Cover Image: Between Two Trailers

Between Two Trailers

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On the surface, J. Dana Trent's memoir tells the dramatic story of a childhood with two mentally ill, addicted parents. There's a deeper story here, too, that should be relatable to anyone who has ever questioned what it means to call a particular place your home.

I grew up with a similar family dynamic, and the emotional tone of the book rang true to me. Trent is a fantastic, detail-oriented writer who interweaves multiple places and timelines into a moving narrative that made me sob like a baby at the end. This was a great read!

(Thanks to NetGalley and Convergent Press for providing me with an ARC copy of Between Two Trailers to review.)

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Many thanks to NetGalley and Convergent Books for gifting me a digital ARC of this amazing memoir by J. Dana Trent. All opinions expressed in this review are my own - 4.5 stars!

Born to drug-addicted, mentally ill parents in rural Indiana, Dana was a preschooler when her father (the King) got her involved in dealing drugs. Her mother, the Lady, expected Dana to be her keeper. The only normalcy she got was with her extended family for brief respites. Otherwise, it was a poor, chaotic, mentally abusive childhood. Even in childhood, the emotional stranglehold her mother held on her kept her from living a more normal life. Yet, despite all those odds, she became a college professor and minister.

I am always in awe of people who are able, through their own personal strength, to rise out of such horrible childhoods to become stable, healthy, productive adults. So many people waste the many opportunities they are handed, while others have to fight and scrabble. Dana's parents no doubt loved her, but between their own bad childhoods, poverty, and mental illness, they were definitely not equipped to raise a child. Eye opening memoir for sure and many wishes to Dana and Fred for a very happy life!

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J. Dana Trent's moving and provocative BETWEEN TWO TRAILERS, a memoir of resentment, regret, and redemption in Flyover Country—an honest, heartbreaking tale of grit, wit, and hope. Trent writes about her upbringing in an attempt to make sense of it.

A powerful and intimate look into the raw struggles of American poverty, mental illness, and a tribute to family. From a preschool dropout and child drug dealer to a professor and author.

"A book for anyone who thinks they cannot go home."

J. Dana Trent's (Budge) parents, known as King (Rick) and the Lady (Judy), met at a psychiatric institute in Cincinnati, Ohio. They both worked there as professionals with college degrees. Lady (PSYCHIATRIC NURSE) had previously married with one son and divorced. King was a (CERTIFIED RECREATIONAL THERAPIST).

At 41, her mother gave birth to the miracle baby, J. Dana Trent. Even though her parents were college-educated, it could not mask their illness.

A marriage between two mentally ill drug addicts that begins in a psych hospital is bound to end in MADNESS. Her dad said you could not fix crazy. It was always a life of highs and lows. Throw in a baby in the mix, and there will be problems.

KING: Dad: schizophrenia, specifically schizoaffective disorder, which combines the worst symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia with depression and anxiety. From military prison, federal draft dodging, and a grand jury indictment for drug distribution.

LADY: Mom: Narcissistic and dependent personality disorders, diagnosed in the 60s after a handful of suicide attempts followed by inpatient lockups she fondly referred to as vacations. Mania and depression, listlessness and hysteria while self-medicating.

Her father had her heavily involved in the drug trade from the time she was four years old in their run-down trailer when the mom was watching Christian TV shows either on uppers or downers in the back bedroom like a zombie.

King and the Lady both had their methods of manipulation:
LADY: Suble and emotional
KING: Direct and skillful.

Dana had to fend for herself and often went hungry, eating ketchup and white bread sandwiches. She lived for the days she could visit the Dairy Queen as a celebration after a drug deal and the midnight bike rides.

Her only salvation was her wealthy grandmother and some of her aunts and uncles, who tried more than once to offer money and bail out her parents. However, those kind souls always ensured she had clothes, food, and a good time when she visited them.

After King and Lady separated, she moved with her mother from Indiana to North Carolina to be closer to her family and where she grew up. There, they received help and an apartment from her oldest son, a doctor in Chapel Hill.

