A Powerful Book About Reclaiming Life Post-Trauma

It Wasn’t Love is a powerful book about the stages one goes through in reaction to trauma, the ways that past traumas can continue to affect us throughout life, and learning to reclaim one’s existence despite trauma.

Although it’s not clear from the beginning, the epilogue explains that It Wasn’t Love is something of an autobiographical novel, with only names, certain details, and chronologies changed. It begins with Mille as a teenager, exploring her own sexuality in the wake of a violent rape. Even for those of us who never suffered a sexual assault, I think the first part of the book, with Millie slowly learning to enjoy sex with Luke, is very relatable. Personally, I’m almost jealous of her experience with him. She could not have asked for a gentler, more caring, and more open young man with whom to learn about sex in a non-threatening way.

Soon after, she has something of a summer of hook-ups. It seems to me like a very believable and realistic portrayal of a young woman trying to find some peace through a reclaiming of her sexuality. So many interesting things happen during this time, including a great section about a slightly older man who acts just a bit inappropriately, which causes her peers to more-or-less drive him out of town. Millie, on the other hand, sympathizes with him, recognizing that his behavior “wasn’t violent. It was just inappropriate and awkward.” She’s coming from a place of understanding just how much darker and more dangerous the behavior of men can be. There is also a part in this section where she quickly initiates and has sex with a young man who comes instantly then tells her he was a virgin. She then struggles somewhat with the question of whether she should feel she did something unethical to him, and I was really relieved she did ask herself those questions because I would have been disappointed if she hadn’t.

In fact, many times throughout the book there are points when I’d ask myself something, worried that the author might not address it, but then she does, in fact, address it. As soon as I found myself thinking that Millie blacks out an awful lot, Millie starts to wonder if she is blacking out for reasons other than being drunk or roofied. The book never let me down.

Equally as important in this book is the fact that Millie was adopted from Korea by a white family. Over the years, I have read many books about adoption from the point of view of birth mothers, adult adopted children, and adoptive families. I started reading these books because of a paper I was writing in a college women’s studies class, when it occurred to me that adoption is an issue that touches upon three of the main topics in social justice: race, class, and gender. All throughout it, I thought to myself that Millie acted like a person who feared abandonment, and it likely had a lot to do with her very early childhood. The book addressed this thoroughly, I’m glad to say.

Millie seems like a really cool person. I want to hear her music and read her books. I like that she’s vegetarian and that both love of non-human animals and love of music are therapeutic for her. I look forward to reading the future works of JS Lee! —Melissa