In this spellbinding read, Emily Fox Kaplan recounts being emotionally abused as a child by her stepfather, a well-off surgeon. Written in second person, Kaplan masterfully explores the telling of her own story, taking back control of the narrative with clarity and bravery. It’s a tense read about childhood abuse, toxic family dynamics, and the power of a “bad man,” and Kaplan guides the reader through the piece with a bold, assured voice.
You figure out which genres you love and which ones you don’t. You like historical fiction, stories of brave, precocious kids in troubled times. You like science fiction, and series about normal kids with everyday problems — strict teachers, bullies, beloved pets who die. You don’t like the horror series that are popular with your classmates, written in a second person much too visceral for comfort, where the protagonist is never in control. In those stories, the worst things always happen off the page, leaving you to fill in the most terrifying details.
And then there are the stories where, midway through, the premise shifts beneath you, where you realize that everything you thought you knew was false. You learn that these stories have what’s called an unreliable narrator. These are the scariest stories of all.
You prefer fairy tales, with their strange logic and their consistent casts of characters: unloved children and evil stepmothers, all happening some place outside of time. As you get older, you seize upon stories that play with their tropes: the castle as a metaphor for loneliness, the princess who saves herself.
And you’ll realize, too, that a person can tell a story any way she likes; that the same story — a little girl who loves to read — can be told as a horror story or a fairy tale, depending on the choices of the author.