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I was immediately drawn to buy Ashley’s book when it first became available. Growing up listening to The Judd’s music, and seeing Naomi and Wynona on talk shows lately (sans Ashley) to promote their new OWN show, I was intrigued to read Ashley’s story. Ashley begins her journey reflecting on her own childhood issues of abandonment, rejection, depression, isolation, loss of family connection, and sexual abuse. While she talks about these issues very openly, Ashley is not screaming “I am a victim” or “Naomi is a horrible mother”. Rather, she reveals very openly how those issues affected her and what she did to move past it.
I love the language Ashley uses in describing her family: family of origin and family of choice. Even though her family of origin hasn’t always been the most supportive or understanding to her, she has learned to accept them as they are. However, she also knows that she deserves love and connection and surrounds herself with those she has chosen to be in her inner circle of family. One example is Tennie-director of Shades of Hope, her surrogate grandmother, who is always there for her and loves giving Ashley hugs. As I read her experiences as a child growing up with a star-driven mother, I could sense her sadness and the confusion she felt about her father. Growing up, Naomi told Ashley negative things about him, yet leaves her with him so that she and “Sister” (Wynonna) can travel across the country with their music. Faced with episodes of severe depression, Ashley decides to receive help and enters into a rehabilitation program at Shades of Hope. Today, Ashley has a wonderful relationship with her father and step-mother. She also had a relationship with her mother and sister, albeit, it is not as close.
As an accomplished actress and intelligent college graduate, Ashley simply felt disconnected from her family and felt as if something was missing her in life. It isn’t until she becomes an advocate for PSI that she begins to grieve as she realizes that she is not any different from the orphans she meets. She shares the same kind of pain (regardless of what caused it) and felt alone growing up (as they also did with no family). As she meets each child and woman on her trips (as Ambassador for PSI), she slowly begins her journey towards inner healing, spiritual connection with God, and learns the art of forgiveness.
She promises those she meets on her trips to not forget them and to be their voice to those in the United States and leaders of their countries. While Ashley details every experience very clearly and lets you meet some of the people she has met along the way, you realize that through her own story, she uses this book as a tool to let their voices be heard. She brings the reader into some very dark areas that she visits, such as brothels, the dirty streets where prostitution is rampant, and some of the poorest huts/tents. Yet, in those darkest places, she finds beauty in the people she meets. She hugs and nurtures those who are shunned from family and society: the orphaned, HIV positive children and women, and prostitutes.
Ashley shares the high and low points of her work as Ambassador and shares her inner struggles with religion and God. She is very raw in this book and is as transparent as she can be, without losing focus of the work she continues to do for PSI. Her journey takes her to a place of peace, acceptance, and a stronger will to continue helping those less fortunate to have a voice.
Ashley’s book cannot be read without wanting to do something and help others. At the end of the book, Ashley provides websites and information to many organizations and programs that always need funding and volunteers (at any level). This is a book that deserves to be read, if not for Ashley’s own journey, but for the women and children whose voices deserve to be heard.
Things I loved: being completely open with her thoughts and struggles, her ability to overcome her own childhood trauma by helping others less fortunate, shedding light on humanitarian efforts in other countries, giving hope to everyone, loving so openly, and extensive websites and information to help motivate readers to help others.
Things I didn’t like: Absolutely nothing! One thing I have noticed since the book has been released, are the criticisms of her book: 1. blaming Naomi 2. her opinion on rap musicians 3. sexual abuse-why now, did her mother truly abandon her…etc.
Quite honestly, this truly disturbs me, because these critics are taking away from the overall beauty of this book. This is Ashley’s story and it deserves to be told. As a sexual abuse survivor, she learned to deny her feelings. I am glad that she is using this opportunity to be a voice for those who don’t have one and not being intimidated by those who truly missed the message of the book! It is my hope that seeing her share these intimate details of her life, that she will also give courage to countless others that are also sexual abuse survivors.
*Please note: While this is Ashley’s story, she doesn’t go into a lot of detail about her family history. She does write about it, but it’s certainly not the main focus of her book.
On her family: “When I came into the world four years later, my families troubled and remarkable course had already been set in motion, powerfully shaped by my mother’s desperate teenage lie and the incredible energy she dedicated to protecting it” (p.24).
On family of origin and family of choice: “…I discovered we all belong to two families: our family of choice and our family of origin. My family of choice is a colorful assortment of surrogate grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends who infuse me with love, belonging, and acceptance (p. 24).
PSI stance on sexual education: “They let everyone know they could be devout Christians at a sectarian college and still accept the A, the B, and the C of HIV prevention; abstinence, being faithful and delaying onset of sexuality, and correct and consistent condom use with every sexual act. (Eventually I would add my own D: delay of sexual debut, especially important for girls who are so often preyed upon by older men)” (p.87).
One woman she met with HIV: “One night Mary was trying to persuade a client to use a condom but instead he pulled a wrapped piece of candy from his pocket and jammed it into her mouth. “Chew!” he ordered. So she chewed the wrapped candy as he glared at her. “See!” the client hissed. “That’s what it’s like using a condom.” And the he beat her to a pulp and raped her (p.88).
Why women prostitute: “Prostitution occurs in the absence of choices…All of these women sent money home. Some prostituted women were aware of the risks they were running in the midst of an AIDS epidemic, but one told me, “I may be dead in a few years form contracting HIV/AIDS, but I don’t have food for tomorrow….My life is so miserable, I don’t want to use a condom. I want to die” (p.100).
One lesson learned: “I could be God’s light, but I could not work out each person’s salvation. I could not rescue each person. I could not heal them. Only God could” (p. 129).
Style of Writing: 5/5
Pace of Story: 3/5
Character Development: 4/5
Christian Perspective: 3/5
Spiritual Connection: 4/5
Emotional Connection: 4/5