A Review: Jane Devin's Elephant Girl

I had no idea what I was getting into when I downloaded the ebook version of Elephant Girl. I only knew that I wanted to read the title I have seen repeatedly mentioned in my social media circles before I met up with its author, Jane Devin. I wanted to meet her before I actually met her and have more to offer to the conversation over lunch than "my four-year-old did the cutest thing yesterday." So I bought and read her book.

I stopped a few times. I almost didn't pick it back up. Elephant Girl is as beautifully told as it is painful to read. It's the most perfect blend of raw honesty, unique voice, human spirit and is uttterly heart-breaking. Told in three distinct voices (the unloved and unwanted child, the independent and fragile teenager, and the adult trying to make sense of it all) Devin shares the inner life she invented that helped her live through the years of trauma she endured.

Therein lies her message: No matter the scars hidden within, it is possible to endure.

I simply want to to hug her and thank her for sharing her strength with the world.

I fancy myself a memoir writer. There are stories to share that need to be brought to the surface. But I'm not brave enough yet. But because of Jane, I am that much closer to being where I need to be and discovering my own inner strength.

Jane took a few moments out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions for fans of Elephant Girl. Her answers are thoughtful and, of course, thought-provoking.



Aspiring Mama: The writer in me wishes I could be as brave as you in my writing and the reader in me wants to thank you for Elephant Girl. It's so beautifully told and yet so hard to read. Can you share what the writing process was like for you?

Jane Devin: I held off on writing Elephant Girl for more than a decade. It never seemed to be the right time; I wasn't sure I had reached a place in life where there would be a satisfactory ending; and there was a time I really cringed at the things I knew some people would say. I was immobilized by these factors and the fear that getting naked by way of a memoir would leave me vulnerable to the kind of cold, raging, or shortsighted people I'd spent years trying not to attract. That may sound like a minor or egotistical thing -- like a writer afraid of criticism -- but that's really not it at all. One of the consequences of growing up in a toxic environment for me was that I thought it was normal for a long time, even though my heart said otherwise, and I kept unconsciously drawing toxic people and situations into my life. I did this for way too many years and by the time I began to learn better and seek better I had some serious baggage I was carrying and a lot of spiritual scars that weren't anywhere close to healed, as well as a new diagnosis of Aspergers, which was both stunning to me as well as a relief. I finally had some sort of answer as to why things went the way they did in my past, but I didn't yet know what difference it might make for my future.

I couldn't write this book until I was strong enough to withstand whatever consequences it might have, whether they were good, bad, or indifferent.
Actually sitting down and writing Elephant Girl was an odd, beautiful, painful, unexpected and urgent process. I wrote the book under some unusual circumstances -- sitting in a borrowed truck every day in the Starbucks parking lot of a small town. I had just completed a yearlong road trip (FindingMyAmerica.com) and really had no resources. No job, no home or car of my own. At any other time in my life, I would have scrambled to correct those deficits quickly, but I knew that if I did, I would never write a book. My focus tends to be all or nothing (which is one consequence of Aspergers) and no matter how hard I've tried, I have a difficult time with splitting my focus when it comes to my passion for writing.
So I forced myself to finish, no matter what or who or where or how. I was fortunate to have supportive friends who helped me through the roughest times -- people I will always feel indebted to and extremely grateful for -- but it was still hard. I went hungry at times and went through weeks of pain with an abscessed jaw. Sitting in a truck for 8-12 hours a day wasn't the kind of cozy, comfortable place I'd always imagined as the "room of my own." I think those hardships, though, lent themselves to the tone of the book and also gave me a sense of urgency. The first draft, 603 pages, was written in eight months.


Aspiring Mama: I am in awe of the level of honesty you were able to achieve in Elephant Girl. How did you overcome the barrier so many of us are afraid to cross in order to connect with your audience?
Jane Devin: My writing itself has always been a refuge to me -- a place to be honest without fear -- but I only shared the really raw parts with others sparingly before putting it all out there with Elephant Girl. I think being able to do that came on the heels of understanding how much of a choice I had when it came to allowing toxicity into my life. It may sound exceptionally naive, but I was in my 30s before I even started to grasp the elemental Dr. Suess lesson of "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind".  It took another ten years or so to truly believe it and to confidently take the risk of rejection both by strangers and people I loved.



Jane has graciously offered an unsigned copy of Elephant Girl with one Aspiring Mama reader. To enter, simply do one of the following (or more for extra entries!)* Leave a comment for Jane on this blog post.

* Tweet, Facebook, Google +, or include a link to this post on your own blog. Each counts for it’s own entry, so be sure to leave me one comment letting me know what you did so I can add up points!

* Comments will be accepted through midnight, EST, on February 15.

* One winner will be selected via Random.org and will be announced here on Aspiring Mama shortly thereafter.


Thank you, Jane, for sharing your strength with the world.



Don't forget to follow Jane Devin on Twitter here and be sure to read her blog at www.janedevin.com.