The Only Girl in the World: A Memoir by Maude Julien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
TW: sexual abuse, physical abuse, self harm, emotional abuse, animal cruelty/abuse, suicidal thoughts
In the vein of “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls, this memoir explores the traumatic and a vastly different childhood from the “typical” western one. We follow Maude, an only child who grew up in France, completely isolated and cut off from the world for all her childhood. She was raised in a way where her father forced her to do physically train to survive under horrible conditions like being locked in a dark ray cellar for hours, intense physical activities after midnight, and left for days without food, etc.
From a young age, she was taught to not smile or show any emotion, that the world is a big bad place and people can kidnap her, that she should be taught to survive WWII era conditions. She was never shown any love or affection from her mother or father, because that was for “weak” people and she was a “superior being”. She could only bath in dirty water once a week after her father and mother did, and had to take out the chamber pot for her elderly father. There was a very strict schedule and no time for idleness. You get the picture, how absolutely messed up this family was.
All of her precious animals where abused, her dog chained up all day only let out for a couple hours at night, her horse forced to drink alcohol (incidentally she was also forced to drink alcohol since a very young age so that she could learn how to hold it down.)
While reading personal memoirs like this, I always find it extremely difficult to rate someone's life, so I tend to focus on the writing and coherent flow. In this instance, the writing was extremely straightforward, but the author focused on the same details of every day life, not necessarily on the big picture.
I usually like the memoir to be a bit more self reflective and introspective, which this lacked. Know that you're getting a very specific period of time, and I was waiting for more content in Maude adult life, like the psychological affects of her extremely hard upbringing; and was extremely pleased to know that she had become a therapist herself. She had survived so much brokenness and fear and darkness, that my heart was breaking for this child on every page as well.
One of the most important elements that I look for in memoirs is relatability. To my surprise from, from the initial synopsis I was doubtful, there were several very personal aspects that I strongly understood how it felt like. For example the love that your animals give you when you care about them, the way music makes you feel strong emotions, the way that she was homeschooled and didn't learn the material she was supposed to know , the way books let you escape into a completely different world.
I felt like because the author put these lights in between the cracks of darkness; which is why I could really enjoy and appreciate the story as a whole more. If you love reading cult books, I would put this one in your hands if we were at a bookstore. The abusive manipulative father is a religious fanatic who has created his own religion and is trying to force it down his child brides’ and chosen daughters’ throat. This is truly a touchingly dark memoir that really makes you think and re-examine your own life and that is always a good sign that the author has done their job.
*Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.**
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