Tuesday, July 31, 2012

If I Am Missing Or Dead - Janine Latus

If I Am Missing Or Dead
by Janine Latus

In April 2002, Janine Latus's youngest sister, Amy, wrote a note and taped it to the inside of her desk drawer. Today Ron Ball and I are romantically involved, it read, but I fear I have placed myself at risk in a variety of ways. Based on his criminal past, writing this out just seems like the smart thing to do. If I am missing or dead this obviously has not protected me...

That same spring Janine Latus was struggling to leave her marriage -- a marriage to a handsome and successful man. A marriage others emulated. A marriage in which she felt she could do nothing right and everything wrong. A marriage in which she felt afraid, controlled, inadequate, and trapped.

Ten weeks later, Janine Latus had left her marriage. She was on a business trip to the East Coast, savoring her freedom, attending a work conference, when she received a call from her sister Jane asking if she'd heard from Amy. Immediately, Janine's blood ran cold. Amy was missing.

Helicopters went up and search dogs went out. Coworkers and neighbors and family members plastered missing posters with Amy's picture across the county. It took more than two weeks to find Amy's body, wrapped in a tarpaulin and buried at a building site. It took nearly two years before her killer, her former boyfriend Ron Ball, was sentenced for her murder.

Amy died in silent fear and pain. Haunted by this, Janine Latus turned her journalistic eye inward. How, she wondered, did two seemingly well-adjusted, successful women end up in strings of physically or emotionally abusive relationships with men? If I Am Missing or Dead is a heart-wrenching journey of discovery as Janine Latus traces the roots of her own -- and her sister's -- victimization with unflinching candor. This beautifully written memoir will move readers from the first to the last page. At once a confession, a call to break the cycle of abuse, and a deeply felt love letter to her baby sister, Amy Lynne Latus, If I Am Missing or Dead is an unforgettable read.

Just finished reading this book this morning and oh my, I was absolutely sobbing by the end.  It doesn't seem right to say I loved this book because it is disturbing and tragic.  After struggling so much with the last several books I've read, frustrated and disappointed in the various Young Adult trolls and angels, this one was a breath of fresh air.  I whipped through it in a smidge over two days, could not put it down, was even taking long breaks at work just so I could keep reading.

I will say though, that it was not the story I thought it would be.  The book begins way back with the birth of the kids in the Latus family.  I figured oh ok, some background to set up the story.  But when it continued to focus mainly on the growing up of the writer, Janine, I was a bit confused.  I thought this was about murdered sister Amy?  That part of the story is actually a rather small chunk of the book overall, and in the end I'm glad it wasn't what I'd originally thought it would be . . . a murder story with police records and investigation details, etc.  It's much more personal and touching, and haunting, to follow Janine's life and see Amy's life through her eyes.  And then when Amy is taken away, you feel Janine's guilt and pain of 'Did I do enough?  Did I love her enough?  Did she know I loved her?'

Janine's story is horrifying too.  Molested, raped, beaten, controlled, belittled.  Just as a mere reader, I would get so tensed up and sick to my stomach in the later years of her marriage, knowing that her crazy husband was going to fly off the handle again, worrying about how she'd get out of it this time.  At the same time you get so mad and want to scream at her to wake up and leave.  "You ARE one of those people you vow never to be!" you think over and over.

The book is quick paced, which sort of intensifies the horrors because it seems like it is bam bam bam, one strained event after another.  It also keeps to the point this way.  There is not too much dwelling on sentimental things.  I noticed there wasn't much said about several other family members and I wonder if it's because they didn't want to be involved, or if their parts overall where minimal to the stories at hand.  I do wonder how the other siblings turned out.  Were their lives average and normal and good?  Were their relationships healthy, their marriages lasting?  We see how Janine and Amy go from one crap situation to another, and we see how the roots of this probably start in the relationship with their crap father.  But we don't really know how the others turned out, and again, it may have just been their desire for privacy.

