Pain to power. Tragedy to triumph. Heartbreak to hope. These are just a few phrases that resonate with the powerful stories that I’m going to tell you about today. This is one of my newest genre obsessions: true crime/memoir mash-ups. What’s that? Well, it’s a memoir that combines a true crime aspect. Anywhere from a crime that the author was the victim of or a crime that occurred near the author in some aspect. I find these stories to be so compelling because not only are they true but the authors have used their pain to create something beautiful. Each story is unique. Each story is heartbreaking. But above all, each story shows us there’s always hope and is truly inspiring.
Catch the Sparrow
Rear takes us with her on her journey to find the truth about the murder of her stepsister, Stephanie Kupchynsky. It’s an incredibly moving story detailing how Stephanie's disappearance affected her loved ones. Rachel Rear’s mother married Stephanie’s dad, Jerry after the crime had already taken place but Rear always felt a connection to Stephanie even though they’d never met. Although most of the book is about Stephanie, we also learn a lot about Rachel’s life and how intertwined the two became.
Dancing with the Octopus
Dancing with the Octopus is described as being for readers who loved Educated and The Glass Castle and although I am yet to read The Glass Castle (it’s on the good ol’ TBR!), I couldn’t agree more with the Educated comparison. At first glance, I thought this story was going to be fully about how Debora Harding was abducted at knifepoint when she was 14—but it’s so much more. Harding survived her abduction but was soon returned to her dysfunctional and abusive household. Alternating between past and present, this story is sure to stick with you.
The Fact of a Body
The Fact of a Body is a two-part story: one-part young law student investigating the case of Ricky Langley, a convicted murderer, and the other detailing Alexandria’s own personal tragedy. This story really hit me hard. It took me a lot longer to read it than I expected because the subject matter was so heavy.
Related: 13 Riveting True Crime Books for Fans of I'll Be Gone In the Dark
The Babysitter is such an unputdownable read. I have seen mixed reviews stating that they don’t understand how the memoir and the true crime aspect are related but I simply do not agree. I thought it made perfect sense. Liza Rodman grew up summering in Cape Cod with her sister and mother. It wasn’t glamorous, Rodman’s mother worked in the local motel and associated with some shady characters. One of these shady people were Rodman’s babysitters. A man named Tony Costa who turned out to be a violent serial killer. Of course, Liza Rodman never knew this as a child but once she became an adult, she learned the truth and became obsessed with the case.
Tell Me Everything
“There were two sides to the football culture here: one hyper exposed under stadium lights, and the other one illicit, in bedrooms and hotel rooms. People cheered for one side and shrugged at the other.” Erika Krouse is a private investigator and she has one of those faces that people are drawn to. Everyone instinctively trusts her and wants to divulge all their secrets to her. It works to her benefit with the job she has. Krouse begins investigating a sexual assault lawsuit and quickly realizes she has no idea what she’s doing (and with her own past sexual assault trauma knows this isn’t good for her mental health) but once she decides that this investigation can potentially change things for the better, she is all in. Tell Me Everything is a rage-inducing book. I despise the college football culture (well most college sports culture, honestly).
Sex Cult Nun
All I can say is WOW. Sex Cult Nun is one of those books that will stay with you for a LONG time. I’m constantly recommending this one because it is so unbelievable that I feel you need to read it to believe it. Faith Jones grew up in the Children of God cult. It’s extremely religious and oppressive. Most of her childhood was outside of the U.S. although the family did move around quite a bit (mostly to avoid detection in the U.S.). It’s mind-blowing what the children and women experienced. As far as I know, Children of God is still a thing. Luckily, Faith was able to escape and reclaim her life at the age of 23.
Slonim Woods 9
Another cult recommendation. I’m such a sucker for a cult story. Slonim Woods 9 is another book I recommend a lot because it’s unlike anything I’ve ever read regarding cults. Usually, we think of large groups and religion. Daniel’s experience is much different but just as traumatizing. Daniel Barban Levin was one of the original students living in Slonim Woods 9 in 2010 when roommate Talia Ray had her father, Larry Ray, move in with them. Larry Ray used his power and manipulation to control Talia and her group of friends. It’s a seriously scary and sad story. Ray was eventually convicted of extortion, sex trafficking, forced labor, and money laundering, but not before he sunk his teeth into unsuspecting college students.
Know My Name
Know My Name is a must-read. In a world where perpetrators are protected and victims must scramble to protect themselves, Chanel Miller uses her voice to heal and shine a light on the injustices of the criminal justice system and how sexual assaults are handled. Chanel Miller isn’t just a victim. She’s a person with a name, hopes, dreams, a family and so much more. Throughout this book, you will be angry but you’ll also see how resilient Chanel Miller is.
Related: 13 Gripping True Crime Books for Fans of Lost Girls
I Cried to Dream Again
OH MY GOSH, THIS BOOK. My heart broke so many times. Probably the most difficult book of the bunch to get through. Sara Kruzan was sentenced as a juvenile to serve life in prison without parole for killing the man who sex-trafficked her for YEARS. It’s disturbing and heartbreaking, but Kruzan shows us her strength. She tells HER story and it is empowering.