“Well, if it’s right there in front of you…”

Little girl at play with paints, by Serhiy Kobyakov, Veer 3880292

Little girl at play with paints, by Serhiy Kobyakov, Veer 3880292

I thought I was finished.

Our writing critique group of five recently met for the last time in 2012 due to the anticipated busyness of December. Because I completed my book (now at 72,000 words), and gave myself a deadline to be finished with edits by the end of the year, I sent them the final three chapters instead of the usual one. Here’s what one member of my group said.

“You’ve said all along this story is about redemption and forgiveness, but there’s only a very tiny bit about this at the end. It needs to be the meat of the story. It went too fast. Show the hatred. Go through the grief process. We didn’t see the anger, tears, blaming…”

In my novel, under the noses of their parents, a 10-year-old little girl is molested several times by her 15-year old brother. The boy is found out and arrested. He gets sentenced to 10 months in a juvenile detention center.

There are several scenes showing the emotional impact of what’s happened. The feedback was extremely discouraging as I thought I’d gone deep enough.

More discouraging—disturbing, actually—was that out of the four other people in my group, two of them thought that I was too hard on the older brother. They are both retired folks—a man in his 80s, a woman in her 60s. They said stuff like:

  • “You sent him to jail just for messing with his sister a couple of times? That’s rather harsh, isn’t it?”
  • “He’s just experimenting. It isn’t that bad. It’s normal.”
  • “Well, if it’s right there in front of you…”

So many thoughts screamed through my head. They’re making so many assumptions. They’re so ignorant. This is why childhood sexual abuse is so rampant.

Thoughts toward the woman: If you or someone you love went through this, you’d think differently.

Thoughts toward the man: What do you have in your history? Did you doodle with your little sister or cousin and because they were “right there in front of you”?

Lord help me. Instead, I said, “I might agree with you to some degree if two kids are ‘experimenting’ when they’re the same age—like maybe two 12-year-olds. That’s at least understandable. But you’re telling me you think it’s okay for a 12-year-old to mess around with, say, a 5-year-old? Being abused, invaded, even once by someone you trust damages the soul. It destroys your ability to trust or make connections with other people. It’s a huge deal.”

The other two women in our group agreed with me. A debate ensued. I don’t think anyone’s opinions were changed.

There are two issues here.

  1. The assumption that “youthful experimentation” isn’t sexual abuse is a major hurdle. Other readers may have the same response as my critique partners. Clearly I haven’t told the story well enough to break them out of their assumptions. And I need to stop assuming that everyone agrees that doodling with little children is a bad thing. [It’s painful just writing that sentence.]
  2. If my group of five is a microcosm of society, no wonder little girls and little boys are seen as free game—“Well, if it’s right there in front of you.” [That comment sickens me.] Maybe the world needs my little book.

This should be the impetus for me to tackle my story with renewed vigor. I should be on a mission to write a story that will change hearts and minds.

The problem is I don’t want to work on this book anymore. I’m done. I need to move on. I’m so tired of this topic. I can’t keep looking into the darkness. I want to quit. But I can’t.

Is it my job as a writer to transform my reader? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.   —Proverbs 3:5-7