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Stranger in My Skin by Alysa Phillips
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Stranger in My Skin

by Alysa Phillips

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Sometimes a book is born from a creative need, from a story caught in a head, a fantasy world that needs to be released. Sometimes a book comes from facts to be taught or a point to be made. And sometimes, every once in a while, a book is born from bravery. These are books that exemplify the power of words, of the sharing of an experience to both release and capture. These are the books that hug our hearts, embrace our souls and make us human. Stranger in my Skin is such a book.

Stranger in my Skin weaves it way through the life of a young woman. Back and forth through time and place Alysa Philips shares the story of her battle for survival. As the child of a Mormon family with a strict, harsh father and yielding mother she grew up in an environment she describes in terms that seem both commonplace and extreme. Her father counts the food his family eats and the gas they use with no exceptions. Her mother accepts this and adds her own brand of rigidity. It is from this background that she meets Joel, the man who will come to haunt her every minute for, what seems like now, forever. Joel is the son of a self identified doctor- a man who believes God has shared only with him the secrets to cure all disease. He uses his sons to help sell this idea of lymphnogenesis (not the real name) . His fervor forms the cult that entraps Alysa into a life of starvation, violence and rigidity.

Joel convinces her that she is ugly, unacceptable and unwanted. He and his cult family control every move of Alysa Her mother refuses to speak to her, "Instead, she emailed me or copied inspirational thoughts and scriptures onto pink cards, decorated them with stickers and left them in my shoes, under my pillow, or in my backpack. Her small notes added pounds to my backpack after I found them, but I never had the courage to throw them away." Alysa is alone to cope with the overwhelming stress of trying to measure up to the impossible as judged by the immovable. Her mother, doctors and teachers all ignore the obvious results of this strain, the bruises and cuts. With more strength than she ever gives herself credit for in this memoir, Alysa is able to leave Joel. Even though he continues to contact her and tries to see her, she is able to stay away. She begins a series of moves as she looks for a place that will be the answer to her search for relief, small town Arizona to Alaska and back. But the pain follows at every step in her journey; it can not be left behind.

This pain and fear in her life oozes out in the blood of her body as she self-injures. She explains she has "cut, burned, gouged and otherwise mutilated more than two hundred times." This is a powerful look at the world that engulfs her in confusion and panic. As she attempts to find out how to cope in a world seems to ignore her drowning, self mutilation becomes her tool for survival. In graphic descriptions Alysa Phillips has the courage to share her struggle though the fog and terror.

The poignant chapter, Afterword, gives a glimpse into the present, the world that still engulfs Alysa today as she tries to organize the past. The realization that she lived in the same cult with the nomadic pair David and Elidah- who becomes the infamous pair that kidnapped and held Elizabeth Smart- is a hard fact for the reader . It is interesting that Alysa does not use any of the true names of the cult or cult members to avoid a potential legal issue, which is telling in itself. The world protects the abusers but at what price to their victims, both past and future.

This book is a triumphant gift that shares its questions and fears with us. It will find its way to those who will see themselves in its pages, those that will find solace through familiarity. Self-mutilation, self-injury is no longer a hidden secret, Alysa Phillips has brought it from darkness to the front and center of society's consciousness. And in the glaring daylight it can be faced. ( )
  FrontStreet | Apr 9, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0974694029, Paperback)

Can you imagine cutting away bits of wrist skin with a toenail clipper until it meets the tender sheath of the vein? Alysa Phillips can. This young author, who became entangled with a menacing boyfriend, his cult-leader father, and the deranged vagabond who kidnapped Elizabeth Smart, helps us understand such bizarre acts of harm to one s own body. Growing up in a conventional Utah town with an exacting father who even counts the family's food, she later becomes involved with a polygamous cult and tries to cope with her various traumas through self-mutilation. You can check out a video intro to the book at: http://blip.tv/file/213649

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:54 -0400)

"Growing up in a conventional Utah town with an exacting father who even counts the family's food, the young author becomes entangled with a menacing boyfriend, his cult-leader father, and the deranged vagabond who kidnapped Elizabeth Smart. Instead of finding enlightenment in the severe and polygamous cult, she begins an obsession of self-mutilation and "geographical cures" that only accentuate the tenacity of her traumas. This is a story that will wake you in the middle of the night with an itchy question and move you to mull over the simple sigh of a co-worker, wondering anew at the mysterious complexities of human suffering, and of human endurance"--P. [4] of cover.… (more)

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