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"American Daughter–in the tradition of classics like The Glass Castle, LA Diaries and White Oleander–explores in unsparing details the complex interplay between intimate family ties, generational abuse and cataclysmic losses."
– Gina Frangello, Author of ‘Every Kind of Wanting’ and ‘A Life in Men’ Editor of The Coachella Review
At age 4, Stephanie Thornton Plymale survived a full-throttle, head-on collision in a mail truck stolen by her mother’s boyfriend. Again, at age 5, sat in the back of a van going 70 miles per hour, Stephanie survived a drunken rollover crash. She was twice physically unscathed but left mute with trauma, a condition which would come and go for years. She later suffered life-threatening burns due to neglect and became blind in one eye. Homelessness evolved to isolation in the Dependent unit of the state of California – to placement in several foster homes, one of which being horribly abusive. By age 10, Stephanie’s experience was that of criminal neglect, chronic hunger, truancy, homelessness, and ongoing sexual violation. The terror and fear that she experienced as a child she later uncovers are the insidious ripple effects from an appalling crime that occurred in the summer of 1953 in Baltimore, Maryland, and made national news.
Stephanie’s mother suffered from severe mental illness; schizophrenia and Dissociative Identity Disorder, was in and out of jail and a series of ghastly psych wards throughout her entire life. Meanwhile and despite all odds, Stephanie’s lifelong desire for a sense of home led to her passion for interior design and burgeoning career in the industry. However, time seemed to stop when Stephanie received a call from her mother after a period of estrangement that was enforced by a court order. Her mother revealed her terminal illness and Stephanie became her mother’s sole guardian.
Timing became critical for Stephanie to address her longing to seek the truth about her devastating childhood and lost heritage. She began a series of “interviews” with her mother in an attempt to find answers and to get her mother to take personal responsibility for the past. In one of these interviews, her mother reveals that she herself was the victim of that horrific crime in 1953 that plagued her as a child and for the rest of her life. This revelation incites the unlikely redemption and reconciliation between mother and daughter. Her mother also revealed a stunning and illustrious ancestry that she had kept hidden for decades. Stephanie grew up thinking of herself as “white trash” and knew nothing until then of the aristocratic family heritage from which she came.
AMERICAN DAUGHTER tells an extraordinary story of trauma, healing and transcendence in this powerful memoir by Stephanie Thornton Plymale, who is currently the CEO of Heritage School of Interior Design, a premier and growing national interior design school.
We look forward to expanding our community of readers! Below are some nice things our early readers have said about American Daughter:
“Much more than a story of a rape and its aftermath, American Daughter–in the tradition of classics like The Glass Castle, LA Diaries and White Oleander–explores in unsparing details the complex interplay between intimate family ties, generational abuse, cataclysmic losses, and the extraordinary and limitless power of compassion and self-discovery. Stephanie Thornton Plymale is often asked, throughout this riveting and powerful memoir: How? How did you emerge from that wreckage powerful and whole? But American Daughter resists such easy binaries and instead gives us a portrait of coming together stronger at the broken places as Plymale interrogates both her own survival and her fragile, damaging and compelling mother’s. A story by turns feral and transcendent, American Daughter illustrates the enormous strength and will it takes for anyone to choose love.”
– Gina Frangello, Author of Every Kind of Wanting and A Life in Men, Editor of The Coachella Review
“American Daughter is a page-turner you won’t be able to put down. The author, Stephanie Plymale is a product of transgenerational trauma and as her story unfolds the reader feels like they are walking in her shoes. A riveting story that demonstrates the resilience and perseverance of a strong independent woman.“
– Jessica Abramson-Lott, President of Beauty Marks Entertainment
“Stephanie Plymale brings readers of her well-written memoir into the complex process of attempting to understand, reconcile and forgive adult family members who failed her. When she looks at her accomplishments in deep relationships and a powerful career, she asks the poignant question, ‘Why am I the resilient one?’ Her siblings all have landed in seemingly inescapable holes. Ultimately unanswered, it is gratifying to follow her on the journey to redemption. She leaves us with hope for every individual and every fraught family relationship.“
– Janis Avery, CEO of Treehouse
“American Daughter is a deeply compelling page-turner of a memoir, beautifully written, and insightful. The reasons some of us survive chaotic childhoods and go on to lead happy productive lives, to even thrive, are complex and seemingly random. Yet we long to discover a secret formula for resilience. American Daughter does not give us facile answers. We follow Stephanie’s journey from horrific childhood to successful businesswoman, mother, and wife, and are captivated by her inner strength, her kindness, her desire to seek truth, and most poignantly, her desire to find her place in the world, to belong. This memoir does not pretend that scars of a traumatic childhood can be erased, but it shows us happiness is still possible. Stephanie’s investigation into family history leads to a truth many abuse victims eventually discover, that our abusers have often survived their own hellish childhoods, and that we all carry the trauma of our ancestors.”
