Finding Annie by Katherine Turner

TW: mention of sexual assault/rape

Earlier this year, I read Finding Annie by Katherine Turner, who is a friend and client. I had the privilege of working on Finding Annie in 2019, and reading it again for pleasure was a much different experience than reading it for work.

I wrote the review below at the end of the summer, shortly after I finished reading the book. However, I held off on posting it—I wasn’t sure why. I’ve learned, though, that when I hesitate to do something, there’s a reason, and today, that reason is clear.

It’s Christmas Day, and it’s also the anniversary of when I was violently sexually assaulted. It wasn’t the first time I’d been assaulted—that occurred when I was 15 and I went to hug a male friend and he instead grabbed my crotch. The assault on Christmas Day, though, was different.

I won’t go into details here; that isn’t what this blog is intended to do. (That’s why I have Don’t Ask Liv, a blog for the tougher topics.) What I want to say here is I realized I was holding on to my review of Finding Annie because it was incomplete.

Here’s my original review:

I’ve been blogging here on The Pensive Bookworm for nearly a year, and to date, there remain only two books which I’ve struggled to review—Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and Finding Annie by Katherine Turner. Gone with the Wind is my all-time favorite book.

Finding Annie by Katherine Turner, however, vies for that place in my heart. And in many ways, Finding Annie rivals the mastery of Gone with the Wind, and I love it for many similar reasons. The same way that Scarlett O’Hara has gumption, a determination to survive and overcome, Annie Turner of Finding Annie possesses these same qualities, and that’s what draws me to this book over and over again.

Last autumn, I was honored with the opportunity to assist the author by proofreading Finding Annie. As I started reading Turner’s debut novel, I kept thinking, “This book is special.” I recently re-read my beautiful, autographed hardback copy, and I can’t stop singing its praises.

The story of navigating romance after sexual trauma, Finding Annie follows estranged high school sweethearts, Annie and Rob. Annie has returned to her hometown to house-sit for her foster mother for a year; Rob has never left. Although the two haven’t spoken since graduation, their compatibility is palpable from the start. Of course, as is often the case with all fantastic love stories, Annie and Rob’s story is speckled with evidence that they have been crossed by the stars, and it’s only when the truth of Annie’s unexpected departure years ago is revealed that they can begin to navigate their romantic potential together once more.

The truth behind Annie’s departure brings much pain to Rob, knowing that someone he loved cost him a decade with the love of his life. And as Annie grapples with the pain of her past paired with watching the ways in which it impacts Rob (the exact thing she’d tried to prevent and avoid for so long) she begins a journey to find herself. This journey is something that will be incredibly familiar to survivors of trauma—sexual or otherwise—because it’s the journey of Annie discovering who she is now that she’s accepted what happened to her.

It’s that journey that keeps me coming back to Finding Annie every few months, either to read it again or share a passage with a friend. Like Annie, I’m a survivor of a sexual assault, and Katherine Turner flawlessly captured what it’s like to wrestle with the reality of what happened and the reality of where a person would like to be, despite the past.

There is one passage in Finding Annie that I find to be the most profound, and in this passage, the author reveals (through Rob’s thoughts) the exact thing I’ve been trying to explain to my loved ones for years.

A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth as I carried the board game over and started setting it up on the coffee table. The Annie I knew was still inside; she just needed a little coaxing. The road ahead would be far from smooth, but that didn’t make any difference to me.

That’s the thing normal people didn’t seem to understand about people who’d been through the fucked-up kinds of things we had—we were never really over it. We would always have setbacks. They seemed to think we could just flip a switch and be good from then on, but it didn’t work that way.

Finding Annie, page 197

As a survivor of trauma, I can say truthfully that sometimes, we might be broken, but never beyond repair. We’ll never be as “whole” as we would’ve if The Thing hadn’t happened, but when someone loves us anyway—when someone loves us, stands beside us, through the pain we still carry, even though The Thing is long past—we can begin to heal.

