Book Review: "It Could Never Happen To Me" by Michelle Richards-Graham

I was happy to have quiet time to read Michelle Richards-Graham's book "It Could Never Happen To Me" today. The Canadian young adult novelist, who currently resides in Oshawa, Ontario, has written a very important piece of work and I'm grateful for the time and space I had to read it. It was long overdue.

I'm the type of reader that doesn't always like to see the back-cover copy before getting into a piece of fiction. I tend to do this with movies too, because I like to be surprised by the plot. As long as I know the general genre and what demographics the characters fall into, I'm good to go without the synopsis. So when I discovered that the "it" in this story was sexual abuse by a family member, I really had to applaud Ms. Richards-Graham before the book was even completed.

I believe Michelle initially composed this novel when she was a young teen, so to see her approach this sensitive subject matter so well, my heart went out to the young girl that had the knowledge to compose this first draft...and also to the adult author who knew the value of maintaining the integrity of this story.

A recent conversation with Michelle let me know that she has since updated the book for references and technology. For example, my older version of her book still had Vince Carter as a Toronto Raptor, and telephone calls primarily coming in through land line phones. I actually quite enjoyed the ol-school references. It made the book seem real to me, because when I was the age of the main character Keisha--who starts out as a fourteen-year-old in this story--those were the realities of our world.

Keisha is an awkward girl, functioning in the shadows of her beautiful best friend Trisha. She is a virgin, she has never had a boyfriend or even kissed a boy, and she is insecure about her appearance and her experience. She is the voice of so many young girls, existing in innocence, but also having a contrast with more advanced, experienced, and developed peers.

It's a tough time. It was tough back then, and I can't imagine it being any easier now! Being a young woman, curious about your own sexuality and value, and still so naive to adult behaviour and consequences. It's a tough time, and Michelle captured this excellently in the dialogue between Keisha and Trisha, between Keisha and her younger sister Lisa, with her mother, and step father...and eventually, also with her older step brother Marcus.

Her parents love her, her childhood best friend is a little bit vain and promiscuous, but still appreciates her, and she has a good relationship with her sister. But when her stepbrother Marcus comes to visit Toronto over the holidays (from across the border in Detroit), Keisha's life is introduced to so many new things.

As an author of "coming of age novels that highlight crucial topics affecting teens, such as sexual abuse, self-esteem, friendships, loyalty, and family" Michelle touched on so many important themes in this novel that I couldn't help but be thankful that someone was looking out for young girls in this way. I felt thankful that the story has been (and will continue to be) read, and understood, and processed.

When I messaged Michelle to let her know about my older copy of the book, she informed me that not only is the date adjusted, but that the character's age also changes from fifteen to thirteen in the newer edition, because of the speed at which young girls are maturing. This has already changed, since her original publication date.

The book is real. The casual nature of Keisha's first sexual encounters were real. The guilt, the manipulation, the fear, and the confusion. I imagine it to be all very much in line with thoughts and feelings of a sexual assault victim being taken advantage of by a family member.

What I liked best about this book is that it approached the situation without being preachy, without being obvious, and through introducing young Keisha's perspective with all of the innocence and hope of a fourteen year old girl. The curiosity about boys, and confusion about touch. The fear of exposure, but the strength of validation.

I thought about the fourteen year old girls growing up now, and just how different their perspectives are than the early 90s when I was that age. I thought about the pressures, the images, and the realities they face. And then I thought about the awesome tools they also have. The books, and the open conversations that exist now...that didn't exist during my teenage years, or really for a long while. In fact, many of these topics are still somewhat taboo, but at least there are more options now for youth to explore and connect with for clarity and help.

I am thankful for Michelle Richards-Graham, a York University English graduate, who has now written three young adult novels, and continues to explore issues and challenges of adolescent and teenage years. I was happy that she approached the topic of molestation with sensitivity and wisdom, and I feel that this book is an excellent example of how an uncomfortable subject can be approached in a manner that is easy to digest and comfortable to understand. Comfortable, and empowering.

Well written, well edited, and a smooth read, the book was engaging from beginning to end, and I hope that it continues to share the messages of strength and awareness that the character Keisha had to endure, as well as serve as a guide or tool for those who may need strength to get out of a similar situation, or help a friend or loved one in need.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.


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