– Karen Lynch, Author of Good Cop, Bad Daughter: Memoirs of an Unlikely Police Officer
“American Daughter is a riveting page-turner that has the reader looking forward to each chapter with a mix of anticipation and unease; given that it inevitably means another heartache lay just around the corner for the author, her mother and siblings. The book is both a haunting memoir and Cinderella story that has you rooting for this family until the end. The writing is exquisitely vivid and poetic – making it easy to conjure up images of mother and daughter throughout the many decades of their lives together, and apart. In the end, American Daughter is one woman’s triumphant tale of determination and hope to create a truly beautiful life for herself against all odds.”
– Tracy Klinkroth, Founder of ChickChat & The Power of She
“The story of American Daughter has affected my life forever! Stephanie’s story minimizes what being a survivor is…does a victim really have a choice or in their journey do some just get luckier than others? The people they meet…the breaks they get…bottom line, those who can survive the most horrific unimaginable things actually can break the cycle of such a terrible life. And if they do, then to me they are nothing short of a living Saint!
My heart is so heavy for Stephanie’s unimaginable story, but I have learned so much – about love even if it’s too late, and about forgiveness even if it seems impossible.
I want to help share Stephanie’s story to inspire others! We have many surface similarities including a life in the Northwest, tennis, adopting a baby girl from Guatemala, running from things in life, family secrets revealed late in life, ancestry surprises and life perceptions. Her book reminds me that we are all connected at some level and all of us have a story.
10% of life is what happens to us and 90% is really how we react to it! God bless her bravery in sharing her well-written book with many intricate details of her life! You have a fan, a friend and a real admirer in me”
– Karen Phelps Moyer, Founder of Good Morning Gorgeous, LLC, Emmy Award Winner, Founder of Moyer Foundation
“This book takes the reader along on a journey that is equal parts heart-rending, shocking, and uplifting. It may be surprising to describe a story of homelessness, child abuse, and mental illness as uplifting, but Plymale’s open and thoughtful consideration of her life story gives hope to those who have struggled through adversity. She does not shy from describing those challenges, creating a sense of profound empathy for both her and, shockingly, for the mother who was the catalyst for so much suffering. But the heart and humanity at the core of her story ultimately leaves the reader with a sense of the redemption that is possible and an abiding appreciation for what we have.”
– Chris Shortell, Author of Rights, Remedies, and the Impact of State Sovereign Immunity and Political Science Professor at Portland State University
“The story is never less than compelling as the reader learns how her mother’s grandiose statements have a basis in truth. The trauma Plymale discovers is so horrible it was recorded in the newspapers. Stephanie Plymale is honest about her family’s failings and her own, but ultimately forgiving, reminding me that hope is not: ‘the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.’ (Vaclav Havel, Disturbing the Peace. 1985)"
– Martha Crites, Author of Grave Disturbance, Mental Health Counselor
“American Daughter is a raw and riveting story of hardship, injustice, and generational redemption. From the first till the last page I was captivated and spellbound and could not put the book down. The life-story of the author, Stephanie Thornton Plymale, is the story of America – the real and unvarnished America. A little girl who is the casualty of her mother’s trauma and yet refuses to succumb to be a victim herself. The author’s life allows us to see, as through a dark glass clearly, the reflection of our own country. A country with rough and raw edges, gritty and dark, yet dogged and determined. American Daughter, however, is ultimately about the deep-seated human longing to be found and to be known for who we truly are. American Daughter is a must-read.”
– Wayne Vandekraak, VP of Marketing, Skin Deep and Beyond Medical Spa
“For years working and volunteering in the non-profit sector with struggling women, I often pondered the question of what “it” was that enabled some to persevere and rise above when many others could not. I am not speaking of small obstacles but in many cases years-long abuse, horrific childhoods, food deprivation, foster homes, rape, sexual abuse and more. Whatever “it” was, Stephanie Plymale has it in spades. I met Steph at Dress for Success Oregon where she brought her upbeat sparkle and encouragement to our salon doing makeovers. Each woman left feeling beautiful after working with Steph. She intrigued me with her effervescent positivity. I invited her to speak to my job seekers class as an example of a highly successful entrepreneur. I loved speakers who were great examples of overcoming obstacles, a skill needed by our population. I had no idea how MUCH she had overcome. Her fascinating and heart-wrenching story came out little by little as our friendship grew along with my admiration. She asked me to read a draft of her book and I couldn’t put it down. Hollywood could not have invented a more horrific childhood. The book is beautifully and candidly written. She won’t let you look away while so many adults and systems let her down. The back story that emerges through the gauzy memories of her mother’s mental illness will blow you away.