For a while, I wanted to scream at their mother just as much as I wanted to scream at them.  Just like when I read Angela's Ashes, I had a lot of hate and anger for the mom there too because I felt she didn't do enough to change or protect from situations.  People have told me I'm too harsh on poor Angela.  Yes, I realize times were different back in Angela's day and a bit later in Mrs. Latus's day.  The husband was the boss.  The wife knew her place.  Yadda yadda.  'What would you have her do?' someone had snapped at me.  I'm not sure, but obviously something more that quietly accept everything that was tossed their way.  Mrs. Latus seemed quite strong by the end though, and I liked her dignity and composure.

This book first came out in 2007.  I'm not sure why it's popping up now on the Walmart shelf, but that's where I first noticed it.  The book came out five years after Amy's death and Janine's divorce, and it's now been five more years since its release.  I find myself wondering how Janine's life has been in the past ten years.  She mentions in the final pages of the book that she's critical of men now, had dated and could see things now like the potential for jealousy or controlling.  Has she stayed single?  Is she happy?  Has she finally found a decent, loving relationship?  I hope so.

Reading this also makes me think about two different situations, two very close friends at different points in my life, each in abusive relationships.  One took her two young children and fled after only a fraction of what others suffer through.  She raised her son to know "You NEVER raise your hand to a woman!  You NEVER treat womem that way!" even when he was a child and simply fighting with his sister.  I lost touch with her eventually but I know she remarried and from all appearances seemed to have been doing great.  The other friend was not so smart, or so lucky.  She stayed in her horrid situation even when coworkers banded together and actually, physically, literally moved her and her son out of her apartment and into the safety of a family member's home.  She stayed away maybe a week or two, and then went crawling back.  Her four year old son would stand between them, trying to stand up to his shithead father, screaming as a little boy could "Don't hurt my mom!"  But it did no good.  The need for drugs and alcohol kept her there.  Many years later she eventually did leave.  I'm not sure what her breaking point was because we'd lost touch by then, but she did call me after going and snarkily announced to me, "Ha, you owe me an apology.  You said I'd never leave."  I wanted to snark back with "We'll see how long it lasts," but instead I said "Good for you.  I'm glad you finally did."  I did not apologize.  Last I heard, she was a total disaster, heavily into drugs and alcohol, in and out of jail . . . and a damaged son, doomed to repeat, already into drugs and alcohol, and already in and out of jail.

It's hard to sit on the outside and preach to the victims.  You can talk until you're blue in the face.  You can present the facts and try endlessly to open their eyes.  In the end though, they will not change things until THEY are ready.  And there is little you can do but be ready when they need you.

So while this is a sad and disturbing story, it is a good read.  Very emotional.  Very powerful.  Have YOU read this one yet?


  1. As a matter of fact I am reading this one right now! I, too, thought the book would be a lot different. Like you, I thought that Amy would be the main focus of the book, instead of Janine. I also wanted to yell at Janine, you ARE one of those women that's being abused. Normally I don't go for this kind of book but I caught it at the thrift store on half price day for 50 cents and I'm glad I did. It's an eye opener. I can't believe the father, ugh!!!

  2. I know! And wait until the end. If you think little of him now, you'll be appalled by the end. *shakes head*


  3. Just found you googling Janine Lagus as I just finished this book last night - same as you - 2 nights! Could NOT put it down. I actually found who her ex husband is and found his new wife on Facebook, if you can believe that! (I really wanted to see what the guy looks like!!) I cannot believe that he has another woman to mentally abuse the way he abused Janine. (as Janine mentions, she is like 21 years his junior). But I am so glad for her that she did finally get out. I kept wanting to yell at her - it's NOT you - it's HIM!!!! He sounds like he has loads of "issues" and I would NOT want him to be the one standing over me in an ER some day!

    1. I read this book in a week! And I am SO curious of what "Kurt" looks like!!! Please give me his real namee!

  4. Whoops - should have been "Janine Latus!" Sorry! :-(

  5. That's kinda funny because I had done some looking on Facebook too. I didn't put much effort into it though because I didn't know which names might have been changed in the book. hehe

    Thanks for visiting my blog! :)


  6. That was weird--I was thinking this was fiction as I read the description, right up until it said "memoir" at the end! (And I was ready to say something about, "I suppose this isn't a big deal, but two sisters named Janine and Jane? Really?" Doh ...)

    This sounds like a heck of a powerful, stressful book. Good to know she got out. Sad about Amy :(

  7. If you ever read for leisure again in your life, you should read this one. hehe