Rob’s thoughts continue, and there’s something else he says in this passage I want to bring to attention:

The journey with Annie had always reminded me more of one of the steep mountain roads that surrounded our secluded valley. You moved slowly back and forth along the switchbacks that might seem to be taking you back the way you came, and might seem to be endless, making no real progress toward the top of the mountain. But really, if you just back up far enough to see the whole road, you’d realize you were always advancing incrementally with each pass. And the winding road itself, if you just took a moment to notice, was at least as beautiful as the view from the top.

Finding Annie, page 197

We survivors…we’re like kintsugi—the Japanese art of using a precious powered metal to repair a broken piece of pottery.

If you look up kintsugi examples, it’s easy to see how they were broken, but it’s also stunning to see how they’ve been repaired. And that’s the treatment I beseech of the loved one of survivors. We may never be whole in the same way, but we can be whole again. If you’d just look past the pain—the brokenness—to see all of us, you’d see we can be beautiful this way, too.

That’s the gorgeous message of Finding Annie, too. As Annie finds herself again—practicing emotional kintsugi, so to speak—and as she and Rob begin to find themselves again, Katherine Turner remains flawless on each page. This book is to survivors what The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama was to the American people in 2006—a voice, rising above the din, to give us hope.

To give us strength.

To give us community in our needs, knowing that others on the same path need the same things, and that some of our fellow travelers have had those needs met, so we can, too.

Finding Annie is a five-star-and-then-some book. Finding Annie is the book I ask my friends to read to understand me better because Katherine Turner is so insightful and transparent with the shared plight of survivors, both recovering from trauma and finding a way to love and be loved again.

I strongly recommend Finding Annie to all survivors and loved ones of survivors. Katherine Turner doesn’t shy away from the realities of recovery, and these blunt truths are essential for the sake of community for survivors; for loved ones, they’re vital to begin some comprehension of what it’s like to be a survivor…and what we often need but don’t always know how to vocalize.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it many more times: Katherine Turner is the author our society, our culture, our world desperately needs. Finding Annie is the first book in Turner’s Life Imperfect series, and I cannot wait to read the next installment of Annie’s story. Everything Turner writes is noteworthy, whether it’s about recovery or striving to make the world a better place. You can follow her blog at kturnerwrites.com.

What was missing is something I only realized today:

Finding Annie is the book that broke open the years of repressed pain and gave me permission to call what happened to me what it was—sexual assault. It wasn’t “a guy getting carried away”—it was a crime. And crimes have victims, someone who was wronged, and we can use all the “survivor” terminology in the world, but first, I needed permission to say, “Dammit, I have been wronged!” Katherine Turner’s book gave me that permission.

Reading Finding Annie a little over a year ago set me on a journey that has changed my life in more ways than I can count. When I think back on last Christmas, I hardly recognize my life. The permission Finding Annie gave me to look back on the Christmas Day nearly a decade ago and say, “Hey, I didn’t want that to happen, I asked for it not to happen, then it did happen, and that was wrong” is freeing. As I read it again this summer, Finding Annie gave me the grace to ask tough questions and renew old connections so that I can begin to piece together my life after that assault… I’m grateful beyond words for that.

After I was assaulted, I didn’t recognize myself. I lived in a very numb state for almost two years. How I healed wasn’t what I expected to do—actually, I didn’t even realize what I did as healing at the time—and yet, looking back now, knowing what those experiences were, I see how I was putting myself back together. I was finding Olivia, to borrow Katherine’s terminology. What that person did broke something in me, and I had to piece it back together; I made myself into a kintsugi piece. I just didn’t recognize it for being that until I read Finding Annie and felt Annie’s heartache like it was my own. Then, I read it again, and I realized the heartache was my own.

It’s about four hours now before the exact “time anniversary” of what happened to me almost a decade ago. Back then, I had no idea what would happen to me Christmas Night, and that night, I had no idea where I’d be in a few years. All these versions of me seem so different, and yet, as I write this, I see how each version—the un-penetratively-assaulted, the un-broken, the un-healed—was a step to this version, the Olivia I am now. And, somehow, all those versions led me to connect with Katherine Turner and read her book, a book about a young woman finding herself as she deals with a long-hidden trauma…a book which lovingly forced me to do the same.

