I received a copy of this book for free from Book Sirens and I am providing this review voluntarily.
TRIGGER WARNING: use of derogatory terms for mental illness, physical and psychological childhood abuse, violence, murder, promiscuity, rape.
Girl Desecrated by Cheryl Cowtan was the story of Rachel on her 18th birthday. She’d been struggling with mental illness for many years, in the wake of severe mental and physical abuse at the hands of her mother, a religious zealot who had been institutionalized for the last 5 years. Rachel’s doctor had diagnosed her with psychosis and an alternate personality, who Rachel calls Scarlett. Complicating matters further was Angus, the handsome Scotsman who charmed his way right into Rachel’s life. All Rachel wanted was to be normal and find love, but Scarlett had darker desires. Will she be able to keep Scarlett in check, find love, and live the life she so desperately wanted?
Scarlett was much more than an alternate personality, and wound up being more of a dark legacy that haunts Rachel’s family tree (don’t worry, that wasn’t a spoiler). With vampire undertones to the story, I figured that this was the perfect way to kick off the month of October. The dark and spooky ambience of the book often had me on the edge of my seat, promising myself that I’d read just one more chapter to find out what happened next.
The author used some beautifully evocative descriptions in the book:
“Her voice was slick and sweet like warm maple syrup, and the men were caught by the promises in it.”
“The brown of my irises shimmered like the sweat-shined flank of a chestnut horse under the sun.”
There was also a strange scene early on where Rachel is in a bar by herself, and started experiencing some strange physical issues:
“My legs felt stiff, and with each step, it seemed I was slowing down, each stride shorter, until I was moving with a wooden-legged gait. Thankfully, no one was on this side of the bar to witness my bizarre movements.”
However, the author doesn’t explain any of this any further in the book, so we were kind of left in the dark about what exactly happened during this scene. I figured maybe she was fighting Scarlett for control of her body, but wasn’t completely sure.
I found Rachel and her tough girl act confusing in some ways. Who raised Rachel, since her father hadn’t been in her life and her mother had been in an institution for the last 5 years? Rachel mentioned that there had been multiple home visits from family services over the years, but then never discussed what happened in the last 5 years. If she were raised in foster care, I would have expected her to at least touch on this. Although I didn’t get the hint that she was, since there’s one part where she got a message from her mother, and had an internal dialogue about what she would have liked her mother to say to her:
“Sorry I … left you to raise yourself.”
Throughout the book, Rachel had a lot of animosity towards men with very little rationale as to why she felt this way. I was pretty sure that somewhere in her story there was a reason for her to distrust men so deeply, but it wasn’t explained at all. Also, for someone who was so self-reliant, I was surprised at how naïve she actually was towards the women around her.
On the other hand, I liked the portrayal of Scarlett’s character much more. She was the character that was much more independent, self-reliant, and adapted easily to all situations. She was confident and self-assured, even if she was extremely manipulative. While Rachel had difficulty sticking to her resolutions, Scarlett was her polar opposite. She made a decision and committed to it.
I found the plot to be interesting, and I read the entire book in one day. While Rachel’s character was somewhat likable initially, she had the tendency to get in her own way a lot. Her character started to grate on me after a while.
Something that really bothered me was the fact the psychiatrist in the story shouldn’t have worked with both Rachel and her mother, since that would have been a conflict of interest. Especially since he began working with Rachel at the same time as he started working with her mother. Some people may not have picked up on that, but since I have worked in the mental health field for years, I noticed that right away. It’s definitely a huge ethical violation.
I noticed many spelling errors throughout the book. A few misspelled words normally do not bother me, but the amount of errors frustrated me, and many of the misspelled words were simple ones, such as “matt” instead of “mat,” “focussed” instead of “focused,” or “stiff-need” rather than “stiff-kneed.” The book ended on a cliffhanger. This is another thing I usually don’t mind, but the included chapter from the next book didn’t really pique my interest. I’ll probably never find out what happens next.
While I read the whole book, and the premise was an interesting one, I also didn’t find the book itself to be my cup of tea. I struggled with the plot holes and lack of awareness towards mental health ethics. I felt that the book furthered the stigmatization of mental health disorders, rather than raising awareness and breaking down the stigma, which is what the mental health community could always benefit from. This book actively referred to people who have been diagnosed (and are in treatment, no less) by using derogatory terms, and while I could have overlooked the violence inherent in a vampire story, I couldn’t overlook rape and mental health stigmatization that weren’t essential to further a plot. I genuinely wanted to like the book, but ultimately it fell flat for me.
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