memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: Chosen: A Memoir of Stolen Boyhood by Stephen Mills

Trigger warning: this review will contain mention of childhood sexual assault. If this is a subject that’s too painful for you to read about, be kind to yourself and skip this review. I wish you peace.

I received a notification of a new Twitter follower one day not long ago and was delighted to find an author named Stephen Mills had followed me. One of his recent tweets made it clear that he was also Jewish (WOOHOO!), so I followed him back and added his book to my TBR. And when Chosen: A Memoir of Stolen Boyhood (Metropolitan Books, 2022) showed up on NetGalley, I requested it. I know I read a lot of emotionally heavy books, but it’s because I believe so much that these are the stories that deserve to be heard the most; these are the topics that need to be at the forefront of our discussions; these are what everyone should understand a little more about. And Chosen is no exception to that rule.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Stephen Mills, and Metropolitan Books for offering me a copy of Chosen in exchange for an honest review.

Stephen Mills was thirteen, the son of a father who had passed away when he was very young, growing up in an emotionally unhealthy blended family, when the director of his summer camp began spending more time with him. Longing for positive attention and approval (and aren’t we all?), Stephen falls into his trap, and soon Dan is molesting him regularly. Not only is Stephen deeply confused about what’s happening to him, his trauma is furthered by Dan’s weaseling his way into every aspect of his life. His family loves him and has no qualms about sending the young teen on solo trips and foreign vacations with Dan, and without the words to describe what’s going on, Stephen is powerless to stop the abuse.

It’s not until college when the trauma begins destroying his life. Still unable to speak about the abuse, Stephen turns to drugs, to religion, to foreign travel, in order to ease his pain, but nothing helps, and the darkness begins to pull him in. As society begins to wake up to the pervasiveness of childhood sexual abuse, Stephen is finally able to understand the root of his anguish…only to discover that those with the power to change things still don’t give anywhere near enough of a damn.

Chosen is a painful, heartfelt memoir that doesn’t hold back on raw emotion. Mr. Mills doesn’t shy away from the physical acts perpetrated against him, nor does he sugarcoat the depth of his suffering that the abuse caused. ‘Soul murder,’ Oprah Winfrey has called childhood sexual abuse, and it’s clear from this memoir, from how much Stephen suffered as an adult from the trauma foisted upon him as a child, how accurate this phrase is.

As difficult as the subject is, Stephen Mills’s writing flows like the most enjoyable novel. His honest prose is open, accessible, inviting the reader to share his pain for a while, to walk in his shoes and gain just a hint of understanding about what he’s been through. It’s a story of pain, but also one of courage, and ultimately, a demand for change. We have got to do better. More listening to kids, better treatment for survivors, and a never-ending commitment to keeping the monsters who hurt them away from any children whatsoever for all time. We can do better, and we should have started doing better a long time ago. Chosen is proof of that. Stephen Mills was failed over and over again by so many adults in his life, and while he’s written an amazing book that shares his pain and trauma in the most eloquent of ways, I truly wish he hadn’t had to.

If you love someone who has suffered childhood sexual abuse, Chosen by Stephen Mills should be on your reading list in order to better understand that loved one, what they’ve faced in trying to heal, and what they’re up against in seeking justice. And if you don’t know anyone who’s been traumatized this way, Chosen should also be on your list – because yes, you do; they just haven’t told you.

May Stephen Mills experience continued healing throughout his life, and may justice well up like water, righteousness like an unfailing stream for all survivors.  

Chosen is available now at all major retailers.

Visit Stephen Mills’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

One thought on “Book Review: Chosen: A Memoir of Stolen Boyhood by Stephen Mills

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s