From there, it was one job to another and a different home and school. Her mom could barely hold down a job working odd jobs, and Dana was left with a sitter. When she was home, she was sleeping. Back in school and moving from one place to another, she missed King—back and forth between Indiana and NC. When she was with one parent, she missed the other. Then, there were years of therapy.

Her mom thought she had a personality disorder; however, the therapists said Dana was operating on a superior level of intellectual functioning with post-traumatic stress disorder and present emotional resources insufficient to cope with current stressors. Thus pulling out her hair. The professionals said she was traumatized. A child who had already accumulated suitcases full of adverse childhood experiences, which, unbeknownst to her, made her very isolated and angry.

The King taught her to walk through the world, seeing everyone as dangerous. The Lady moved through life like everyone had done her wrong. The result was that she became suspicious of everyone, assuming most everyone hated her or was out to kill her. According to her parents, the world was not friendly.

There was bankruptcy, poverty, maxed-out credit cards, losing their homes, and her parent's mental illness. Dana was trying to be the parent and never got to be an average child. Later, there was destructive binge drinking and overeating.

Her life took a turn when she went to Salem College in Winston-Salem, NC, and later to Duke University Divinity School on a scholarship. She had to survive the polite southern culture of NC and her mom's ever-changing personality disorders.

However, growing up, she did have a safety net of well-to-do grandparents, and her older brother ensured she had shelter. There were aunts and uncles in Indiana helping with her caregiving and other relative sleepovers. They lived off church meals, scrambled eggs, toast, and cans of tomato soup. They had Chef Boyardee candy spaghetti and white bread at her grandmother's home.

After graduating, Dana finished college, married, and an ordained minister.

"Tough times never last, but tough people do." —Dr. Robert Schuller

Through it all, they had survived homelessness, bankruptcy, loss, and addiction. Dana emerged from the battlefield stronger. Courageous. Tenacious. Unbroken. She uncovered healing and home through a schizophrenic drug-lord father, her childhood, and her mother's personality disorders and mental illness.

The lesson she learned was you cannot deny that your past happens and not accept her parents for who they were: mental illness, addiction, poverty, and all. The real danger was in not realizing they were doing their best with what they had. The real threat was in hiding it all. She was supportive of them through it all.

She wants to relay the message to others who spend their life thinking they are adrift, leaving them secretive, ashamed, isolated, confused, wandering, and lonely. Home is where the healing begins.

BETWEEN TWO TRAILERS is an inspiring, heartfelt, beautifully written memoir full of emotion. It is heartbreaking yet witty at times. The author explores mental illness, poverty, addiction, a toxic childhood, and trauma—yet there is courage, survival, and hope after the storm. I highly recommend it. It is a compelling, remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption.

From the author: "I wrote this book to help us all make sense of the shrapnel of our lives. May Between Two Trailers be a companion for anyone who also longs for relief."

Fans of Jeannette Walls (memoir), Tara Westover (memoir), and Nora Dector (fictional) will enjoy this journey!

As an NC native, I enjoyed the setting, especially the Winston-Salem area, where I lived years ago and home for my grown sons and family currently. My daughter-in-law graduated from Salem College, and my granddaughter will hopefully attend Duke University after graduation next year.

Thanks to Convergent (Random House) and NetGalley for an advanced reading review copy.

J. Dana Trent is a speaker, professor, award-winning author, and minister. A graduate of Duke Divinity School, she teaches world religions and critical thinking at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, North Carolina. Check out the characters on her website.

Blog review posted at
JudithDCollins.com
@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks
My Rating: 5 Stars
Pub Date: April 16, 2024
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The opening lines of this memoir are so captivating and let you know you are in for a wild ride. The author's survival is a miracle and I truly applaud her ability to not just process everything but her openness and willingness to bring us along for the journey. Dana Trent is able to paint a really clear picture of her parents, "The King and the Lady," and of her traumatic experiences with them.

