Spoiler alert: there is a small spoiler in this review, though it is something that one learns very early on in the book
Trigger warning: verbal and emotional abuse
I’ve been avoiding writing this post. I keep pretending it’s because I don’t know what to say about this book, but really, it’s just that I will have to be really vulnerable in this post if I want to be authentic and true to how this book impacted me. It’s not that I haven’t been vulnerable before on this blog, but I haven’t been this vulnerable before and vulnerability is something I’m not very comfortable with. It’s why I’ve read so much of Brené Brown’s work. I know I need to learn to be more comfortable with vulnerability, but it is really, really hard for me.
But back to Dreadnought and the reflection at hand. This book tore me open, and not exactly in the way I’m okay with being torn open. This book made me take a hard, long look at myself. Too hard of a look, honestly, to the point where I almost wanted to bail on the book, not because of the book, but because I did not want to have to face myself. What was Dreadnought causing me to confront? My inner voice.
In Dreadnought, (sort of spoiler alert, but you discover this pretty early in the book) Danny’s dad is emotionally and verbally abusive. It was uncomfortable for me to read as a survivor of verbal and emotional abuse myself, but it wasn’t very difficult for me to get through. The aspect that was incredibly challenging was how well Daniels depicts Danny’s inner voice, which is the internalized version of this emotional and verbal abuse. The internationalization of the abuse is the crux of why it is so debilitating and damaging; at some point, the things other people say become the things the victim tells herself, making it impossible to differentiate between the abuser’s voice and the victim’s. For Danny, her internalized voice calls herself “stupid,” a lot, and in very harsh ways – or more precisely, at times when she is not being stupid at all. She doubts herself, even though she has superpowers that make her practically invisible. In moments when she needs to act, she hesitates because she does not trust her decision-making abilities and is afraid of making the wrong decision. But that hesitation becomes the wrong decision. It was painful to read. I wanted to scream at her to just trust herself, but at the same time, if I did that, then I would have to do that with myself as well.
My inner voice is pretty cruel at times and it has caused me to be so afraid of making a decision, that I do not make one. Which, I have learned over time, is still making a decision. It feels like it isn’t, but really, the decision to not decide is a decision. It is an awful one that leaves the decider with a bad decision (really, probably the only clear bad decisions are the lack of decisions) that fuels that cruel inner voice, and the decider is further ensnared in the inability to decide. It is a debilitating feedback loop that leaves the abuse victim ineffectual in their day to day lives. These are all things I know on an academic level and thus, at this level I know I should talk back to this cruel inner voice and override it. But knowing something on an academic level is different than truly seeing it in action. After reading Dreadnought, I have seen it in action and I am left having to confront whether I can continue on letting this cruel voice have a platform in my head. I suspect I cannot.
While I do not exactly enjoy the internal struggle this book has caused, it is what I love about books. I love how books touch me in deep, meaningful, and impactful ways, even when I’m reading a YA superhero novel. It’s these moments that keep me coming back to books over and over, constantly searching for another one of these such moments.
This is also why I greatly enjoy reading books written by authors with different backgrounds than myself, because it is powerful to see one’s own experience reflected in someone that is different from oneself. One of the best ways to ground us, pull back to humanity, and remind us that there is something bigger than us that matters so much more than the small stuff, is seeing ourselves reflected in others and knowing we are not alone. As Brene Brown discusses in her various books, in those moments when someone opens up to you and shares an experience (quite possibly a shaming experience) that you haven’t experienced, it is easy to say, “oh, I can’t relate to this,” but the reality is, yes you can. Maybe you or I don’t know exactly what it is like to be a transgender teen, but you or I might know what it is like to be an abused teen hiding part of herself from the rest of the world or frankly, any person that has felt compelled to hide a huge part of themselves from the world. We are more alike than different and books remind us of that. I thank April Daniels and Diversion Books for reminding me of that once again.