Coming Out of My Shell
by Ann K. Green
Review by Peggy Buckley and
Coming Out of My Shell is a highly readable account of one woman's struggle to emerge from family dysfunction. Ann K. Green wrote this thirty-three page book during two years of work with a literacy tutor at a Newfoundland community literacy program. It is a testament not only to her courage, but to the importance of such programs in helping women to connect with their internal strength and use it as a source for healing.
Ms Green writes clearly and simply about her experiences. We see how poverty drives her decision to leave school and try to take care of younger siblings. She helps us feel a child's sense of powerlessness and abandonment when adults who are supposed to be care givers prove incapable. We share her dismay as the systems we believe will serve and protect the vulnerable don't. School, social services, the police are at best insensitive, at worst hostile and abusive.
Ms Green tells of her early marriage, motherhood and life with an abusive, alcoholic husband. The tale is damning of the agencies ostensibly set up to help. Family court pushes her to reconcile with a husband who has deserted her and their children, physically and sexually abused her, and fathered other children in various regions of the country. Following this reconciliation, another violent incident prompts Ann to leave for the last time.
People who work with abused women or adult survivors will not be shocked by the details. The book describes life for the one in five girls and one in seven boys in Canada who are sexually abused. It attests to the toll taken on the lives of one in five Canadian women who live in violent relationships. It affirms the fact that if we live in violence, we recreate violence in our own lives. However, it also shows how the apparent "victims" of this violence) can measure their own strength and move beyond their solution.
Ann K. Green describes her work at a Community Centre in St. John's where she also starts the literacy journey that brings about Coming Out of My Shell. Her voice echoes that of so many other engaged in literacy programs throughout Canada:
I had to depend on other people to help me with reading and writing. I was ashamed to let people know I didn't have an education. I couldn't help my I children with their homework. ... I didn't know if shopkeepers were giving me my right change. I felt stupid at these times and very alone. Going back to get an education has improved my life. It has built my self-confidence and I'm not afraid to face the world any more. (pp31-32)
This book is an obvious "must" for women's shelters and assault recovery programs, literacy programs, and adult education classes. Its highly relevant content is written in an easy to read, which makes it accessible to level literacy clients, The fact that Ann K. Green is not a victim that she talks of having "made up her mind" to change her circumstances and that she does so attests to her personal determination and strength. Her story provides hope and affirmation for others in similar struggles.
A less obvious audience for the book includes teachers, teacher trainees social workers, probation officers, lawyers, judges and the clergy. Without being vitriolic, Ms Green describes the way the personnel in the human services systems failed her, and enables that personnel to see their mandate and their performance from the perception of a client.
Politicians, those who legislate social policy at all levels, should read this book. Ann's story gently yet forcefully describes the human toll exacted by the ineptitude of the legal and social assessment systems and by chronic under-funding of services for women and children trying to escape violence in Canada.
From a teaching perspective, Coming Out of My shell is a well designed book, it is divided into three sections, each of which contains chapters that are one or two pages long. Sections are clearly identified in boldface capital type set on their own page. A stylized dove is the only decoration and as we move through the sections the bird floats from the lower left corner of the dividing page to the upper right hand corner in the last section, entitled Breaking Out of the Cycle. This graphic depiction of Ann's story is both reinforcing and unifying.
As mentioned , the language of the book is clear, simple and direct. There is good sentence variety. Beginning level literacy students will find some of the text challenging, as it uses colloquialisms such as she was pregnant for my husband and when the water was boiled. However these do not obscure the message. In fact, they can be used to have discussions about language usage and variance with both literacy and English second language/dialect students, The contractions that appear throughout, didn't, couldn't, hadn't, could also provide oral and written exercise work for literacy and ESL learning situations.
Ann K. Green's book, Coming Out of My Shell is a real contribution to the expanding literature of personal struggle and healing which has flourished in the 1980s. She must be commended for telling her story so clearly and with such courage.
Peggy Buckley and Jan Kolenick Herbert are educators who live in Prince Albert. Both have worked extensively with Aboriginal Canadian children and adults in a variety of educational settings. Most recently, they coedited a series of five books of writing by participants in literacy programs in Saskatchewan. Coming Out of My Shell is available from Educational Planning and Design Associates Limited, 18 Leslie Street, St. John's, Nfld, AlE 2V6, (709) 753-2017, at a cost of $6.95 + 7% GST (20% discount on orders of five or more).