The non-fiction selections I read for October for ELLE magazine’s readers’ panel were quite challenging; the theme this month was triumph over early trauma. I found all three difficult to read, and I only would recommend one of them. Here’s what we read:

This is the only book I’d recommend out of the three. I liked the non-chronological order of the book, setting up our knowledge of the loss of his family — and the addition of two new half-siblings — rather quickly, while filling in the background on his childhood and the tumultuous years during high school and college. I also enjoyed his stories of the first few meetings with his new siblings; rather than ending with such a revelation, Mr. Boast’s discovery was a new beginning for him.

North of Normal
While I admire that Cea Sunrise Person somehow became a successful model and grew beyond her eccentric childhood, most pages were filled with such revolting behavior from her mother (I still don’t know what bothers me more, her near-constant pot-smoking or the fact that she’d have sex with a variety of men mere inches from her daughter’s bed) that I had to fight to finish the story. And while I appreciate that she finally found a stable, loving relationship with her current husband, I wish that more of her modeling and all three of her marriages had taken up more space than the wilderness years — the older she got, the less we learned about her experiences, and her epiphany about her past affecting her current relationships, and her current marriage, both felt like footnotes to the rest of the story.

Fire Shut Up in My Bones
For a memoir written by a journalist, I was disappointed by this book. First, the tone felt almost monotonous — his writing felt detached, which would be fine for a piece in a newspaper, particularly when short in length, but did not help to build empathy for the narrator in such a long-form piece. And secondly, his revelation that he was bisexual felt completely hollow. I understand that his near-molestation by multiple family members would be awful/confusing/therapy-inducing. But when he explained that he never felt comfortable in a relationship with a man, it felt much more like he simply found some men beautiful or attractive, which is more human than sexual. I understand that he would have been taught that seeing men that way was completely unacceptable, but after growing up and leaving his small town for New York, I’d expect a broader understanding of human sexuality than what he concluded.