I really appreciated her notes about the relatives and community members that played a hand in her survival and would have loved to have seen that interrogated more. Also the book spends a really long time on a few years of her childhood but then a decade is glossed over quickly in a way that sometimes made it hard to keep.

Overall this is an incredible story of survival and resilience and what it means to find home.

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4.5 stars but rounded down for here an Goodreads

This is very dark and depressing, you just want to hug the author for all the things her parents put her through and how they treated her. Trent is a better person than me because I wouldn’t have been as forgiving if these were my parents.

I appreciated the author’s honesty and vulnerability in sharing her struggles! The setting was atmospheric and reminded me of my midwestern childhood in Michigan. I don’t love rating memoirs because this is someone’s personal story so my rating reflects the writing style not the content-once or twice the stories got repetitive in the beginning, and chapters were a little too long for my taste.


TW/CW: drug use, mental illness (anxiety, depression, and personality disorder), schizophrenia, neglect, child abuse, violence, animal cruelty, animal death, anxiety, suicide attempts, suicide, toxic parents, eating disorder, addiction, alcoholism

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“My get-up-and-go done got up and went!”

I will now be using that line frequently, thank you Lady!! There are so many interesting (and unhinged) lines in this book, starting with the very intro which is guaranteed to make you go "what the heck did I just read?".

I normally would've listened to the audiobook version, but because of how crazy Dana's early childhood is, I know I would've kept pausing every few seconds going "what", so I'm really glad I read it myself instead. This way I could process the chaos that was happening much better.

So basically, the author grew up with two (very) mentally ill parents, her father (King) was a drug dealer and even trained her to follow in his footsteps from birth, and her mother (Lady) wanted Dana to grant her every whim and take care of her indefinitely while she lounged around doing nothing all day.

Dana had to raise herself, learn how to survive, and thrive which is no easy feat in general, let alone coming from a background like that. But she did manage to do it, and I'm so proud of her for it.

It was so fascinating reading about her life, I literally devoured her story and had to pace myself so that I wouldn't finish it too fast. She's an excellent storyteller, knowing exactly how to keep her readers engaged. I'd love to read more of her work in the future, in book form or not.

There's even some things we have in common (not the drug dealing father, thankfully), like getting carsick & trichotillomania. I was sitting there going "girl, me too!!!", I really don't remember the last time I've seen either of those things mentioned in a memoir, if ever.

Now for the slightly negative, Between Two Trailers had a time jump that felt a bit abrupt. We got to see her growing up in great detail, then suddenly she's an adult and that part of her life is told in flashes. I think the book would've benefited from another 50-100 pages added, to properly cover that period so that it wouldn't feel so jumpy.

There was one thing in particular I wanted to see more of, and that's Fred. Like the story of how exactly they met, a bit about their relationship and so on. Though I understand this is more about Dana's past/childhood and healing from it. And I also saw that she has a shorter book about their love story, so maybe it makes sense we didn't get more about it here.

I also wish my early copy had pictures, I'm pretty sure the final version will, so I'm jealous of all of you who get to experience that from the get go.

Though I did look through the author's socials after finishing the book, to see if I could put a face to the name, and her parents look EXACTLY how I imagined them, which just shows how talented of a writer Trent really is. I swear she described them perfectly, down to a T, I could see them (and the rest of the cast) so clearly.

All in all, I enjoyed this memoir and would recommend it to anyone who feels like reading an unbelievable story that actually happened, and one that's so engrossing it reads like fiction instead of nonfiction.

P. S. There might've been something to King's Vaseline theory, it sounds completely sensible to me!

*Thank you to the publishers and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

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Dana Trent is named for her town, Dana, Indiana. Her early memories are cutting marijuana with a razor blade, assisting her father in his drug dealing business. Her parents met in a psychiatric treatment facility. Her mother was nicknamed The Lady, and her dependent personality disorders caused continual havoc. Her father, nicknamed The King suffered from schizoaffective disorder which led him to make poor choices. The “only difference between the two was that his symptoms were unmistakeable.”

