[TW: SA, R*pe] I’m not usually a nonfiction reader. When I was younger, I used to say I only read fantasy. But after realizing in the past few years that I know so little about the world and others’ experiences, I knew it was more than past due to pick up some nonfiction. I first heard about Know My Name from WithCindy, one of my favorite YouTubers (also highly recommend her channel). We have different tastes for fiction, but our nonfiction likes and dislikes are usually similar. And when I heard her describe Know My Name, I knew that it would be a necessary, painful, eye-opening read.
I recently watched the movie Promising Young Woman. Cassandra, the main character, acts like she is intoxicated or high to “trick” men into taking her home–only to flip the tables on them. She is actually 100% coherent and shoves their violent actions back into their faces. There is a lesson to be learned in this movie: hurt women, and you will get burned. If you’re expecting this kind of message with Know My Name, prepare yourself. This book describes events that actually happened: the People vs. [Brock] Turner case. And as often happens in real life, justice is not served. And if a form of justice is served, it’s not usually what we ask for.
If you’re not familiar with this case, I highly recommend looking it up. But in short, Brock Turner, a student at Stanford University, raped Chanel Miller behind a dumpster. Although I state this simply, the case becomes inflated and convoluted by Brock’s decision to play the victim and hire a big-shot lawyer to try to weasel his way out of any convictions. At the same time, Chanel is forced to try to recover mostly on her own, while also balancing the ridiculous demands of the case.
Reading about sexual assault and rape is not easy of course, but it’s important. Especially when it’s a first-hand account from a survivor. This book doesn’t just touch on the physical, emotional, and mental ramifications of being assaulted. It also tears into the U.S. justice system and how it continues to fail women, people of color, and virtually all victims.
“When society questions a victim’s reluctance to report, I will be here to remind you that you ask us to sacrifice our sanity to fight outdated structures that were designed to keep us down. Victims do not have time for this. Victims are also students, teachers, parents, who can’t give up work or education. The average adult can barely find time to renew their license at the DMV.”‘Know My Name’ | Chanel Miller | pg. 288
Miller is insightful: she sees the whole picture. Over the course of her extremely long trial, a lot happens in the world. Between the #MeToo movement and Trump becoming President, there is a lot of triggering events for someone who has experienced assault. Miller gives each moment the time it needs. But she doesn’t stop at victims of sexual assault or rape. She expands this view outward to anyone who gets bled dry by people who are supposed to right the wrongs of others: cops, judges, Ivy League schools. No one is untouchable when they use their power to hurt people. And in this way, I think her book has the power to touch many lives in so many different regards.
“As I pored over the pages, the feelings began leaking in. To read each line was to be in the room slowly filling with water. It filled and filled until there was space just big enough to keep breathing, a sliver of air between water and ceiling.”‘Know My Name’ | Chanel Miller | pg. 108
Her writing is lyrical, powerful, and intentional with every sentence. I think one of my biggest struggles with reading nonfiction stems from my encounters with dry, boring writing that isn’t as narrative as it is like a diary. When Miller mentioned she’s a slam poet and comedian, I wasn’t surprised. Her narration is seamless and poignant until the very last page. So if you’re like me, and you struggle with nonfiction writing, I would say give this book a chance.
“When you hear a story about rape, all the graphic and unsettling details, resist the instinct to turn away; instead look closer, because beneath the gore and the police reports is a whole, beautiful person, looking for ways to be in the world again.”‘Know My Name’ | Chanel Miller | pg. 312
This book is important: we can’t forget, and we can’t let them get away with this. Chanel Miller’s story doesn’t exist in the confounds of her own experience. She notes how similar horrific acts are being forced upon people every day. I truly think Miller’s writing has the power to heal and challenge where needed. Even though no victim needs to bear this burden. And while reading, I felt my own encounters on the street alone bubble to the surface and fill me with anger. There is a universal experience that Miller writes about, and even greater: a call to action that all of us must choose to respond to.