4 out of 4 stars
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With the re=emergence of the #MeToo movement in the video game development community, I decided to take on a book about a man who lived through sexual abuse of his own. In Tiny's Wall: A True Story of One Man’s Battle to Overcome the Shame of Childhood Sexual Abuse, Fran Fidler discusses what his uncle did to him for almost all of his childhood, as well as the physical and mental abuse his alcoholic mother put him through and the trials of surviving it all in a family that doesn't ever discuss its problems.
I'm typically reluctant to take on books with any kind of abuse because I'm so empathetic that I can't get through reading them, but something about Tiny's Wall called to me. While there were times when I sat with clenched teeth, imagining all of the terrible things I'd want to do to his mother and uncle, Fran did a magnificent job of exploring that abuse without it being overwhelming as a reader. In fact, all of the abuse itself is covered in less than a couple of pages throughout the book. Tiny's Wall isn't about what happened, it's about how those periodic, unpredictable events affected his whole life, and how Fran learned to deal with those effects. It's a story of rising above, finding a way to forgive, and living with that abuse as a permanent part of one's life.
Fran wove numerous stories from throughout his life into one narrative: the abuse, his childhood dreams of becoming an Olympic swimmer, dealing with his alcoholism, multiple accidents that set back his hopes of being a runner, and his spiritual journey. Tiny's Wall is told chronologically, so there's no jumping around and being confused by the order of events. Fran really made me feel his concern over anyone getting to know him despite wanting to have friends and belong. See, Fran believed that if anyone ever knew him well enough, his dark secret would eventually spill out and ruin everything. This led so far as to make him avoid some potentially amazing places and opportunities for swimming into his teens. But Fran doesn't complain about these things or ponder what-ifs, he merely explains why he made his decisions.
Tiny's Wall is a well-told, easy-to-follow book that's terrific for people who have been fortunate enough to never experience sexual abuse. But for those who have, it may be a much-needed beacon in the dark. Seeing Fran's journey through guilt, fear, rage, acceptance, and forgiveness is eye-opening. It's also a reminder that this happens, and that if it's happened to you, you're not alone. Fran ends the book with a list of resources, both for those who want to learn more about abuse and for those who have experienced it.
But Tiny's Wall is about more than just sexual abuse. It's about alcoholism, abusive parents, feeling alone, guilt, and finding a reason to keep going through it all. I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys autobiographies where people overcome everything life throws at them and anyone who has had to deal with any kind of abuse, as well as those looking for an insight into the far-reaching effects of abuse. Later in the book, Fran finds God, and while I (a Christian) found some of the things Fran experienced due to that connection to be spectacular, I don't think the subject is discussed enough to put off anyone, including atheists. I found only 1 error in nearly 160 pages. While there were a few moments where I wasn't as interested in the story as others, I can't bring myself to give Tiny's Wall anything but 4 out of 4 stars. Young children would likely want to stay away from the book due to the subject material, but Fran never gets explicit about what happened, and all of the "bad words" in the book are written as "f--k", "s--t", and so on.
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