Friday, January 15, 2016

The Packing House - A Powerful New Young Adult Novel by G. Donald Cribbs! - A Review


RELEASE DATE: January 18, 2016

FORMAT/PAGE COUNT: Kindle/384 pages




The Packing House is about a teen who must choose between protecting his dignity and exposing the person responsible for his debilitating nightmares.

When sixteen-year-old Joel Scrivener has a raging nightmare in study hall and someone records it on their phone, he awakens to a living nightmare where everyone knows the secret he's avoided for ten years. Reeling from a series of bullying incidents posted on YouTube and an ill-timed mid-year move, Joel takes to the woods, leaving the bullies and his broken home behind. However, life as a runaway isn’t easy. Joel finds it difficult to navigate break-ins, wrestle hallucinations, and elude capture. He races to figure out who his dream-world attacker could be, piecing clues together with flashes of remembered images that play endlessly inside his head. Besides these images, the one constant thought occupying Joel’s mind is Amber Walker, the girl he’s been in love with for years. Amber sees little beyond the broken boy Joel has become, despite the letters they’ve written back and forth to each other. But Joel is stronger and more resilient than he looks, and it’s time he convinces Amber of this fact, before he runs out of chances with her for good.

EXPECTATION: Full Disclosure---I read one of the original drafts of this book. I met Donald online. We connected through two things---We are both YA writers, and we are both survivors of childhood sexual abuse. I loved the original draft of this novel. I was extremely excited to read the published version, as I knew how dedicated Donald was to getting every little detail right. He is an exemplary dedicated writer. I could not wait to get my hands on the final copy!

This story is an exceptional internal dialogue with self. And yet, it does not waiver in the least from also letting the reader in on the external world of the protagonist, Joel Scrivener. What the reader can see here, more than anywhere else in literature that I know of, is the internal struggle the survivor of childhood sexual abuse faces on an ongoing relentless basis.

What Cribbs has done here is phenomenal. I knew as soon as I read the draft of this novel that it was special. It takes us down the deep dark rabbit hole of confusion faced by many sexual abuse victims. It shows how the mind plays tricks on the survivor in order to help them to move forward in the world without checking out of it. Joel Scrivener is painted as a boy in the midst of confusion. He knows that everything is not right...but the kernels of truth he needs to complete the puzzle and get to the bottom of the problem are just outside his reach.

Only a survivor of sexual abuse can know the frustration of having great swaths of their lives cordoned off from their accessible memory. Joel struggles through a failing year of high school, while dealing with his highly dysfunctional mother and the feeling that something horrible has happened to him.

As Joel ricochets through a series of blind and frustrating choices, from running away from home to breaking into a school for shelter to recalling a botched experimental sexual encounter with a male friend, he struggles to piece together the story of his life. With parts missing even from his own view, he has no idea how to do this. On his journey, he recounts tender moments with his first love, Amber, whom he has since moved away from. We see him struggling with the side effects of his dark secret in the way he falls asleep in class and the way he cannot concentrate enough to settle into his schoolwork. There are many telltale moments in his reasoning that suggests he is a fragile egg about to crack. The ache that builds throughout this story is real. The reader will feel frustrated and sympathetic while getting an inside look at Joel's roller-coaster of emotional turmoil. And they will wonder at his strength as he chooses to take the rabbit hole he sees before him and tries to reconstruct his shattered life.

Some captured moments in THE PACKING HOUSE:

At the onset of the story, Joel admits to his way of dealing with things when he says, 'Running is my go-to response'.

When Joel speaks of how deflated and defeated he is, he says, 'I might as well be a week-old balloon, trailing limply, trying to keep from touching the ground. The fight is gone out of me. I don't even want to try anymore.' The reader feels the power of his defeat so deeply.

Perhaps my favourite passage from The Packing House is the following one:

The stuck place I'm in is too familiar, like the final box unpacked after a move; sometimes it's not ready to be unpacked, or we're not ready to face everything that's inside, so it sits there until we have to face it, one way or another.

 That, dear readers, is the perfect analogy for the victim of childhood sexual trauma. And one never knows when that box will unpack. It is the threat in the heart of the shattered life...the threat of the last box's unpacking. Cribbs has written of an incredible journey here. A journey that moved me to tears and wonder.
Though a fictional one, this is a true documentation of what happens to the victim of this horrific crime. One look into the snowballing careening fall of Joel Scrivener, and the reader will get an idea of what it is to struggle with this terrible they often don't even know they carry. Sometimes the brain knows that the only way to survive is to send the terrible secret into a deep dark cellar somewhere inside its buried chambers until it's ready to be accessed. Or until it just cannot be contained any longer. Cribbs has perfectly captured this journey in telling Joel's story. And he keeps the reader at Joel's side through every step of the journey, expertly revealing the kernels at just the right moments of Joel's struggle.

I suggest everyone read this story. It's one of the most important ones I have ever read, and moreover, it is beautifully told. Cribbs is an exceptional writer...I look forward to more from him and I'm excited to see where he goes from here. After telling the story he needed to tell, there's no limit to what he can do with the stories he wants to tell!

My hopes with THE PACKING HOUSE? That it begins (or continues) the much needed conversation that some are unwilling to partake in. Childhood Sexual Abuse is an epidemic. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys prior to the age of 18 will experience an unwanted sexual act, either including touch or not. That's unacceptable. Dialogue helps prevent future occurrences. G. Donald Cribbs's THE PACKING HOUSE is a perfect jumping off point. READ IT NOW! Don't be afraid to take this sometimes hard, but always beautiful, journey.

SIZE: 5 1/2

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