Applause to Steph for her energy, candor, perseverance and talents. If you are a reader wanting a great read or a seeker looking for your own courage to overcome obstacles, this is the book for you.”
– Jill Norman, Former Career Center Manager, Dress for Success
“Here is a story of triumph and hope. So many of our stories today begin with heartache, but it is so amazing to see what one person can create out of ashes. At Humble Design we begin each relationship with our homeless clients with empathy because this has been the worst year of their lives. Maybe they have had very few happy days at all. Knowing how close we all are to the edge of disaster brings us closer together. As this book illustrates, we are all deserving of kindness, empathy and beauty. That is why we are so touched and honored to be included as a charity partner, which lets the reader actively participate in this story, and making sure there is a safety net for others.”
– Treger Strasberg, Co-CEO & Founder, Humble Design and Host of the show Welcome Home
“American Daughter is a must-read of our time. The life journey of one woman peels back layers of generational pain, opening our eyes to many truly broken systems within the United States. This raw, heart-wrenching, yet awe-inspiring journey of triumph and perseverance will leave you speechless.”
– Willow Hill, Co-Founder, Chief Creative Officer, Scout Lab
“This book was honestly written without making anyone less human and frail than they are. I was particularly interested in the redemptive power of both love and beauty in Stephanie’s life and how she was able to recognize and accept the sacred when she saw it. Her actual childhood and her mother’s life were as close to unbearable as one can get. There is a power in telling one’s story honestly both for the author and for the reader and that power was clearly given and received here. I hope this memoir makes others and myself brave about our lives too.”
– Cheryl Krane, Single Working Mother of Six Children & Private Equity Investor
“American Daughter is a memoir that ties adversity with strength and secrets with enlightenment. It is the real story of how love can illuminate and transform a woman’s life but also how violence can damage and change it forever. How does the daughter of a deeply troubled mother escape the limitations and trauma she has experienced and make something so beautiful of her life? The timing couldn’t be more perfect for this fascinating and true coming of age story of being a woman in today’s America.”
– Susan Carroll, Retired High School Teacher
“Wow. I am blown away by the constant barrage of life’s toughest hits that Stephanie took, and yet she didn’t even consider giving up and instead, turned the power of the pain into strength in her soul.
Stephanie’s story read like a novel, like a contrived narrative; so twisted and deep and sad and redemptive. In Stephanie’s need to create a nest because she never had a safe place. Her yearning to educate that came from a lineage unknown. Her struggle with a mother both destroyed and the destroyer. Her indomitable spirit fortified by an optimism that is frankly unbelievable given the circumstances. These storylines are not of a novel but of her incredible, complicated, tortured and ultimately evolved life.
Thank you for sharing, Stephanie. This could not have been easy to write, but many will be forever changed by reading this book. May they gain for themselves, more of the grace and strength that you embody.”
– Siouxsie Jennett, CEO, Mambo Media
“I had no idea what to expect when I started reading American Daughter. I understood it to be a story of a mother and daughter’s life journey. I didn’t expect to literally be captivated by the end of the first paragraph. I found I wanted to know more and more about Stephanie’s mother and her life. The book made me cry, it made me laugh but most importantly it made me understand that we all have a role to play in life. Despite Stephanie’s mother’s less than normal role, she never forgot who she was or where she came from. Her journey was hard and at times difficult to read about – she was a smart, intelligent woman who was let down by the system that should have helped and protected her but never did.”
– Connie Tabacco, Account Manager, Bartzis Design
“American Daughter is an extremely powerful story that is impossible to put down. Stephanie’s journey is an epic one filled with inspiration in her triumph of overcoming an inconceivable upbringing that bares light on the realities of living with mental illness and the foster care system. Her unending quest for understanding her heritage is magical, and her determination and perseverance to bring meaning and hope to others leaves you in awe. It is one of the most heartfelt stories I have ever had the pleasure of reading, and recommend it highly.“
– Laurie White, CEO & Founder, Krescent Marketing
“Compelling. Powerful. Beautiful. Tragic. Heartbreaking. Emotional. Inspiring.
