Saturday, November 28, 2009

Book Review: Secret Girl

I bought this book yesterday on impulse and just finished reading it this morning (it's a quick read).

The author, Molly Bruce Jacobs ("Brucie"), tells the story of sobering up at age 38, and meeting her sister Anne for the first time. Anne was born with hydrocephalus and moderate retardation and placed in an institution at birth. Brucie didn't even learn she had another sister until age 13, when her father finally revealed the secret to her and her sister Laura (the "secret girl" was actually Laura's twin).

It continued to remain a shameful family secret, with no family members ever visiting or contacting Anne, even though she lived only a half an hour away. The family had more than enough resources to keep Anne at home, but as the author explains, the parents' seemingly horrifying treatment of their own daughter was actually considered to be a "normal" decision at that time (the 1950s).

As Brucie forges a relationship with her lost sister, she gains startling insight into her own problems, discovering that her own lifelong feelings of inferiority and rejection are what fueled her alcoholism. She realizes that she has a surprisingly strong, natural kinship with this sister that she had always assumed was so completely different from herself.

Brucie is now a painter; I looked her up online and saw some of her paintings, including this one at left (called Oranges).

I liked this paragraph (describing her thoughts at age 13): "I was relieved that Anne would remain a family secret. For I was still wrapped up in the naive belief that I was something of a princess, destined for reward and success, and entitled to glamorous pleasures in a world that did not accept the likes of Anne. A world I now understand as displaying a weakness, or at best an apprehension born from ignorance, in its custom of hiding people like Anne behind institutional walls."


  1. That sounds interesting. I wonder if her alcoholism (and I assume depression) were partly a result of feeling like her twin was missing, even though she didn't know about her.

    This also reminds me of when I worked at that residence for developmentally disabled adults. There were some residents there whose families never, ever visited them, even though they lived in the same state and were wealthy. These people were more disabled than the author's sister, but they were still able to have relationships.

  2. Wow, that is sooooo sad.

    The author actually wasn't the twin--it was her sister that was the twin. She doesn't go too much into her twin's feelings about it, although it seemed like she was less interested in meeting her sister than the non-twin. Which seems strange, and doesn't go along with all the "special bond" stuff you usually hear about twins.

    I think the parents rationalized it by telling themselves it was in the best interests of the "normal" children, but all it really did (from the author's perspective anyway) was make the other children feel like if they couldn't live up to their parents' expectations, they could be discarded too. Which would give you a really insecure feeling growing up (obviously!).

  3. I meant "the twin's" feelings about it, not "her twin's."

    Now I've written it too many times, the word "twin" is starting to look weird...