** This review does not contain any spoilers but refers to the book's content and 'blurb'**
~ SYNOPSIS ~
'Broken' is a book by Shy Keenan. It is a fairly disturbing tale, or rather a tale of fairly disturbing events, concerning Shy's childhood and family background. You see, Shy was abused from a very young age (around 4) by her immediate family as well as friends of her step-father, Stanley. This abuse continued into her teenage years and took the form of both mental and physical abuse which turned to sexual abuse quite early on in her life.
The book is a personal account of events told by Shy herself, in the first person. The line "The most shocking true story of abuse ever told" is printed on the front cover of the book, so it is fair to say that we are aware that the book's content is not going to make for particularly easy reading, as it were. Furthermore, I found the line "Shy wasn't meant to survive her childhood" within the book's blurb really stood out to me as being quite disturbing and shocking. Nevertheless, I wanted to read the book, and I did.
~ MY OPINION ~
Nobody in their right mind would ever think that a book like this one was going to be a cheery, uplifting tale given the very blurb of the book is harrowing in itself. That said, I was surprised - not to mention moved - by the 'turn' the book takes towards the last few chapters of its content, which mostly focuses on how life has turned out for Shy as an adult, giving the reader a great sense of achievement.
I'm not giving any spoilers here, and the blurb of the book clearly indicates that Shy is a survivor, and has gone on to be one of the founders of "Phoenix Survivors", a group set up to fight for victims of child abuse.
The first part of the book however, is extremely dark and very harrowing as I had expected. We are given accounts of some extremely atrocious events that involved Shy when she was a youngster and I will be honest and admit that these events do not make for any easy reading or anything of the sort! You can expect to have a lump in your throat at frequent intervals whilst reading the book, and shed a couple of tears for good measure. I did not find the book disturbing to read as such, as some reviewers have stated, but the content is fairly graphic, so anybody keen to read the book should be aware that it will be down to individuals as to whether the uncomfortable content can be endured or not.
The author's 'tone' throughout the book could never be described as one of self-pity, nor does it have that rather off-putting 'whine' to it that I have found some similar books have. Perhaps the main reason for this difference in the authors' delivery of the story is quite an obvious one - in the case of "Broken", the tale is a true one. No fiction. No frilly outer edges to the tale. No faffing about. A true account of events is perhaps easier to convey to the audience in the first person, than a fictitious tale of imagination?.... Who knows. What I would stress however, is that Shy does not go out of her way to mince her words, nor does she make any effort to hide any uncomfortable intimate details. And why should she? The result however, is an extremely gritty account of Shy's harrowing past.
I found when reading 'Broken' that it was an extremely captivating tale, and I struggled to put it down. I think the reasons for this were of course because I wanted to read on and find out the outcome to a series of events that took place throughout the book, but also because I found the book touched a nerve within me somewhere... Not because I have ever been abused or anything of the sort, but because I am a human being... with a heart, a conscience and a soul.
I felt really that Shy's sorry tale of childhood - a time when youngsters should be allowed to flourish, and should be nurtured and cared for - was the most captivating part of the book, even though it was also the most harrowing. There is a particular point in the book where Shy becomes aware that she genuinely has nobody to care for her, and her own feelings of self-loathing take over. During these difficult chapters in particular, I am not ashamed to admit that I shed a tear or two at the sheer injustice facing this young girl.
I would absolutely recommend giving 'Broken' a read. It is true that there are sections within the book that make for rather uncomfortable reading, and I understand that this might prove to be too much for some readers, but the outcome of Shy's tale is worth reading on for, and overall I did enjoy the book and thought it was extremely well written.
'Broken' by Shy Keenan is available to buy online at www.amazon.co.uk, with prices for the paperback version of the book starting at 0.01p for a used copy or from 0.98p for a new copy. Both of these prices do not include postage charges. The book is also available for the Kindle, and this will cost around £5. Alternatively, you can purchase the paperback edition of the book online at www.waterstones.com for £6.39 (including postage costs).
Broken is an autobiography, written by Shy Keenan in 2008.
You may have heard Shy's name before, as she is the co-founder of the charity Phoenix Survivors. This independent voluntary organisation advocates on behalf of the victims of child sexual abuse, and for the families of children murdered by child molesters. Shy run's this organisation with Sara Payne, mother of Sarah Payne, who was murdered at just 8 years old by a peodophile.
Shy is not the author's original name, rather it is a nickname which she aquired as a young child, due to her apparent shy and quiet nature. Shy's real name in the book is Karen, and she is often referred to as this. The reader is left with the impression that she has adopted the name Shy, as a way of leaving her past experiences behind her, firmly where they belong. Karen is the young troubled girl in the book, whilst Shy is the young woman who tries to look to the future and piece her life back together.
Broken is a truly shocking story, because it is a true account of a young girls horrific experience of sadistic abuse over a lengthy period of time.
