Heidi Ann Smith’s first novel, The Clara Ann Burns Story dares to go where other stories of child abuse shrink and hide away. Smith uses a multidimensional prose including a collection of short stories, poems; one-minute plays, hospital records, and photographs to illustrate her story about Clara’s journey through physical and emotional abuse.
Clara grew up in the 1960’s in the Chicago suburbs during the years of the John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations, supersonic jets, the Apollo missions and the Vietnam War. Those were the days of a more simplistic life without computers, video games, cell phones – back in the days of black and white television. While growing up in this era, Clara had an extremely traumatic childhood. She had many health issues at a young age, as being diagnosed with osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone, as well as pneumonia twice by the age of six. Each time she was brought to the hospital in a coma. Clara even had her Last Rites read to her twice; once when she was five and again when she was seven years old, a memory she will never forget.
Clara’s biological father died when she was still a young girl. Shortly after the death of her father, Clara, along with her mother and brother were in a head-on collision. The man that caused the accident was drunk and the attorney that took on the case became Clara’s stepfather. He was very abusive to Clara on every emotional and physical level, including sexual abuse. At one point the stepfather got Clara pregnant and she had to have an abortion. The only peace Clara found was to drink her problems away. Life just seemed to be one big punishment for her. Clara didn’t understand why all of this had happened to her.
Eventually Clara moved in with her boyfriend who became very influential in helping her stop drinking and would encourage her to attend the local A.A. meetings. Through the strength of her 12 step program, Clara now has a happy, stable life. She has home-birthed and home-schooled five children!
The Clara Ann Burns Story is a well-written and powerful debut novelette that grips the reader immediately; showing the devastating frustration of a young child being harshly abused. I found Heidi Ann Smith’s style of writing to be realistic, and the images included in the book were a powerful and believable way to portray this story. The author points out, as many other sources state, that child abuse may very well be a cycle, passed down from generation to generation. The child’s rage and pain of being abused could, once becoming an adult, be turned on themselves or even the ones they love.
The ending, however, had a pleasant surprise. The author showed how Clara is a living testament of resilience. The Clara Ann Burns Story sends an inspirational message of strength of the human spirit. A person has the ability to leave their dark past and look forward to a better tomorrow. If Clara Ann Burns could do it, then anyone can!