Score: 91/100 (9.1 out of 10)
An Unsuspecting Child by Marylee Martin is a heart-wrenching yet inspirational and adventurous dive into one woman's life following a childhood of covert childhood abuse that haunts her even as she travels the world and becomes a star actress.
That's right, this book does seem to have a slightly more uplifting and happy vibe to it than When to Run, Born Scared by Stephanie King, a book covering almost the exact same topic that we ironically just read and reviewed. Keep in mind that we scored When to Run, Born Scared a 9.6 out of 10, our highest rating ever, so that's a really tough comparison. It's difficult to take two life stories and say, “well, this one was more exciting” or “well, this one had the happier ending.” We've read a book by a Holocaust survivor and one by a mother who helped her daughter live as long and as happily as possible through Edward's syndrome, so it's always difficult and challenging to take these real-life stories and pit them head-to-head like it's some kind of contest for who's life was more dramatic. We do have to evaluate other things.
What we can do is compare these literary works in aspects such as tone, pacing, and memorable characters (referring, in this case, to real-life figures). As we mentioned before, the tone of this autobiography—while not glowing—is noticeably more bright. That may actually be to this book's detriment as that also means that it lacks the tension and suspense that When to Run, Born Scared did. With the latter, you were constantly on edge and worried about what was going to happen to the narrator, Stephanie, next. That book had more real-life twists and turns than a Six Flags roller-coaster ride. That also means that it was paced in a way that facilitated a heightened level of suspense and tension. With suspension and tension comes more engagement and intrigue.
With An Unsuspecting Child, the action and events are more scattered. That could be interesting to some because it adds a level of variety to the mix. After all, some people love to throw a lot of different things into the blender to make a smoothie. However, sometimes this seems to distract from the main issue the book is trying to bring light to, that being covert childhood abuse. Case in point: there is A LOT of adventuring in this book, and it can be exciting and interesting. We do, after all, want to see Marylee be safe and happy.
There are maybe two or three points in this book when she is truly happy: 1. When she travels from country to country and gets to see that there is beauty in life and the world, 2. When she is performing on-stage as an actress, living her dream, 3. When her loved ones throw a surprise party for her and make her feel loved and appreciated after what seemed like a pretty down time.
How about the figures/characters we follow throughout the book? Well, we can really only remember a few: Marylee, her dad, her therapist, her partner, and her step-daughter, Leona. If you were to quiz us on these characters, we might be able to answer without cheating. Marylee, of course, does have friends and relationships throughout the book, but they're more like NPCs. That's life, really. Your friends today might be afterthoughts tomorrow as they move away to have families and pursue careers.
Something that's always in the air is Leona's idealization of her late mother—a stoic, pious Christian woman. By the way, how ironic is it that that there's also a major character named Leona in When to Run, Born Scared. Wait a minute... is this a prequel or alternate universe!?! Dun dun duuuuuuuuun! Anyway, Marylee is constantly comparing herself to Leona's mother, and there is at least some semblance of jealousy she feels in competing with a ghost. It's one of the more interesting things about this book.
Although Marylee's discovery of her deep-seated problem in a therapy session seems a little anti-climactic, there is a bit of a payoff. Marylee's moments with her elderly and dying dad—the man who scarred her for life—are powerful.
We were thoroughly on Marylee's side throughout the book. How can't you be? While not a perfect person, Marylee is a victim who did absolutely nothing wrong to deserve what happened to her and how it affected her. Furthermore, Marylee is an inspiration. She took those terrible events and fought past them. While a lot of people fall into suicidal idealization, drug addictions, and homelessness, Marylee made something of herself. She set goals and she pursued them. She became a successful actress, even an award-winning actress! And she'll be an award-winning author at the end of this season!
Check it out on Amazon!