Shy Keenan's autobiography is a heart-rending account of her life as a child and young adult, and tells the story of how she managed to overcome physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
Shy was born in Birkenhead in the 1970's. She was born to young, wayward parents who were seemingly unwilling and unable to be good parents, having their first child removed by extended family. Shy's very early memories recall a period of neglect and abandonment. When her parents seperated, her mother moved in with her new 'step-father' the peodophile Sidney Claridge. Shy describes her mother as someone who was a manipulative, theiving, lying woman, who's sole purpose in life revolved around shoplifting and scaming the authorities, whilst spending all her free time in the local bingo hall. Nevertheless, Shy's desperation to get her mother to notice and love her throughout the book is apparent. The reader feels a deep empathy with Shy at one point when she describes over hearing her mother tell Sidney that she wishes Shy was dead and that she 'hates her.'
Shy attempts to tell her mother about Sidney's abuse of her, but her mother refuses to believe her and beats her up. Later in the book, it becomes evident that her mother is clearly aware of the sexual abuse which is taking place, but she turns a blind eye. The reader finds it hard to understand how a mother can allow this to happen without concern.
The extent of the abuse Shy suffers is overwhelming. From the age of four years old, shy is raped and sexually abused practically every single day. Although her step father is the main perpetrator, other men also attack her. It later emerges that Sidney is selling her to other men, and she finds herself being gang raped by 'faces' on a regular basis on ships and on people's houses.
I found it particuarly hard to fathom how so many individuals can have such little regard and care for another human being. It is not only the sexual abuse, which is bad enough, it is the lack of consideration for the pain and suffering that Shy goes through, in addition to the mental and emotional abuse that Shy is subjected to. Two shocking incidents stand out for me within the book. The first is when Shy's parents pretend that she has epilepsy which is completely untrue. Gobsmackingly, the health professionals believe this without any tests, and she is locked up as a mental patient and given epileptic drugs to sedate her. Sidney uses this to his full advantage and for months she finds herself permenantly unconcious, often waking up in the middle of being sexually assulted in strange houses.
Another shocking incident takes place on the day of Shy's mother's funeral. Immediately after, Sidney and his friend rape Shy, and his friend assaults her sexually with a bottle. The reader is left with the feeling that these men must surely have a 'missing link' to see Shy as a sexual object, almost as if she has no feelings or thoughts of her own. The story is a worrying insight into the minds of pedophiles and their predatory natures.
At the end of the book, Shy recollects how she becomes concerned for the safety of other children who Sidney and his friends are abusing. Her story makes constant reference to numerous times where she has told professionals and authorities of the abuse, but to no avail. It is particuarly disturbing to see how she is treated by social services at the time, who believe Sidney's version that Shy is making sexual advances towards him, and that he has to fight her off! Even when Sidney is finally convicted he is initially given a lenient sentence and her sister, who he is also abusing, is allowed to stay with him at the home.
In 2002, Sidney and two other's are convicted thanks to an undercover documentary which Shy undertook with Newsnight. This shows Sidney confessing to his crimes, and this time the authorities were forced to act. This brings some relief to the reader and of course to Shy and her family.
The book is written in the first person, and the reader is encouraged to relate to the child who is abused throughout her life, because her story is described through a child's eyes. Shy describes what she sees as opposed to using the correct terminolgy. She describes 'flashing lights' rather than cameras which are being used to film her abuse. She also describes people's faces rather than uses names, which emphasises the fact that so many people are treating her like an object instead of a person. For instance, she talks about 'shiny head' and 'angry face.' The drudgery and misery of her life is played out well, however she does talk about her year's stay at her grandparents house at Patley Bridge which she loves. This also gives the reader a period of respite from the shocking and depressing state of her daily life. The end of the book highlights how Shy has moved on and is providing her support to other victims of abuse. She is keen to describe her adult self as 'loving and loved' by her family, although she states that parts of her soul will always be 'broken' due to the horrific experiences she endured.
I have read a number of real -life autobiographies over the years, however this one really shocked me. I think the reason is because of the level of abuse documented, but also the frequency and duration of it. It really is hard to believe how human beings can treat other's like they do. In the case of Shy's story, multiple people were involved in her abuse, although it was lead by her step father. For the majority of decent people who read this book, it will shock them to the core.
The other issue which is hard to fathom, is how the authorities (Police, social services, health professionals) all ignored all of the warning signs and refused to act.
The only saving grace is that much of the abuse took place in the 70's and 80's. One can only hope that the authorities and systems in place to protect children have substantially moved on and improved today. Nevertheless, when you think that it was only in 2002 when Shy managed to get her abuser to confess after being brushed off by the authorities, it is clear that poor practice is only too recent.