This book was so beautifully written despite a life full of tragedies, mental illness, homelessness, sexual abuse, despair and much more. It is a story of determination, conviction, love, heartbreak, compassion, the human spirit and family. I could not put this book down and finished it in less than a week. Throughout reading this book, I cried a lot. And then I’d feel rage. At times, I wished I could crawl through the pages and scream at the mother. But then again, within minutes, I would be crying again as my heart filled with empathy and love as my emotions shifted to feeling so badly for this woman, the mother, who battled a lifetime of mental illness. This book was intense and beautiful from the first page to the last page, with shocking surprises and more revealing stories along the way.
It truly is a masterpiece in how it explores the nature of family relationships and how you can love someone and also hate them, be embarrassed by them, and what results from all of these conflicting emotions. It takes you on an emotional rollercoaster but in spite of all of the very depressing stories woven into these two women’s lives, it is incredibly moving and inspirational. It truly is a story about survival, forgiveness, love and resilience. A MUST read!”
– Michi Suzuki, Principal, Michi Suzuki Public Relations
“I’m a sucker for history, psychology, ancestry and a human’s ability to overcome insurmountable odds. American Daughter satiated every piece of my appetite. It’s a raw and vulnerable essay of Stephanie’s experiences and those of her mother and extended family. It painfully shows how our broken legal system, mental health care system, child protective system and education system fails so many people. More painful is to see how the privilege of wealth and power allowed one of the most heinous crimes against a child to go unpunished by our justice system and be ignored by the press. Where was the outrage? Yet somehow, even though all of our systems failed, the American Daughter, Stephanie, survived, thrived and broke an often impenetrable cycle allowing her children to be unscathed and free from the damage caused to so many lives by the disturbing behavior of a group of men so many years ago.“
– Lisa King, CEO & Founder, b-glowing
“Stephanie Thornton Plymale’s memoir takes the reader on a cutting edge roller coaster ride filled with heartache, trauma and hardship caused mainly by her dysfunctional mother. American Daughter is a must-read for every high school and college psychology class.”
– Alan Howard, Literature Professor, Portland Community College
“It’s difficult to explain why Stephanie and her siblings had to endure these experiences. What keeps resonating is how she survived. Very thought-provoking read.”
– Karen Cellers Zodrow, Former Mental Health Professional
“Homelessness. Criminal neglect. Sexual abuse. Trauma. All too often, this is the story of voiceless children who later become adults in America. The landscape of the “greatest country on Earth” is dotted with countless untold tales of the children who have suffered silently. Yet their cries rise up in the burgeoning populations that fill the makeshift shelters along our streets and highways, foster homes, and yes, our prisons and mental health wards. Occasionally we see the inspiring story of transcendence; the child who rises from the ashes to become an inspirational meme, a famous artist or a phenomenal athlete. We laud them for their accomplishments, and we wonder “how did this one beat the odds?” Yet we know for every one that beats the odds, there are hundreds whose stories are never told. American Daughter tells a tale of a mother and daughter whose lives took completely different paths but finally converged on a journey to discover the shared suffering that bonded them beyond even the most primal human relationship. In coming to truly know one another, they experienced healing, forgiveness and love that neither thought possible.”
– Jim Plymale, Stephanie’s Adoring Husband
“American Daughter is the best autobiography I’ve ever read! This book is full of emotion, struggles, and so much power. Stephanie takes you through a whirlwind of her childhood from living in a car to various troubling foster homes. I could literally feel the hunger and pain that she experienced with the daily struggle of trying to find food when they lived on the beach. Despite all odds, Stephanie met the love of her life and became an extremely successful person, which is so empowering.
Stephanie is very humble and down to earth. Her story is hard, yet strong and beautiful.”
– Valarie Potter, Office Manager, Deca Dentistry
“Stephanie’s life was filled with heartache, betrayal and more trauma than most of us will ever know. Somehow, Stephanie managed to struggle out of the murky depths of her childhood and has blossomed into a strong, accomplished woman.
Stephanie’s story will be an inspiration for you and many others.”
– Patty Schweiger
“To know Stephanie’s story, the abuse, trauma, heartache, homelessness and tragedies she’s endured, and to see the amazing, successful person she today, is truly unbelievable. While reading the book I found myself overwhelmed with emotions. I cried, I was angry, shocked, sad and yet found myself feeling empathy for her mother. I couldn’t put the book down! This story about survival, forgiveness and love will inspire you.”