Finding Annie is the book we need because of the way Katherine describes and details the healing process, and Finding Annie is the book I needed to find myself.

Lifetime Reading List: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

As I’ve said before, anytime I re-read a Harry Potter book, I wonder what new aspect of the story I’ll enjoy. When I set out to re-read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban yet again, I was struck by the amount of emotion J.K. Rowling was able to evoke from me, particularly regarding Remus Lupin and Sirius Black.

Friends since boyhood, Remus and Sirius were torn apart by the circumstances surrounding the death of James Potter, betrayed by the fourth member of their group, Peter Pettigrew. However, Sirius alone knows of Peter’s betrayal, and after more than a decade in prison, he’s determined to finally correct the record.

Unbeknownst to Harry Potter, this quest sets the events of his third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry into motion. While Remus becomes the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor and Sirius hides throughout the grounds of Hogwarts and neighboring village of Hogsmeade, the pair remain foes until the penultimate scene in which Harry and his two best friends learn the truth alongside their professor.

This plot contains a vital—yet often forgotten—lesson. Things are not always as they seem. Remus Lupin, who’d been one of the closest friends of both James and Sirius, was not privy to the information that changed the fate of the entire Wizarding World and allowed Peter to betray them all. Remus readily believed the story put forth by the Ministry of Magic explaining the events surrounding the murder of the Potters, quickly assuming Sirius had double-crossed their friend, never giving a second thought to Peter, who was renowned for his rat-like nature.

As the truth is revealed to Harry, Ron, and Hermione alongside Professor Lupin, a great deal of fraternal love is also apparent. The same way Harry’s father was sure his friends would be with him until the end, the allegiances Harry shares with Ron and Hermione are emboldened, drawing some excellent parallels between father and son. In many ways, Rowling exemplifies how shared experiences can bond a rag-tag group for life, creating connections that run much deeper than they may appear to others, or even those of one’s family.

Although I’ve been known to say that Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is one book that I feel could easily be removed from the series (primarily because Voldemort, the antagonist of the series, only appears in name), I do appreciate how the weight of Harry’s adventures in this third installment impacts the remainder of the story.

I’m reminded of the adage “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” In other words, the bonds we choose are stronger than those with which we are born. For the way the friendships of Harry’s father influence Harry’s story (and the lessons therein which, I believe, readers should seek in their lives), I agree with the placement of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on the Lifetime Reading List. Additionally, now that I’ve read the first three books of this series with said list in mind, I understand why Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was omitted…but more on that later. 😊

I’ll post my review of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban next Friday, but for now, check out my other posts about Harry Potter here:

Lifetime Reading List: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Book Review: Before the Crown by Flora Harding

Note: I received a free copy of this book from Net Galley and am leaving this review voluntarily.

When I first saw Before the Crown by Flora Harding on Net Galley, I hurried to request an Advance Review Copy (ARC). As followers of my blog are aware, I am a huge English History buff and have slowly been making my way from the Protestant Reformation to present day. Additionally, I believe that Queen Elizabeth II is the granddaughter of Henry VIII via his liaison with Mary Boleyn, who bore Catherine Carey, confirmed grandmother of the current English monarch. While I haven’t watched more than the first episode of Netflix’s The Crown, I was quickly certain that Harding’s book was a must-read for me.

I began reading Before the Crown voraciously, excited to read my first-ever historical fiction book about a modern figure. However, within a few chapters, my interest waned. As interesting as the courtship between then-future Queen Elizabeth II and Phillip Mountbatten was, I found myself longing for a bit more historical context (more about the Second World War that defined their youth beyond rationing, for example) and a little less dialogue. For that matter, as I continued reading the book, I felt that I was forcing myself to finish it—the back-and-forth conversation and alternating perspectives (occasionally with overlap in action as the point of view alternated) didn’t hold my interest.

