The two-word title “Girl Unbroken” stands proudly at the front of Rosie Maloney’s memoir, which reveals her bravery throughout an upbringing by a severely abusive mother. Rosie, now an unbroken woman, pairs up with her older sister, Regina Calcaterra, to continue their story of childhood abuse, which began in Calcaterra’s best-selling memoir, “Etched in Sand.”
Maloney’s story starts in Long Island, N.Y., at the innocent age of 8 when she and her brother are separated by social services from her violent mother, Cookie, and, as a result, from her beloved sister, Regina.
However, the farewell doesn’t last long when Cookie discovers that Rosie and her brother Norman have been placed in a disturbingly abusive foster home. During visiting time, Cookie and one of her many boyfriends kidnap Rosie and Norm for a long journey toward southern Idaho.
Cookie claims that she must rescue her children from an abusive foster home — but is really just avoiding the various warrants out for her arrest. The miles between New York and Idaho turn out to be great enough to leave the past behind and find anonymity in the rural West.
The spontaneous decision to relocate proves to be a blessing and a curse, and a major pivot point in Rosie and Norm’s life. After only a few months of living in Idaho, Cookie experiences the typical trials and tribulations of being a suspected thief, an abusive mother and a severe alcoholic in a new community — until she starts dating a man who is suspiciously eager to take the family in. And so begins the next major chapter in Rosie’s life.
Cookie’s new boyfriend is a local farm owner as well as a previously suspected pedophile. After Cookie destroys his marriage, she, Rosie and Norm move into their first long-term home, where the majority of the memoir takes place. However, the comfort of a reliable home is harshly juxtaposed with intensified abuse and imposed hard labor by Rosie’s mother and her boyfriend. He is happy to welcome them into his home yet quickly adopts Cookie’s abusive parenting methods, in addition to the sexual abuse he perpetrates on Rosie until she is a teenager.
This is the most unbearable portion of the memoir to read: the forced labor, the varying degrees of abuse, the extent of the children’s suffering and — most upsetting — the absence of legal support from their community.
For instance, the police abandoned Rosie when she confessed, for the second time, that her mother’s boyfriend had molested her for years; she was accused by the officer of simply trying to get out of farm chores. And when social services finally arrive at their door to investigate, the representative believes Cookie’s fabricated life story and drives away, without another word to say about the matter.
Throughout the memoir, the reader is continually antagonized by false hope, as legal services repeatedly make little to no effort to improve Rosie’s harrowing situation. Time after time, the system built to protect her fails her.
Rather than spiral into a life of despair, Rosie grows into an active, school-spirited teenager who volunteers and participates in any after-school activity to distance herself from Cookie and her boyfriend. She becomes a cheerleader, joins debate teams and becomes a part of major school functions. (She eventually goes on to graduate from Idaho State University in 1996). School is where Rosie can shine, learn and gain self-worth and value from her friends and teachers. In these safe, public spaces, the reader can meet the real Rosie Maloney, who is intelligent, caring, brave and every bit opposite her mother.
And ultimately, it is in high school that her teachers stepped in, demanded answers and forever changed the trajectory of her life. After learning the truth behind closed doors, one of the teachers, Ms. Linden, also known as Alaina, invites Rosie to live with her, thus lighting the path of healing.
On the first morning of her life with Alaina, she hands Rosie a spiral-bound notebook and encourages Rosie to write all of her experiences, and eventually, that is exactly what she does: “Telling my story gave me a helium lightness. It felt like I’d released an unfathomable weight from my body. Just as I’d always needed someone to see my achievements so that I could see them myself, I realized that I needed someone to see the abuse I’d suffered, too. Not so I could see it myself, but so I could see myself separate from the abuse. A whole person in spite of it.”
On page after page of “Girl Unbroken,” Rosie and Norm’s unimaginable torment continues, carving a deep wake of sadness begging for justice in the heart. Repeatedly, those who try to help are blinded by Cookie’s lies, limited by legal factors or even worse, choose to turn the other cheek. Cookie stormed in and out of their lives, “like a hurricane, blind and uncaring to everything in her path,” but she will forever fail in destroying the strong spirit of her children.
They will forever remain unbroken.
Bridget Howley is a library assistant at Boise State’s Albertsons Library.