– Nicole Burbank, Owner, Mentor New Horizons Community Care
“One of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s an honest and raw memoir that had me hooked after reading the first paragraph. You will not be able to put this book down.“
– Daniela Foti
“Several months ago, I was given the opportunity to read American Daughter, a story of the childhood and life of my niece, by marriage, Stephanie Thornton Plymale. We met when she was a shy, sweet teenager, dating my nephew, Jim. I have watched her grow over the years, from that child, to a wife, mother and beautiful, successful woman. I cannot express totally the effect reading her story has had upon me. To learn of her struggles and how she has overcome so much has left me in total awe. The book was so well written it was difficult to put down. It brought me to tears at times and gave me joy at others. It was shockingly honest! It shows how hope, faith and love can prevail and how perseverance can lead from the saddest of situations to a full and happy life.”
– Jacki Nieman
"American Daughter is one part moving memoir, one part intriguing mystery…and all heart. It lays bare the bones of a secret long buried, taking the reader on a journey between present and past. Lost and found. Second chances and new beginnings. This is a well-woven story and a timely reminder that through adversity there can be triumph and through pain there can be forgiveness."
– John Plymale, Creative Director, Gard Communications
What the Heritage School of Interior Design Community has to say about American Daughter:
“American Daughter is a testament to how hope, tenacity and drive allowed one woman to reject intergenerational dysfunction as her own family’s destiny. It is a tribute to the transformative power of love and vulnerability, and it is evidence that genuine curiosity can lead to understanding, forgiveness and ultimately, healing.”
– Kristen Siefkin, Founder, Interior Design Alchemy
“American Daughter is a raw and vulnerable look into the life of a girl experiencing and overcoming incredible circumstances. Stephanie’s life story covers everything from social injustice to the breakdown of our national foster care system to a young love turned true and steadfast. It’s a story about survival and overcoming against all odds. American Daughter is so inspiring!”
– Brenda Mavromatis, Home Staging Consultant
“American Daughter is a riveting true story about a remarkable woman who has overcome incredible adversity. It’s full of surprises that connect American history, family, relationships, crime, creativity and inspiration. It will captivate you with the perfect balance of emotional and factual narrative. Loved this read!”
– Tracy McGuire, Principal, Tracy McGuire Interiors
“A raw and poignant story, which will break your heart, yet warm it at the same time. It will leave you shaken and speechless, yet encouraged and hopeful that such a traumatic young life could blossom into one so giving and blessed.”
– Rhonda Larson, Executive Director, Heritage School of Interior Design
“American Daughter brings fierce legitimacy to the longstanding quote by Maclaren, 'Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.' Stephanie’s memoir unfurls generational layers fraught with trauma, addiction and dysfunction that will have its readers at the grip of the gamut of their own human emotions. Beautiful prose depicts the insidious ripple effect of a tragedy that plagued what we discover to be a profound lineage. This may have remained a grand mystery had it not been for the vulnerability and tenacity of Stephanie Thornton Plymale to uncover and share her incredible story. No great story, nor full life exists without pain, redemption and love and so we are all in good company with American Daughter.”
– Kristin Sidorak, Director of Learning & Organizational Development, Heritage School of Interior Design
“American Daughter drew me in from the first page and I couldn’t put it down until I finished the entire book! Stephanie’s experiences and descriptions will be familiar to anyone that grew up on the west coast in a non-traditional home. There’s so much to learn from her journey of creating a successful life and in learning to forgive those that created us.”
– Andrea Samuels, Executive Director, Heritage School of Interior Design
“A fascinating memoir, American Daughter will challenge your preconceptions and inspire you to examine your own family lineage. Stephanie shares her story with poignant grace and honesty and is an example of strength, courage, and unwavering determination in the face of unspeakable hardship. Her journey to uncover the truths of her past will stick with you for years to come.”
– Cara Murray, Student Relations Director, Heritage School of Interior Design
“This book transformed my entire life. Through the inspiring moments of overcoming life’s obstacles, to the moments that reminded me of my personal hardships, Stephanie’s story lit a fire in me and empowered me to overcome the victim role that I had been holding onto for my entire life. Her story is relatable, empowering and authentic, and helped me open my heart to new beginnings”
– Irene Tokstad, CEO & Principal Designer, Design Allure
“Stephanie’s memoir is a captivating true story that will keep you on the edge of your seat and leave you feeling inspired. Despite the hardship she experienced as a child, from homelessness, neglect, and an estranged relationship with her mother, she grew into a strong, accomplished and nurturing woman with no regrets and no grudges. This story of overcoming will encourage you to achieve your dreams no matter what might be standing in your way.”
– Amy White, Director of Operations, Heritage School of Interior Design