Both of them had college degrees. The King had degrees and skills and licenses to work anywhere else, he always came back to his hometown. Her mother also found work in the health sector. Her parents were moody, anxious, volatile and unregulated but they never beat her and food was never out of reach.

Her early home was a beat-up trailer which her mom called a shotgun house because if their enemies fired a shotgun down through the kitchen window they would drop like flies. Dana at one point had a thousand residents and thrived as a agriculture hub. It had an opera house, a theater, a bank, and churches that were busy and faithful. But prosperity is always temporary.

Home, Dana writes, “was there all along in my two very loving and very unconventional yet faithful parents, who believe in miracles. I am their miracle. I am their legacy. They are my home. Home, it turns out, is where the war is. It’s also where the healing begins.” Thank you to NetGalley for permission to read this delightful memoir.

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At times shocking but mostly just really sad, this story shows the author's devotion to her two complicated, mentally ill parents and the various ways she was failed by them and honestly by all the systems that should have supported her. Memoir is tricky to review, and stylistically this wasn't something I would typically have picked up, but J. Dana Trent definitely has a story and perspective that are worth listening to.

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In the 1980s, Dana grew up in a broken down trailer with her parents, "King" and "the Lady". Both of who were struggling with their own addictions, trauma, and mental health conditions. This left Dana mostly neglected by the both of them. By the age of four, Dana was sitting at the counter trimming up bricks of marijuana with her father and helping him sell his drugs. When she was six years old, the Lady took Dana away from the only home that she had known, leaving her father behind. Her and her Mother moved to North Carolina where everything seemed to get more difficult for Dana. She lived in constant fear of abandonment by the only parent she had left. She grew anxious, confused, and lonely. In her adult years, she understood that in order for her to move forward and accept herself, she needed to make peace with her past.

Trent had a truly remarkable childhood. Bearing witness to her living through so much neglect and poverty was heartbreaking and yet fascinating to read about. Some of the writing felt choppy and jumped around. I felt like we did go down many tangents that really lead to nothing, which would make it difficult to follow the story line but overall, I still enjoyed the journey.

First and foremost, I want to thank NetGalley, Convergent Books and Dana Trent for this wonderful ARC.

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J. Dana Trent overcame a difficult childhood to become a Southern Baptist minister and a college professor in North Carolina. Dana's parents, Rick Lewman (aka King) and Judy Trent Lewman (aka the Lady), met at Cincinnati, Ohio's Rollman Psychiatric Institute, where King was a recreational therapist and the Lady was a psychiatric nurse. What's ironic is that both Dana's parents were mentally ill: King suffered from paranoid schizophrenia with depression and anxiety; and the Lady was narcissistic with dependent personality disorder.

In the early 1980s King, the Lady, and toddler Dana moved to Indiana, and the Lewmans bought a trailer in King's hometown of Dana, in Vermillion County. Dana is famous for being the home town of Ernie Pyle, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist and war correspondent.

In Indiana, King became a drug dealer and the lady lounged around in a king size bed in the trailer's back bedroom, smoking joints, binge-watching the 700 Club, and guarding King's marijuana bales and cocaine bricks. By the time Dana was four-years-old, she recalls, "I helped my schizophrenic drug-lord father chop, drop, and traffic kilos in kiddie-ride [ponies] across flyover country....Dad's entourage were loyal men with street names that reflected their personalities or vices....Together with them, our little family supplied Midwesterners with enough uppers and downers to soothe the monotony of landlocked Vermillion County."

When the drug trade was doing poorly Dana lived on ketchup sandwiches, and when things picked up the Lewmans ate bologna and scrambled eggs with cheese. Luckily, Dana's grandmother and grandfather (aka G&GL), as well as her Uncle Leuge and Aunt Marietta, lived nearby, and Dana could eat her fill when she visited their homes. Dana especially loved her grandmother's 'candy spaghetti', which was Chef Boyardee box pasta doctored up with ketchup and brown sugar.