The one thing, though, I did appreciate about this book is the context it gave me for various figures in the Windsor Court, which is certainly helpful as I begin watching The Crown and try to recall who each character is and why they behave a certain way (i.e., regarding their role within the Court).

As far as my enjoyment of the book is concerned in association with the elements of history included in the period, I’m giving Before the Crown by Flora Harding three stars. Perhaps if I was a bit better versed in Windsor history, I would’ve liked the book more. My personal preferences (less dialogue, more context) also prevents me from awarding any additional stars, but I’ll concede that it’s well-written for what it is.

Lifetime Reading List: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

As I begin to write these analyses, I ask myself a variation of the same question: Is this book one I am grateful to have read because it gave me something I believe we all should know?

If my answer is “yes,” then I seek to identify what the “something” is, if I knew it before reading the book and the book simply enhanced my knowledge, or if it brought something entirely new to my mind.

If my answer is “no,” then I seek to identify what about the book isn’t particularly special (or in the case of The Princess Bride and 1984, why it vexed me) yet how it still managed to land on the Amazon/Goodreads Lifetime Reading List anyway.

When it comes to Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, though, I am very conflicted.

You can see from my analysis and review of The Hunger Games that Collins didn’t exactly hook me into her trilogy. On the other hand, as stated in my analysis and review of the sequel, Catching Fire, I read that book in one day and loved every page. Mockingjay took three days to read, and I am still struggling to decide if I think it belongs on this Lifetime Reading List more than two months later.

My knee-jerk reaction is to say “No, it doesn’t.” I thought the first two-thirds of the book were full of world-building for the rebellion in Panem, while the final third was action-packed and full of surprises. It was a nice conclusion to the series, but that’s just it; it was nice. Not gripping or explosive—just nice. If this book wasn’t on the Lifetime Reading List and the conclusion to a series, would I have bothered to finish it? Maybe, but if so, only because I don’t like to abandon books.

There was one passage, though, early in the book that stood out to me.

Katniss is talking to Gale about the new weapons District 13 has prepared for them to use during the war, and Gale mentions that he’s ready to use a weapon to kill people in order to protect his loved ones, to fight. Katniss quietly agrees she’d do the same thing, yet she hesitates in speaking further because she is unsure how to explain that she’d never forgotten the lives she’s taken in the arena (Mockingjay, p. 68-69)

I think this passage stuck out to me because that’s the one thing most films and books fail to address. The hero/heroine will readily fire into a crowd or take the life of their foe, but the way that traumatizes them is lost to the remainder of the plot. As a former psychology student, I recall plenty of essays, like this official opinion from the American Psychological Association, about violence in video games. As a mother, I’ve heard plenty of conversations about how various film productions may desensitize our children to the realities of violence, especially gun violence. As a citizen, I’ve read numerous newspaper articles about how observing violence at home or in the media may have been a contributing factor for the school shooter’s decision.

Throughout the series, Collins alludes to the PTSD experiences of the victors—how Haymitch drinks to forget, how some turn to morphling, how Katniss and Peeta both have nightmares—and that is something I greatly appreciate about her books. If I choose to read this series with my children when they reach middle school, this presents a fantastic discussion point. Thus, I think if the theme of PTSD and living new traumatic experiences is addressed, Mockingjay is a must-read book. However, without discussion, many of the vital lessons in the book are lost.

If I separate the aspects I didn’t like about the book itself from the talking points the story presents, I can see why Mockingjay is included on this list. And for those points alone, as I’ve written this analysis, I’ve decided that I agree with its placement.

Make sure you come back next week to see my review of Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins!

Book Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

“I finished Catching Fire today,” I texted Valerie. “Read all but the first chapter in one day.”

“That good?!” she replied.

“I love Catching Fire. Five stars compared to the three I gave The Hunger Games.”

“Oh snap… I’m curious what the difference was!”

