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Speaking Truths

A book by Dayna Hester.

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A psychologically fierce novel that is engrossing, affecting and satisfying.

  • May 6, 2013
  • by
Child abduction cases like those of Steven Stayner, Jacob Wetterling, Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard-when covered in the mainstream newspapers and national media-always evoke a vast array of hard-to-grapple emotions: revulsion, rage, helplessness, disgust, down to sorrow, hope and compassion for the missing victims and their families. Yet, there is also that unspoken feeling of relief, of, Thank God it was not my my little one. Child abductors, especially stranger abductions, to-be-sure, are the worst of the felonious lot, and there are many criminal tiers. Every-so-often, when a case involving a child does grip the national headlines-as say with little Caylee Anthony-the national fervor for justice and punishment as well as reflection for what could have been but never will be, is understandably quite sensible.

Speaking Truths tells the story of Landon Starker, an apathetic and withdrawn youth who is on the margin of society. He is directionless, wounded and mentally fractured, yet, he does not really know why. For him it just is. Nothing more or less. His roots-unbeknownst to his traumatized psyche-have been violently yanked away from him, and while he is not fully cognizant of his former life-with the exception of the occasional flashback-he heads off to sleep in the trailer with Bob, the guardian whom he has forged a fearful attachment to. Although the beginning of the novel seems to convey a depressed latch-key kid in a dysfunctional home, for nowadays that really is the new normal, there is really nothing off-the-cuff that implies what Speaking Truths is really about. But as the novel progresses, the trickled details indicate that it is about trauma and surviving it. And that is what the protagonist, Landon Starker is, a survivor.

During the dark of night, he is suddenly whisked away by the FBI and is eventually told that he is in reality Tyler Roberts, an abductee who was identified by the Ameritek ID system; he was identified after he was taken into police custody after a drug bust with his equally troubled friend, Sam Ricksen. Told this, he is somewhat disbelieving, but in a way, it makes sense, and he does not fully dismiss it. As news gets around of his rescue, joy spreads. However, he must remain at the York Center, a psychiatric clinic for those who have experienced physical and sexual trauma of an unparalleled scope. In there, he is introduced to Agent Drysdale, a rather to-the-point FBI investigator, Tracie, a trauma specialist/social worker and Palmer, a custodial worker with the right amount of sensitivity that Landon/Tyler slowly gravitates to. Then come the real parents. It is then that Landon's struggle for assimilation, trust, duel identity merger and all the pains and sorrows of the kidnapping converge. It is the slow separation and identification of the individual psychological strands that makes the storytelling so compelling.

Speaking Truths is bluntly written in the best contemporary vernacular, quite similar to DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little; it is idiomatic and even poetic at times, especially when Landon, who slowly becomes Tyler, recounts his horrifying moments with Kennedy Charles Nelson, a.k.a. K.C., a fellow abused and later murdered abductee. As Tyler gradually assimilates into something of a normal life, the reader gets carried along with him; the best part of the book (for me) really was the courtroom trial, which starts on chapter 35.

Gut wrenching and informative, Speaking Truths is a thrilling work of fiction, both enlightening and engaging.
A psychologically fierce novel that is engrossing, affecting and satisfying.

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About this book


A teenage boy must piece his past together after discovering he was kidnapped as a child.

Landon Starker seems like just another troubled teen—more concerned with getting high than attending class, prone to badmouthing his teachers and even bullying fellow students. Landon knows he’s not like his peers, but what he doesn’t know is that he is actually Tyler Roberts, who was abducted years ago by his “father” Bob Starker, an abusive man who has used the boy for his perversions. When Landon is arrested, his fingerprints pop up in the Ameritek ID database and the FBI raids Bob’s house, freeing Landon and throwing him into a new world where he’s expected not only to reunite with a family he no longer remembers, but to confront long-repressed memories. Hester’s impressive debut novel is an intelligent, readable affair, tackling difficult and shocking subject matter with sensitivity, never resorting to the voyeuristic sensationalism that has become the norm when portraying abuse. Intensely methodical, the book accurately represents coping with trauma, with no magic bullets or easy answers, and presents breakthroughs and setbacks realistically. Some will find the author’s pace plodding, even frustrating, but this serves to believably depict the slow crawl to recovery. The novel’s tone alternates between clinical and simplistic, working best when it finds the middle ground linking the two styles. This is most notably on ...
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