This excerpt, from the forthcoming The Forgotten Girls: A Memoir of Friendship and Lost Promise in Rural America, captures how heartfelt Monica Pott’s exploration into small-town America is. By focusing on the women she grew up with, a story that is the same across many places becomes personal — and thus deeply resonates.

The first time Vanessa had sex, she asked her boyfriend to stop, and he didn’t. Later, with other boys, Vanessa sometimes felt like she couldn’t say no to their advances, because she’d already lost her virginity. Only many years later did Vanessa recognize some of these incidents as sexual assaults, she told me when I visited her in 2017. She didn’t blame the boys, necessarily; they were just doing what everyone expected them to do, she felt. But her reputation suffered.