Speaking Truths by Dayna Hester Reviewed by Douglas R. Cobb What would it be like to be abducted as a child, to be sexually abused for years, to be conditioned through beatings and threats to think of your abuser as your “father,” and that your birth parents hated you and didn’t want you anymore? What would you believe: the “truth” of your everyday existence, the“truth” that your abductor wants you to believe, these “truths” that have definedwho you are for years; or, the actual truth that you were in reality kidnapedaway from loving parents who never stopped caring for you and loving you, andthat you’ve been brutalized by a monster in human form who has succeeded inbrainwashing you, convincing you that his lies are the truth? Speaking Truths isa powerful, page-turning, thought-provoking book by the talented authorDayna Hester about a teen who was abducted as a boy, was abused by hiscaptor, and who has been told lies for so long by his abductor that he hastrouble knowing what is the “truth” anymore.Told in the first person, from the POV of the abused teen, Speaking Truthsoffers much insight into the horrific trauma that victims of child abuse oftensuffer, and the long road they must travel once removed from their abusivesituation towards any semblance of normality. At the beginning of the book, wesee the world through the eyes of a teen who believes his name is LandonStarker. He has a low opinion of himself, though he is in reality a survivor, andhe has an even lower opinion of the other students in his high school, theirparents, and his teachers. Landon has come to believe that any abuse that theman who he’s come to know as “Bob,” whose name is actually Robert Starker, isa result of Landon’s own stupidity, and is a fit punishment for whatever hemight have done in any particular circumstance.When Landon notes any behavior displayed by his classmates which he thinks isstupid and would warrant himself getting abused by Bob, he feels hatred
towards them and how stupidly they’re acting. He believes that parent-teachernights are a sham, and that the parents who show up for them are not reallythere because they love their children and want to know how they’re doing, butthey’re there just to try to fool teachers into thinking that they care. He thinksthe truth about himself was that, no matter how badly Bob treats him, and K.C.,a boy whom Bob had previously abducted and whom Landon (Tyler Roberts ishis birth name), Bob is still better than his birth parents. Sure, Bob is a drunk,he beats K.C. (who has disappeared) and Landon, and holds a gun to Landon’sforehead; but, Bob is the one who Landon believes has rescued him both fromparents who didn’t love him, and also a shelter where he was forced to remainin a closet for hours at a time.Fortunately, for Landon, he is identified when he is fingerprinted after he andhis friend, Sam, get busted when Landon has “borrowed” Bob’s van late onenight when Sam convinces Landon to make a run to buy pot with him and givehim a ride there. The FBI descends on Bob’s trailer and whisk Landon away withthem to a special center where victims of abuse go to get counseled andtreated. Bob is not there when the FBI arrive, though he is later captured. Evenwhen Landon, or Tyler Roberts, is rescued by the FBI, he doesn’t feel gratitudeat first; instead, he feels angry that his life, such as it was, has been disrupted,and that he has to leave everything that he owns behind in the trailer. He still isconvinced that Bob’s “truth” is the only truth there is, and that when he iseventually returned to Bob, he’ll only be that much madder at him, and punishhim even more harshly than before.Landon/Tyler’s parents are understandable excited about Tyler’s rescue, butare ticked off when they learn that their son won’t be returned to them anytimesoon, and instead will have to spend several weeks more at the center. Theycome to visit Landon, and he tries his best to deal with the idea that they mightactually be his parents and that they never stopped loving him and hadn’t reallygiven him up; but, they want to rush things too much, and Landon hates it thatthey want to call him Tyler, and that they seem to negate how important K.C.was to him and his survival. Sadly, a person can never fully recover fromsomething like being abducted and abused for years; scars will always remain,whether they are visible or not.
Speaking Truths is a book that will make you think, will make you cry, will makeyou root for the narrator, Landon, and his efforts to shift through the various“truths” he’s been told and discover for himself what the real truth is,assembling it like a jigsaw puzzle. It has a great forward by Nick Cassavetes,the director of such movies as Alpha Dog and The Notebook. Speaking Truths isa book that will touch you deeply, and will stay with you long after you finishreading it and close the book. Dayna Hester has written a remarkable book, onethat needed to be written, about a childhood lost to child abuse, and what theever-changing “truth” is to anyone who is in an abusive situation. I highlyrecommend Speaking Truths–read it, you’ll be glad you did!