Book: Know My Name
Author: Chanel Miller
Narrator: Chanel Miller
BECHDEL TEST: N/A (memoir)
Content Warnings: Sexual assault, panic attacks/disorders, misogyny, rape, sexual harassment, sexism, medical content, grief, medical trauma, suicidal thoughts, gaslighting, mention of mass shootings and gun violence, suicide, racism, mention of police brutality, vomit, self-harm, mentions of disordered eating, blood, mentions of death, victim blaming, PTSD
Like millions of other people around the world, I read Chanel Miller’s victim impact statement on Buzzfeed, released before we knew her true identity and like millions of other people, I was incensed when her rapist was only sentenced to six months in jail for assaulting her. When she revealed her identity and this book was announced in 2019, I knew it was something that I had to read, even if it would be difficult, I needed to hear Chanel’s story in her own words. I finally got around to it last month, and WOW. This is the most powerful memoir I’ve ever read, Chanel’s story is painful and harrowing and difficult to read at times, but it was also insightful and hopeful and yes, even funny in places. I’m never one to recommend books as something everyone should read, but I think Chanel’s story would definitely come under that category (and unfortunately those who most need to hear what she has to say are the ones least likely to read it). Here’s a short synopsis of the book:
The riveting, powerful memoir of the woman whose statement to Brock Turner gave voice to millions of survivors
She was known to the world as Emily Doe when she stunned millions with a letter. Brock Turner had been sentenced to just six months in county jail after he was found sexually assaulting her on Stanford’s campus. Her victim impact statement was posted on BuzzFeed, where it instantly went viral–viewed by eleven million people within four days, it was translated globally and read on the floor of Congress; it inspired changes in California law and the recall of the judge in the case. Thousands wrote to say that she had given them the courage to share their own experiences of assault for the first time.
Now she reclaims her identity to tell her story of trauma, transcendence, and the power of words. It was the perfect case, in many ways–there were eyewitnesses, Turner ran away, physical evidence was immediately secured. But her struggles with isolation and shame during the aftermath and the trial reveal the oppression victims face in even the best-case scenarios. Her story illuminates a culture biased to protect perpetrators, indicts a criminal justice system designed to fail the most vulnerable, and, ultimately, shines with the courage required to move through suffering and live a full and beautiful life.
I have to start with the narration with this one, because whilst admittedly being biased since I didn’t read the book in physical format, I truly think that audio is the best way to experience this book. Chanel’s narration was incredibly powerful and moving, and I think getting to hear her tell her own story really added to the impact of this book for me. Her victim impact statement is included at the end of the book, and hearing her read that, it was even more gut-wrenching than reading it, the moments where her voice cracked whilst reading and you could tell she was a bit overcome with emotion really hit me. Honestly among all the other things I admire her for, it must have been really difficult to have to say it all out loud again for the audiobook and she does such a great job.
Chanel’s writing really is stunning, obviously I knew she was a great writer from reading her impact statement, but the book is on a whole another level. She really pulls you into her state of mind at the time of the assault and the years following, and her emotion is so palpable through the book, I could feel her pain, anger, frustration, defiance, everything she felt, it felt like I did too. Once I’d finished the book, I really felt like I knew her, like she’d let us glimpse into her soul.
The chapters are a little longer than I would usually like, but to be honest, I really didn’t care here. I was so engrossed in Chanel’s story that it felt like I lost track of time when I was listening.
I’ve (thankfully) never experienced what Chanel has, but in one of the chapters she talks about experiencing sexual harassment on the streets whilst living in Rhode Island, and unfortunately I could relate all too well to that, when she talked about guys yelling out the windows of their cars at her, I was just nodding my head whilst listening, like “yup, been there”. It feels strange given what the book is about that it’s this moment where she talks about her feelings around being harassed on the street that is the one that stuck the most with me, but when she talks about her frustrations about not being able to just go about her daily business without being harassed and why does she need her boyfriend around for other men to respect her space, I felt that so hard (minus the boyfriend!).
Anger feels like such a minimal word to describe how I felt on her behalf for how she was treated by the criminal justice system and how lightly Brock Turner got off for what he did to her. I mean I knew I’d feel that way whilst reading because I was angry when I first heard how little prison time Brock was sentenced to, but hearing everything that Chanel went through, the way her every little action was dissected, how long the process was dragged out, how she was basically living in limbo for over a year, having all the details of the story filled in for you, it’s impossible not to feel angry at the ordeal that she and so many other survivors have had to go through if they decide to report their assaults. I logically knew that this was an issue and a reason why so many rapes go unreported but hearing Chanel lay out all of her experiences like this, it’s a miracle that anyone at all chooses to report their rape.
I had no idea all of the little things that could impact the perception of a survivor, I knew that questions like what were you wearing and how much did you drink were quite common, but I had no idea that whether or not you had a boyfriend could change how a judge or jury saw you and that made me so angry, because the implication of that is awful, if you “belong” to another man then it’s wrong, but if you don’t have a boyfriend then being raped is FINE? UH NO. Obviously none of the stupid, inconsequential questions Chanel got asked by the defence attorney were okay, and it’s maddening that survivors of sexual assault are held to a higher standard than the perpetrators, but the boyfriend question was one that really struck me because I’d no idea that was something that would get asked.
Miller manages to be both highly personal but also delivers some really insightful commentary on issues like rape culture, the criminal justice system, victim blaming etc. I’ve seen some reviews that complain that Miller gets too political, but I’ve never understood this criticism because politics affects people’s lives and the personal is political! I thought she had a really nice balance of personal insights and using those personal insights to examine wider issues.
Her relationship with her sister was something that really struck me too, I have an older sister, so I’m on the other side of the relationship but I found I could relate to a lot of the things that she said about being a sister. Seeing the impact of the trial on her family and friends, particularly her sister and her boyfriend was quite enlightening for me, because I’d only ever really thought about the impact on survivors and never really about the wider impact on their loved ones, and seeing how much her sister especially struggled with all of the delays and postponements, seeing the ripple effects on everyone in her life just further hammered home the issues with the court system when it comes to dealing with these kinds of cases.
I wasn’t expecting her to be so funny, there were moments in this that were really amusing, which surprised me given the topic, but I really appreciated it as it did provide so much needed levity!
The fact that Stanford just left her high and dry like that and offered her no support or assistance was really maddening, and then that they wouldn’t accept her quote for the garden, despite it being a really empowering statement of her reclaiming her identity. I was so glad when I researched it and saw that the quote she suggested was eventually accepted!
Overall, I found this book to be truly amazing (loved felt like the wrong word given the topic). Chanel Miller has a truly powerful voice, and whilst I’m incredibly sad that her first book had to come about like this, I’m so glad that she decided to share her story with the world. I truly do feel like everyone needs to read this to understand what sexual assault survivors go through and how thoroughly let down they are by the criminal justice system. I really do hope that Miller gets to write more in the future, as I would love to see what she does next.
My Rating: 5/5
My next review will be of A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske, my current audiobook read.