The difference, dear reader, is in the motives. I think this is what sets Catching Fire absolute leagues above its predecessor. As I told Valerie, “The Hunger Games was like ‘I don’t want Prim to go!’ then ‘I don’t want Rue to die, but I promised Prim I’d win!’ to ‘Let’s Romeo and Juliet this because screw Snow’ THE END.”

By comparison, Catching Fire has much more of a political angle, both regarding the government and social elements. I’m more readily invested in that because it speaks to Katniss and Peeta’s motives, as opposed to in The Hunger Games where Katniss is running around the wooded arena trying to stay alive without directly killing anyone. Furthermore, there’s a lot more of an emotional punch in this one, especially regarding the ways Cinna helps Katniss rebel, Finnick’s love for Mags and his instant dedication to the Mockingjay, as well as the solidarity of District 11, no matter the cost.

From the beginning, Catching Fire caught (ha, puns) my attention in ways The Hunger Games failed to do. As I said in my review of The Hunger Games, if Catching Fire weren’t on my Lifetime Reading List, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. I didn’t feel connected enough to Katniss to ask “Well, what happens now that she’s back in District Twelve and the Games are over?” I just didn’t care enough about her. However, I am so glad that I did read Catching Fire because it answered the question in ways that exceeded my expectations and introduced an angle of her humanity (and remaining girlhood) that was sorely absent from the first book.

In regard to the Games of the Quarter Quell, I thought the challenge the arena presented as clock was unique and clever, and the hints given to Katniss by Plutarch Heavensbee, the Gamemaker, brought me to misty eyes as she realized he was a part of a much bigger scheme. The way Cinna rebelled against President Snow with Katniss’s gown also brought me to tears because it showed the level of sacrifice this quiet, caring man was willing to make for his “girl on fire” and symbol of the rebellion (and I’m tearing up again as I write this!).

The competitors, especially Finnick and Mags, brought depth of Katniss’s role in a competitor as well as her personality, which felt flat in The Hunger Games. Every element of the author’s storytelling ability improved from the first to second installment, and now, I can’t wait to start reading the third!

Book Review: Forever in Blue by Ann Brashares

The conclusion to the original four-book series, Forever in Blue by Ann Brashares bittersweetly sends Lena, Carmen, Bridget, and Tibby off into their adulthood.

After several tormented years of trying to banish the love she lost from her mind, Lena spends her summer painting, trying to see if she can truly move on from Kostos. As she paints, she begins to form a new picture in her mind: What could life look like without him? As she finally begins to move on, Kostos returns. Although Lena doesn’t exactly welcome him back with open arms, she does consider the possibility of someday…maybe…in the indeterminate future… reuniting with her first love.

Carmen, of course, spends the summer brooding, but for new reasons. Under the influence of Julia, a confident-as-a-cover-for-insecure actress, Carmen joins a stage crew for a summertime production of The Winter’s Tale. When Carmen wins the leading role, Julia’s jealousy almost sabotages Carmen’s debut as Perdita. However, as always, Carmen finds her confidence at the last second and rises to the occasion, finally getting a happy ending without damaging any of her important relationships in the process.

Bridget’s storyline is perhaps the most complex. On an archaeological dig in Turkey, Bridget realizes she is scared of her feelings for her long-time sweetheart, Eric. She thinks their lives are marching in two separate directions, and instead of communicating with Eric, finds herself in a messy emotional situation with a married man, who is a fellow member of the dig team. As she works through her romantic problems, she also realizes how brief life truly is and decides to live it to the fullest.

Four years of friendship, friend zone, and budding romance later, Tibby calls it quits with Brian, having decided she’s too afraid of the potential consequences of their love. However, Brian doesn’t want to wait around for Tibby to realize (again) that too much of a good thing isn’t bad and begins dating Effie, Lena’s younger sister. Seething, Tibby spends the summer lamenting Brian’s seeming ability to move on; after all, she only broke up with him, she didn’t give him permission to date other girls, right?

