Cyndy Etler: The Dead Inside

The Dead Inside Cover

I received a free digital copy of this book from the publishers through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I never was a badass. Or a slut, a junkie, a stoner, like they told me I was. I was just a kid looking for something good, something that felt like love. I was a wannabe in a Levi’s jean jacket. Anybody could see that. Except my mother. And the professionals at Straight.

From the outside, Straight Inc. was a drug rehab. But on the inside it was…well, it was something else.

All Cyndy wanted was to be loved and accepted. By age fourteen, she had escaped from her violent home, only to be reported as a runaway and sent to a “drug rehabilitation” facility that changed her world.

To the public, Straight Inc. was a place of recovery. But behind closed doors, the program used bizarre and intimidating methods to “treat” its patients. In her raw and fearless memoir, Cyndy Etler recounts her sixteen months in the living nightmare that Straight Inc. considered “healing.”


I’m not usually one for reading memoirs, or anything non-fiction related. Heck, my review policy states that I don’t! However, I seem to have a thing for novels that portray true events in a fictional style – and this is no exception. Cyndy Etler’s novel, The Dead Inside, is a true portrayal of her early teenage years growing up in a family that didn’t want her, and took advantage of her. It follows her time before being sent to Straight Inc., as well as during, showing us how her life was drastically changed by this experience and how it affected her for the rest of her life.

Though based on true events, and with some names from that time kept the same, Etler recounts this moment of her life in a style that is both fictional, yet biographical. The Dead Inside reads like fiction and feels like a story being told, and I frequently had to remind myself that this was a true retelling of someone’s life, the boundaries of fiction and reality blurring slightly within the narrative. However, I feel that this is a good way for this novel to come across, making Etler’s situation more accessible to those who shy away from novels that factually point out each and every little detail. This was not the case. It was clear that the protagonist was telling us the story of her past, inserting her own style of speaking into the writing style and bringing a lot of her thoughts into the narrative as well to help us to understand how Etler was feeling at these moments, and how she saw the world around her as it changed.

As I read through this novel, I really connected with Etler in her teenage years: in particular, the pressure from friends to feel accepted and cool. It became clear, from the early stages, that Etler was a teen that had gotten in with the wrong crowd, a teen that suffered, and was suffering, a terrible childhood with her stepfather. However, it was almost immediately obvious that the way society looked on children like Etler during that time, was completely off and misdirected. Coming from this day and age, you can clearly see the differences in the way people were treated then, and now. However, Etler is still a protagonist that can be identified with whether you have suffered the same experiences or not. You can identify with feeling out of place, feeling unnoticed, wanting to fit in, feeling like you aren’t cool by wearing hand-me-downs or cheap clothing when everyone else is wearing the latest fashions. The rules haven’t changed for living your life as a teenager, it’s just the way that society reacts to these teenagers.

I found it interesting that Etler included an essay, of sorts, towards the end of the novel which included statistics, facts, and figures regarding drug rehabilitation centres and the way that children are “cured” of their addiction. It is clear that this issue is close to Etler’s heart and it is heartening, and enlightening to see that, from the narrative towards the end of the novel, Etler has put her life towards helping troubled teenagers who were/are in the same, or similar, situations to what she experienced. Etler paints a clear picture of how long this has been, and continues to be, going on for many years, explaining that the US government has frequently put a bill forward to stop this from happening again, only for each bill to be declined. I hope that, through Etler’s novel, a more thorough awareness is built surrounding these establishments. The Dead Inside is thought-provoking, and gripping. I couldn’t tear myself away at such events taking place and it shocks me that this is still happening to this day, no matter how much it is dressed up as something else.

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