Despite her chaotic life, Dana dearly loved her father. King would take Dana and her cousins on midnight bike rides, and impart wisdom such as: 'If you want to kill somebody, you do it in Vermillion County' and 'There's only so much sugar in the sack' (when King was out of drugs, time, or money). Dana notes, "We rode without the heaviness of drugs or cash that needed to be hidden. It was a rare respite from slinging and the fetid trailer."

King and the Lady had different aspirations for the future, and when Dana was six, the Lady took Dana and relocated to North Carolina - where the Lady had family. Dana's mother proceeded to divorce King, and Dana's anxiety resulted in her compulsively pulling out chunks of hair by the roots. Dana writes, "I was now of two worlds - Indiana and North Carolina - and I took up a shape-shifting identity to be the daughter they needed in each environment." A therapist diagnosed Dana as "operating at a superior level of intellectual functioning" but with "emotional resources insufficient to cope with current stressors."

The Lady sometimes worked as a nurse to support herself and Dana, but King paid no child support, money was scarce, and the Lady's family had to help out (a lot). Meanwhile, Dana felt deserted by her father, who seemed to have abandoned her. Later on, Dana would spend summers in Indiana, visiting with her extended Lewman family. However, King's mental illness often led to bizarre behavior and forgetfulness about food, and G&GL would have to step in.

Dana enjoyed her summers in Vermillion County, but they hurt her relationship with the Lady. Dana observes, "Navigating time with my parents was a losing game of Whac-A-Mole. If I met the deficit with one, the other would pop up. It was as much about hatred for each other as it was about love for me or parental self-esteem." The Lady's resentment "manifested as meanness, then obnoxious self-importance that covered her insecurity." Things escalated to the point that the Lady insisted Dana change her last name to Trent (the Lady's family name). Dana observes, "It was the beginning of a formal certified separation from my heritage, my home, my father, and my family."

When Dana entered adolescence, she became boy crazy, and dated a steady stream of boys, in both Indiana and North Carolina. Dana writes, "I was the young woman who tried to replace her absent father's love and attention with external validation from the opposite sex."

After high school Dana went on to Salem College and had dreams of law school; however, the Lady persuaded Dana to apply to Divinity School at Duke University, and, in time, Dana was ordained. The years after high school were hard for Dana, as booze and food put on the pounds, while anxiety led to Dana's prescription drug use.

The Lady insisted Dana sever her Indiana roots; was miffed when Dana fell in love and got married; and did everything she could to control Dana's life - which Dana attributes to the Lady's mental illness. It wasn't until the Lady passed away, in 2017, that Dana could re-establish ties to her childhood roots in Indiana.

Dana now seems to be a well-adjusted minister and teacher, and her resilience can serve as encouragement for young people in challenging situations.

Thanks to Netgalley, J. Dana Trent, and Convergent Books for a copy of the book.

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This was a miss for me. Memoirs with similar context are typically some of my favorites, but Trent's style didn't suit me. I struggled with long passages that didn't seem to connect or make sense. Also, heavy emphasis ( more than 1/4) of the memoir took place during their very early childhood which is confusing and honestly just strikes me personally as largely unreliable.

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A memoir from a child roped into her parents' drug trade from an early age - at times hard, at times somehow humorous. Recommended for readers of Education and similar memoirs.

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This story was intense and wild—from a preschooler cutting drugs with a razor to an alcoholic young adult getting ordained as a minister. Trent's parents suffered from such extreme mental illness it's truly a miracle she's alive, let alone functional. I was definitely hooked as I read this story, wondering how this poor little girl would grow up to the point where she could write this book as an intelligent, successful woman with so much perspective on her life. I would say the one thing I was missing was a little bit more at the end—I wanted to see how she dealt with the aftermath of what her parents put her through as an adult. I also felt like I was missing how she felt about religion specifically. Most of the book dealt with how her parents felt about it and used it and how she reacted to that, but I never got the sense of her own personal feelings that have kept her involved in it to this day. Still, this was amazing story and I'm glad I got to read it.

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Between Two Trailers was SO GOOD!

