ETCHED ON ME by Jenn Crowell


I have to admit, I picked this book up on a whim while hovering around the pharmacy of my local grocery store. The simplicity of the stark white phoenix against the muted greens of the cover drew me in. The blurbs sealed the deal. Things like: “…The world would be a better place if everyone read this book.” And “There is not one false note in this stark, frightening, and tender story.” Etched on Me by Jenn Crowell

ETCHED ON ME is off-the-charts intense in the most wonderful, yet painful ways. The story follows the life of Lesley Holloway, a young woman who becomes “a social services success story” and opens with one heart-pounding, power packed punch:

Have you ever wanted something so much, it’s not a desire so much as a beacon? Have you ever prayed for it so hard, your fingernails curl into your palms and your eyes squinch shut and your whole body just hums? My daughter is that simple shining thing. Taken from me under the bright lights in a white room, my stitches still raw. I fought so much they put me in restraints.

At the outset, we meet Lesley Holloway in her early twenties then follow her back in time where she was a sixteen year-old runaway. Having been the victim of sexual abuse for years at the hands of her father, Lesley turns to cutting as a coping mechanism. When Lesley finally musters the courage to call for help things begin smooth enough, soft drinks and snacks are given to calm the young girl’s nerves, followed by easy, vague questions regarding her father and the early days of abuse. But when the social workers begin probing deeper…

I went straight up to the ceiling like a rogue funfair balloon, leaving them peering, bewildered, into my ethereal-eyed, rigid face. The ceiling is a weird concept to explain to normal people, who are used to dwelling completely anchored in their bodies. And I never intended to check out of mine. But around the time I learned to stop screaming, I also found out that I could leave my physical self shoved up against the hall closet’s hatboxes and drift into a whole other sheltering, luminal space where I didn’t have to feel the press of him on me…

ETCHED ON ME was inspired by the true life story of Fran Lyon, a 22 year-old pregnant woman who fled her home country, fearing authorities would take her child into custody based on her history of sexual abuse and self-harming as a teen.

What I loved most about this book was Lesley Holloway’s unflinching portrayal. Though this is a fictionalized version of true events, it’s told in such an authentic way that I found myself wanting to Google Lesley, just to make sure she wasn’t real.

There are so many books that I can set down, content to pick back up after laundry is done, or errands run, dinner cooked and kids tucked into bed. And then there are those books that, once started, demand to be read. For me, ETCHED ON ME was very much the latter. It was impossible to put down. I had to know how Lesley’s story played out.

Jenn Crowell’s writing is razor sharp. No word is wasted. Her storytelling is raw and is meant to make you feel. Ms. Crowell did an amazing job of pulling me into the story so deeply that I felt Lesley’s pain, and celebrated in her triumphs as if they were my own. I highly recommend ETCHED ON ME to anyone 18 years of age and older, who’s unafraid to look abuse, and its effects, square in the eyes.



Cathleen is a writer and novelist deeply rooted in the south. She lives in Georgia with her husband, three kids, and two senior furbabies. Her list of favorite authors is eclectic: Kate Morton, Ian McEwan, John Green, Neil Gaiman, Wiley Cash, Fannie Flagg, and Phillipa Gregory. A few of her all-time favorite reads are: AtonementThe Forgotten Garden, Looking for Alaska, The Book Thief, The Glass Castle, Gone With the Wind. To find more about Cathy, visit her at her website, and on Twitter @CathleenHolst.

Have you read Etched on Me? We’d love to hear what you think — please share in the comments below. Thanks!