The Dead Inside by Cyndy Etler details the true story of a girl who’s striving to escape the confines of her abusive home and Straight, Inc., a company that secretly manipulates children and teens into submission. In this heartbreaking and raw story about the dismal aspects of adolescence and the difficulty of surpassing the past, Etler describes her growing up for readers in a way that is incredibly impactful and eye-opening. Her sad and heartfelt words are impossible to forget and are filled with the pain and hope of moving on.
The story begins with Cyndy trying to grow up while constantly having to face her violent stepfather and her blind mother, a combination that proves to be scarring. But the real tragedy begins when Cyndy runs away from home and she is given two choices: return to her parents or be placed into a foster home. Cyndy instantly wants to leave her old life, even if it means being placed with another family. What she doesn’t know, though, is that her new home will be within the walls of Straight, Inc., an organization that appears to help and guide struggling teens but actually uses brutal and abusive methods to brainwash its patients. With the will to survive and the resolve to remain true to herself, Cyndy must fight to remember the past and strive to take back control of her own life.
The Dead Inside was completely horrifying in the best way possible. Etler tells her painful story without restraint and gives teens a tool to explore abuse, sexual assault, and drug use. While extremely intense and brutal at some points, the narrative was always very interesting, and readers are sure to be glued to the pages, watching as Cyndy fails, strives for survival, and discovers the truth in her own life.
While it is important for this book to be accessible for teens, there is lots of mature material presented, including drug use, graphic sexual material, child abuse, and extremely profane language that may make this story too graphic for some teens. Despite the mature content, The Dead Inside will introduce teens to a memoir that remains engaging and realistic while avoiding the typical lackluster tone of many true-to-life stories.
She just wanted to escape the clutches of her stepfather, but she ended up somewhere much, much worse. Etler’s story is both inspiring and completely shocking; this is a memoir unlike anything else on the shelves today. With a similar tone to The Glass Castle, The Dead Inside uses the tragedies of the author to help teens deal with issues of their own and to illustrate that books can be brutal and honest, not only depicting the glamorous and romantic aspects of teen life. For those willing to enter into the dark and tragic childhood of Cyndy Etler, this memoir is sure to inspire teens to surpass the odds in their own life and to gain hope that there is always a chance for escape, even in the most impossible of situations.