The foursome reunites for one last adventure in Greece. As revenge for being excluded from the group and being dumped by Brian, Effie steals the Traveling Pants, only to lose them in Santorini. Lena, Carmen, Bridget, and Tibby fly to Greece to find them, but to no avail. On their last night together, they go swimming in the Caldera, and Bridget shares in the Epilogue how the magic of the Pants may not have been in the actual Pants, but in what they represent. The girls know now that their lives are changing and they will always be drifting apart as they begin adulthood on their own, but they must remember to make time for one another. That even apart, they can still be close at heart.

Forever in Blue is a solid conclusion to the original four-part series, wonderfully completing each girl’s storyline from unsure fifteen-year-old in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants to a less-unsure new adult. While Girls in Pants will always remain my favorite portion of the story, Forever in Blue comes in a close second. The growth of each girl is believable, but hearkens to The Second Summer of the Sisterhood in the sense that it’s clear Lena, Carmen, Bridget, and Tibby still each have much to learn. While the book is rampant with self-doubt, I can’t say it’s unrealistic for a new adult, and each of their situations are plausible. I give this installment four stars.

The fifth part of the story, Sisterhood Everlasting, takes place ten years later. While I haven’t bought the book yet, I look forward to reading this final installment (again) soon.

Book Review: Girls in Pants by Ann Brashares

Of all five books in the Sisterhood series by Ann Brashares, Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood is absolutely my favorite (although the first book is a close second, review here). I feel that the arcs for each character are true to their personality as well as the lives of readers. The experiences of Bridget, Tibby, Lena, and Carmen show tremendous growth for each young woman when compared to who they were when the series began, and their challenges are significantly more captivating that those of the prior installment, The Second Summer of the Sisterhood (review here).

After two years of friendship and the shared loss of their friend Bailey, Tibby and Brian finally find themselves in uncharted romantic territory. It’s refreshing to see Tibby struggling with a different sort of intimate relationship. Although the reader has seen Tibby struggle to share her deepest fears and pains with her fellow Sisters, the way Brian understands Tibby and wholly accepts her is inspirational. I like the message Brian brings for younger readers who may be as relatively inexperienced in dating as Tibby, and I enjoyed watching Tibby discover the softer portions of herself.

Carmen is working through a new challenge. While in the first book Carmen resisted accepting her father’s new wife/step-children and in the second she basically repeated her mistakes point-for-point with her mother’s new boyfriend, now Carmen is spending the summer watching over Lena’s Grandma Kaligaris. By watching Grandma’s silent depression and longing for life back in Greece, Carmen discovers the truth behind some of her deepest fears and insecurities. Finally, Carmen experiences growth, and for that, I am grateful.

And while Carmen experiences emotional growth, Lena finds herself fighting for what she wants.

I cannot find words to express my celebration for Lena’s journey in this book! After denying herself what she wanted for the past two summers, when Lena’s father informs her that she will have to pay for art school on her own, she sets out on a mission to do just that, meanwhile working to still receive his blessing. As she fights for what she wants, the reader receives an interesting perspective into the value of family in Greek culture, something I found particularly fascinating as a woman of Mediterranean descent in a very patriarchal family.

Bridget spends her third summer returning to where her transformation from lovestruck-teen to heartbroken young woman began, this time as a coach…who happens to be working alongside the man who broke her heart two years ago. But this time, she learns that although the Pants may have the Sisterhood magic, it’s up to her to decide how her destiny will unfold.

The element of Girls in Pants that I most enjoyed was simply the way this book hearkened to the summer that started it all, but with so much changed for each Sister. I felt like The Second Summer of the Sisterhood was more of a do-over of the first book, especially in regard to Carmen and Tibby. The plots of the second were too similar to the first, but in the third installment each Sister found herself finally learning from her mistakes and experiences.

If you didn’t care for The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, this third book is certainly worth reading. I feel that the second book is the weakest, and Girls in Pants sets up the action for Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood in a fantastic, page-turning way. I have nothing but praise for Girls in Pants by Ann Brashares.

Due to the mature content of the first two books and its vital nature to the plot of the third, I suggest this book for readers age fifteen and older.