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The Sensitive One

For many years, I taught Freshman Writing at Montclair State University. My students wrote about their lives, their hopes, their families, and I became humble before them.  I realized that even at 18, everybody has a story to tell. The trick is writing the story so it is engrossing, interesting, and relatable. The Sensitive One, by Susan Frances Morris, is such a book.

As I looked at Morris sitting next to me recently, I wondered how she had survived…but after reading her book, I now know. She embroidered an impressive thinking cap, allowed her emotions to surface, waited for her chances, and grabbed them as they arose. She is a portrait of strength and good sense in the face of unimaginable adversity.

Since she was one of many siblings, it was interesting to observe the range of responses to the profound dysfunction in her family; some of them sank and some of them swam. The range in Morris’s family, where everyone was living under the same circumstances, ranges from compete collapse to dignified escape.

While not at all didactic, the story leads to reflection on the role of personal responsibility in the healing process, both for oneself and for others.

Suspense imbues every page—how does a child survive a dangerous, abusive alcoholic father, a husband patterned on that father, and a threatening health condition? How does she change her patterns? At what point might she give up? How is she still alive today?

Morris’s story is presented straight up with plentiful feeling but little sentimentality and only a scratch or two of self pity. While not dismissing the gravity of the sins committed against her, she has a big enough heart to appreciate the agonies suffered by her abusers.

After all the suffering, there is a happy ending: a fulfilling career, a loving marriage, children of her own…normality.