I can't wait to recommend this to all of my memoir lovers., and I suspect this may end up on Obamas reading list for 2024. Dana begins this memoir when she is in preschool and helping her father, a diagnosed schizophrenic, run drug deals in their small town. Meanwhile her mother, who has her own personality disorder is languishing away in bed for years before she leaves taking Dana with her and leaving Dana's only home and family behind.

What follows is years of parenting upward in unstable situations, while Dana essentially raises herself.

Booksellers this is the perfect hand sell for readers who like Educated and The Glass Castle.

This digital review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Huge thanks to Netgalley and Convergent books for my review copy!

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This was another DNF. I didn’t get along with the writing and I felt like it was all over the place. Being a memoir I don’t want to give it a star rating. It’s this author’s story and just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean other people won’t. It just didn’t work for me.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

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And you thought your childhood was difficult.

Dana Trent is the child of two drug addicted schizophrenics who met and fell in love on the psych ward. The fact that she lived to adulthood is astonishing. Her story is captivating; my thanks go to NetGalley and Random House for the invitation to read and review. This memoir will be available to the public April 16, 2024.

“’Kids make the best hustlers,’ King told me the week after I was expelled from preschool. He lifted me onto the counter and coated his arms with palmfuls of petroleum jelly from the biggest Vaseline tubs Walmart sold. Then he greased up mine. ‘No one expects a runt in a Looney Tunes T-shirt to shank you,’ he explained. ‘Budgie!’ he said and pointed to my chest, then sealed my street name with a Vaseline cross to my forehead. ‘Budgie,’ I parroted, finger to my own chest…‘Guns are for idiots,’ he added. ‘Here.’ He handed me my first pocketknife, a foldout two-inch blade with a horse and buggy painted on the handle. Knives teach you to accept the inevitable. ‘You’ll get stabbed,’ he said, ‘but you’ll survive. No big deal.’”

The nickname “Budgie” was chosen because she was his lookout on drug deals. She would ride along with him, his trunk stuffed full of drugs, and when he got out, she was stationed on the highest available vantage point. If she saw someone—an ambush, the cops, anyone—she was supposed to sing like a bird. (Even other drug dealers and manufacturers questioned the wisdom of hauling a three year old on such expeditions, but King, as her father was known, was not easily influenced.)

At such moments, one might wonder where her mother was. Usually her mother was either unconscious in bed, or on the way into or out of that state. Because her father was awake and slightly more predictable, Dana considered him the more reliable parent. Before she was old enough for kindergarten, she understood that it was up to her to take care of The Lady.

My initial response to this scenario was to be bitterly angry at whoever decided to expel this child from preschool. Boom, there went that tiny girl’s one tie to the safer, saner world. How could anyone look at her behavior, her clothing, her hair and not call Children’s Services? I’m still fuming.
Miraculously enough, Trent made it to adulthood, and after years and years of therapy, she is able to lead a normal life. She’s achieved a remarkable amount, with a Ph.D. to her credit along with a solid career in academia.

And she can write! There is never a slow moment in this memoir, a hair raising read that I brought out at lunchtime, but never at bedtime. There is very little by way of dialogue, and that makes the swift, steady pacing even more remarkable.

Between Two Trailers is one of the year’s best reads. Highly recommended.

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A tribute to resiliency that sometimes feels voyeuristic. It's always hard to understand why parents would use their children in ways most of us can't imagine but that was Trent's life and she confronts her demons. Well, the demons of her parents. This is a family many would turn away from. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. Hard to read but important.

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Growing up in the middle of drugs and mental illness, Dana somehow manages to achieve adulthood with the help of others, but eventually discovers she is unable to leave her upbringing behind.

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This one was so out there that it was hard to connect to. I really felt for the author reading about her childhood and what she went through. It was an interesting memoir and everyone should read this one.

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This was an interesting read about growing up with mentally ill parents. It’s hard to even fathom using a child to traffic drugs. But it just goes to show the power they have over people and logical thinking. The author is to be commended for taking her struggles and making something positive from it.

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