts were stated and events were chronicled, but I never felt that I could understand the author’s choices, and I certainly could not connect to her experiences. As a result, the book felt hollow, unsatisfying and inauthentic.

Rating: 2 out of five.

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