I would certainly recommend this book for a thought provoking and interesting read. I could not put this book down and read it within two days. Yes, it can be a little depressing, however it will make you realise that no matter how unhappy you are your life could have been far worse than it is. It will also make you have a greater sympathy, awareness and understanding of the victims of sexual abuse and why some victims behave in the way that they do as young children and young adults.
I recommend that you purchase this book from somewhere like Amazon.com. It cost me £4 for a brand new copy, which is generally cheaper than in book shops.
Published: 2008 by Hodder and Stoughton
Thanks for reading!
I read this book after a family friend brought it over and suggested we read it. She's not an avid reader, in fact, she said she hadn't read a book before this one for a very long time, but she couldn't put it down once she'd started. I knew to expect it to be quite shocking and disturbing, which we'd be warned about when she bought the book over, but also because I'd heard of the author, Shy Keenan, before and that she'd been to hell & back. I wasn't wrong.
The cover of the book features a picture of a little girl's face on the front and some quotes about the book. It's a Sunday Times Best Seller, and other comments made about it state it's 'The most shocking story of abuse ever told', that Shy 'Shy wasn't meant to survive her childhood' and that it's a 'A story of courage...heart-rending'. Quite a lot to live up to in a sense, because it's not just about the content, but the way in which it's written, which, having read it, I can honestly say was brilliant. It couldn't have been easy for her to retell her childhood or adolescence but she did so with dignity and honesty, leaving no stone unturned.
This is a true story, an autobiographical book under the author's nickname, Shy. Her real name is Karen, and this book details her childhood of abuse and of how she escaped it and got to where she is now. Because of the content, I really wouldn't advise this to younger readers. Obviously, I don't think children should be ignorant about abuse and what really goes on, but the details are very explicit and quite disturbing to say the least.
To give you a rough background to her story, Karen grew up in Birkenhead with her mother, Jennifer, her sister, Sandy, and her stepfather. Although her real father was around in the early years she rarely saw him, so her stepfather was seen as her father, whom she referred to as a child as 'Shiny Head', but whose real name was Stanley Claridge.
In addition to her immediate family, we're introduced to grandparents, such as Nanny Wallbridge, friends of the family, and various uncles (some of which weren't actually related uncles at all). To throw more names into the mix, we hear about the various services and workers she comes into contact with. It's strange that with so many people in the picture such events could have happened and happened for so long.
At first Karen tells her story through the eyes of her as a child, showing us how her innocence was brutally betrayed. Stanley, her stepfather, abused her verbally, physically and sexually from the age of 4. Her mother was no better as she also initiated abuse and left her own daughter partially deaf and with hearing problems, with several trips to ER for various injuries she inflicted upon her.
The abuse Karen was dealt is far too horrendous to detail here, but the level of sexual abuse she suffered truly shocked me. Through Stanley's warped treatment and behaviour, and her mother's physical abuse & mental/verbal assaults, many interventions are made by social workers, a head teacher etc. The most shocking thing is that this young girl, with visible scars (let alone the invisible ones), was ignored and in fact blamed for the problems. According to these so-called experts, who happily believed every word that came out of her evil stepfather's mouth, Karen was to blame. Labelled a promiscuous, sex-driven girl who causes all the problems, she was shipped from institution to institution, never receiving any help. In fact, those that were entrusted to care for her also abused her, which was disgraceful and sickening to read about.
Throughout this time, true family members came into the picture, though none initially were fully aware of what was truly happening. To cut a long story short, she was eventually taken under the wing of 2 family members, where she found some solace and support, and eventually made her own escape from the torture at home. It wasn't until much later, however, that the events came to light and justice was served.
There is much heart-ache and anger running throughout this book, and it's unbelievably saddening to hear what happened to this young girl, not just when she was young & being abuse, but when the abuse tainted her years to come, making her attempt suicide and lose hope.
But, there is a underlying sense of hope by the end of the book as we read about the justice, or small amount of it, for what was done to Karen and the numerous other children who suffered at the hands of Stanley Claridge et al. Growing into a strong woman made Karen move forward with her life, campaigning for the protection of children and eventually joining up with Sarah Payne (which I had previously read about in the news) and becoming the advocate for Pheonix Survivors.
The book is 305 pages in total, spread over 32 chapters. Whilst the content is very hard-hitting, harsh and extremely evocative, it's easy to read in the sense that it's wonderfully written. It's not a sob story, neither is it a story filled with anger or bitterness; it's an honest account, detailing events and emotions personally and in a way that's easy to understand (although I don't many will fully comprehend what she's been through).
A quote on the back reads: 'Broken is the most hard-hitting memoir of overcoming abuse you will ever read. It is both a challenge and an inspiration'. I would definitely agree and would recommend this - it's an eye-opener to a dark world, but a world I would rather know about than be ignorant towards.
I found myself gripped to read this from start to finish, with my emotions constantly up and down between anger, shock, disgust, sadness and, eventually, pride towards this incredibly courageous woman.
RRP £6.00 (£5 Amazon)