This was on sale at Audible the other day and I just snatched it up because it was categorized as a “memoir” and “true crime,” I enjoy a good memoir, but I really appreciate a good “true crime”.book. But first, before I get to the substance I wasn’t to state, right up front, there are trigger points. There’s child abuse and spousal abuse and it’s both physical and sexual. That said, it’s not overdone. And it’s in the context of s variously dysfunctional family.
Nowhere Girl: A Memoir of a Fugitive Childhood
by Cheryl Diamond
Read by Eileen Stevens: 10h 27m
Rating: 7.5 / memoir
Nowhere Girl is like Tara Westover’s Educated, where the completely controlling father and, to a lesser degree, raised their children on a very rural and somewhat remote farm with their own loose home-schooling and according to strict Mormon values based on what the father believe to be Biblical. In “Nowhere Girl” there’s no religious justification.
In Nowhere Girl the family hides their identities and relocates frequently; they’re “on the run,” apparently from the law. In both cases the children are home-schooled, but that’s pretty close to where the resemblance ends – unless you count the egotistical and completely controlling attitude of the fathers Chiara, age 16, and Frank, age 14, are the elder children in Nowhere Girl, with Harbhajon (called Bhajan by the family), is much younger. She’s the 1st person narrator, our memoirist.
“Memoir” is one of those nonfiction categories where “truth” has pretty forgiving boundaries. Memoirs are written according to the author’s memories and it’s their story so they get to tell it. With Diamond’s book I’m not sure how much I really believe happened as she tells it. I think there’s some less than forthcoming parts. But even with that, I’m sure most of it is accurate or her point of view as indicated. But there are some emotional scenes toward the end which feel were simply nice to write.
Nowhere Girl is told in chronological order and paced at about a chapter or so a year from when Bhajan is about age 5 or 6 until she is 15 or 16. It’s hard to have friends when you move all the time, but what you learn is often transferable – if you aren’t too stressed. Bhajahn learned languages and gymnastics and the basic academics but she dropped out at about age 16.
Dad has extremely high expectations of everyone but himself and the family really isn’t up to that kind of perfection. And then his self-discipline starts to slip.
Meanwhile, just like in Educated, Mom puts up with it and continues to be as loving as she can be. (They seem to be agreed on the need to move frequently and stay in hiding, but I won’t spoil things with the reason.) In school, two of the children, Bhajan and Frank are tremendous athletes competing in swimming and gymnastics. Chiara, the eldest seems to be mostly angry although they are all hurting.
The story is entirely from the point of view of “Alicia” or “Crystal” (Bhajan to her family) and other name. All three children become totally dependent on the parents for every single thing in modern life – like not knowing not to stand in the middle of a bike lane.
There seems to be enough money although to avoid detection and they pay cash everywhere – the money may come from illegal sources, but they have criminal-type friends in various locations, too.
There is abuse of all kinds. “This family functions on the edge of a precipice,” so Mom and Bhajan really try to believe that “nothing has happened,” and that “loyalty, dedication and believing in tomorrow” will hold them together. – And I’ll still my fingers there.