Book Review: Jane Doe January by Emily Winslow

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May 20, 2016
My latest non-fiction picks have been pulling no punches! Another exception to the rule. Another gripping book I think everyone should pick up and read sometimes.

In 1992, Emily Winslow was walking back home when a man jumped from the shadows of the stairwell, pushed her into her apartment and brutally attacked her. Her rapist was never caught and Emily moved on with her life. She became a writer, married, had kids. And then, two decades later, she got the news: Law enforcement had found her attacker and now she would finally have the chance to seek justice for what had been done to her.

Jane Doe January is a deep and heartbreaking story detailing the struggles Emily Winslow had to go through, not only after her attack, but 20 years later as her past caught up to her and brought back all the awful memories. It is a brutally honest and blunt memoir that made me feel uncomfortable in more than one occasion.

What Winslow does with this book is give a fresh insight from the point of view of the victim, which makes for very vulnerable and moving writing. It’s easy to see how she bared her heart as she told her story and was determined to be involved in every step of the process. She was longing for justice and there was just something very raw and powerful about how much of herself she put out there throughout the whole ordeal, made even more noticeable when contrasted with the way the other victim acted and how little she wanted to be involved.

What impacted me the most about this book was the author’s near-obsession with her attacker’s life—she spent a significant amount of time trying to piece his life together through major events (most of them jail sentences), and it really unnerved me at first because why would anyone want to spend so much time and energy on someone that doesn’t deserve it? I understand this was her way of coping and it might have even been therapeutic for her, but reading about someone so different from me doing things that I consider pointless or unnecessary was a bit of a struggle for a while.

And that's one of the things that make Jane Doe January so important. It either reflects your opinions or shows the complete opposite of what you think or believe, but that doesn’t make it less valid because this is a real thing that happened to a real person. You will put yourself in her shoes trying to understand the reasons behind her actions, but you will also question yourself: would you do things differently? Why or why not? What is it about her actions and reactions you agree/disagree with? It’s eye-opening and though I couldn’t empathize because I have never been in her situation and can’t even fathom what my reaction to an ordeal like this would be like, it was impossible not to sympathize.

This book is not an easy read. It’s very personal, so it includes details about the author’s personal life that are not entirely related to the case, but it’s also very legal-heavy so depending on your approach to it, it might feel like it’s dragging sometimes. But I can’t emphasize enough how important I think this book is. It sheds light on the many issues of the legal system, and will help break the stereotypes of how victims are "supposed" to act and feel because not everyone’s the same and everyone copes differently.

Jane Doe January is a book I would recommend to everyone. It will break your heart and give you hope, all while making you really angry and disappointed and sad. It can’t get any more honest than that.

Jane Doe January comes out May 24th, 2016 from William Morrow.

(I’d like to thank William Morrow for providing me with an early copy of this book.)
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