Unlikely Rebel: A Church Girl’s Journey Out Of Shoulds And Shame, by Kelli Gotthardt
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Kregel Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.]
There is nothing unlikely at all about the author’s feeling of quiet rebellion from the tyranny of shoulds and shame. When one reads about the author’s struggle with eating disorders, with trouble saying no to requests for help, to her difficulty with boundaries, to her struggles with trust and intimacy in relationships, to her ferocious defense of the dignity of people often marginalized, to her struggles to be seen as a good girl, both in terms of self-medication with food and work, as well as in her ability to pretend to be okay when she is not together at all, to her struggles with anxiety and depression, it is very clear exactly what sort of suffering and anguish are driving the author. One only wonders why it takes about half the book before the author discloses her own horrifying experiences with both simulated and actual rape, the simulated rape occurring as part of a normal school experience where freshman girls dressed in harem girl costumes as the pretend slaves of senior guys, which is wrong on so many levels that it staggers belief that such things could be practiced in a school where dancing was thought to be too sexually suggestive. This book is poignant, deeply honest, and probably counts as uncomfortable oversharing, but there is nothing unlikely about it.
In terms of its contents, this book is divided into three parts, with several short chapters in each part totaling a bit more than 150 pages as a whole. The first part of the book, “Leaning In,” describes the author’s decision to start saying no to commitments as she attempted to recover from a particularly difficult struggle with chronic depression. This section also discusses her ambivalence between wanting to succeed and being afraid of too much attention and scrutiny, a familiar problem with those who struggle with the same personal background as the author. The second section, “Letting Go,” discusses the author’s painful and gradual attempts to let go of pretending to have it all together, of seeking the approval of others, of being nice, of being “mother of the year,” of seeking attention and worldly significance, of being considered super spiritual, of the past, and of having the “ideal marriage.” All of these aspects of renunciation are concessions to the truth about one’s limitations, one’s background, and one’s struggles, although it is hard for any of us to admit that we’re not quite as fit as others, or that our scars are deeper or that our struggles are more taxing on us than everyone has to deal with. The third section “Living Out” ends the book with a picture of God’s extravagance, the abundance that often comes from God in surprising ways, and in the author’s growing comfort with being honest and setting appropriate boundaries and also taking suitable opportunities to grow and develop in ways that are sustainable. The book ends, therefore, on a happy note.
There are at least a few surprising or at least notable aspects of this book that are worthy of commentary. For one, the author gives a great deal of praise to her husband, praise which appears to be fully deserved. Given the fact that communication was a real struggle, was often abrupt, and explanation for baffling and inconsistent behavior was not always made, the author’s husband appears to be a particularly patient and gentle and understanding person with a clearly high-maintenance wife. The author showed considerable bravery in being willing to take on her mental health struggles with whatever it took–therapy as well as medication, and at least she was able to find good medication that helped. More troubling, if lamentably common in this sort of book , is the fact that the author appears to believe that the struggles faced in terms of perfectionism, self-medication, shame, anxiety, and so on are problems that are a result of being a woman. This book is written by women, about a woman, largely for women. It ought to have an appreciative audience of like-minded readers, but it could have been far better and far more inclusive if it recognized that the struggles the author faced that made her a not-very-unlikely rebel, no more unlikely a rebel than I am, at any rate, were the result of the fact that as a being created in the image and likeness of God, that image was defaced, was abused, and was mistreated by others. Whether male or female, it is the damages we suffer that lead to certain lamentable if predictable outcomes, and the sooner women realize that plenty of men suffer the same sort of difficulties, then the often misguided notions of a gender-based feminism can focus on the sin, rather than gender identity, being the real issue at stake here. Consider this book a missed opportunity in that regard.
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