Stronger Than You Know is a horrifying portrayal of one girl’s struggle to feel normal after facing abuse for her entire life, leading her to severe trust issues, anxiety issues, panic disorder, and fear of the outside world and most of the people in it. It is a story of survival and overcoming odds, as well as finding happiness and a good life afterwards.
Joy has only ever known the small trailer that she lived in with her mother and the random men that her mother dated. She rarely went outside, and she suffered abuse from her mother and her mother’s boyfriends, including sexual abuse. When her mother ends up going to jail, Joy’s aunt and uncle are called and asked if they would like to take her in. Happily, they agree – and as they find out the extent of Joy’s suffering, they help to make her life whole again.
It’s difficult for the whole family – Joy can’t be around her uncle at first, because she doesn’t trust men and does not want to be around someone who she fears might repeat the same abuse as the other men that she has known. Joy’s cousins try to be understanding, even though it is difficult for them to accept this girl they’ve never met coming to live in their home – a girl who has severe anxiety and panic attacks set off by the slightest things. While they aren’t used to it, they try to help her get accustomed to real life – school, friends, and doing the things that teenagers do, such as going shopping and getting a boyfriend.
When Joy meets a boy while walking to school one day, it is difficult for her to talk to him, but he sticks around and eventually the two of them strike up a friendship – something healthy and positive for her.
This book was difficult to read – especially Joy’s reactions to her family members (such as her uncle), and her fear of even being outside. I felt a lot of emotions while reading this book, and it really is a powerful novel about abuse and severe anxiety.
The main problem I had with this book (and the only one, really), was the fact that I wasn’t really able to connect to the characters in a way that I would have liked. They all seemed a bit superficial, as opposed to being deep and complex, which you would expect in a novel like this one. Maybe if the book had been a little longer, there would have been more room for character descriptions and development, but there just wasn’t any there (with the exception of Joy – it was wonderful seeing how she learned to cope with everything that was going on).
I can’t imagine being in Joy’s shoes – things were really rough for her, and it really shines a new light on anxiety and panic disorder. Stronger Than You Know does a good job portraying what it is like to have a panic attack – and how debilitating one can be. Joy did have a great support system, and this played an important part in her recovery.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.