Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Invisible Girls: A Memoir

by Sarah Thebarge
Jerico Books    2013
266 pages     Spiritual Memoir

In her memoir The Invisible Girls, Sarah Thebarge relates two intertwined stories in her life—her struggles with breast cancer and the family of little Somali girls that she has helped for several years Thebarge is also a woman of steadfast faith, which is evident in every aspect of the memoir which covers a span of about five years.

Thebarge has experienced a great deal of change in her life. Her family moved several times as she was growing up, and then she as a young adult moves many times as well--first as the daughter of a fundamentalist pastor, and then as she goes to university and graduate school, creates her career and deals with the extremely invasive cancer. This is probably one of the reasons why she identifies so strongly with five young Somali girls and their mother, who have been abandoned by their father and husband. They are lost in this new land, and in many ways, Thebarge is lost as well. The relationship between Thebarge and the Somali family is healing on both sides as they all struggle to adapt to tremendous change.

Each chapter is a short vignette—either of her cancer and her recovery or of the family that she is helping. She also tells of her failed relationship with her fiancé, who is unable to deal with his girlfriend's cancer. Thebarge's writing moves between the various aspects of her life and relationships and also as she struggles with the fundamentalist, restrictive faith of her upbringing. She has many arguments with God over what she feels is God's abandonment of her.  She writes that as she was recovering from the cancer, she plotted the future of her life. She decided that there must be some greater purpose to her life. Thebarge says: "Between the cancer and the pneumonia, I should have died by now. But God had mercifully healed me. So for now, until He cashed out my chips, what I owed Him was not a death, but a well-lived life." She seems to have reached a compromise with God.  It is at this point in her life that she meets the Somali family.

She takes the title, the Invisible Girls, from the idea that women often are invisible in society. At one point she equates the modest dress of the fundamentalist woman to the modest dress of the Somali woman she is helping. This overt modesty helps create invisibility in women, but she also tells of an incident of preaching the gospel to a young prostitute on the street—another form of an invisible woman. Her goal is to help the Somali girls to grow up to be women who are "too confident to wait for a man to rescue them, and to valuable to stay with a man who abused them." I think that adding this "invisible girl" theme to the book is a bit disingenuous because it feels contrived—perhaps the idea came from an editor who thought that the book needed something more than what Thebarge was delivering.

 The Invisible Girls was created from the blog Thebarge has written as a way of sorting out her life. She intends to use the proceeds from the book to pay for the educations of the five little Somali girls so that they can move out of invisibility into productive American lives.The fund can be found on her blog here:

My hairdresser HIlary has been helping a young Nigerian woman/university student, Rejoice, and her little boy who came to Hilary's church seeking help. Rejoice is a student at Western Michigan University, and because of her unmarried motherhood status, she receives no support from her family. She is seeking asylum in the United States, and in the interim Hilary has taken it upon herself to offer the woman all the help she can. The stories are very similar, and I will take the book to Hilary when I go to see her. (More information about Rejoice and her needs can be found at the Go Fund Me site that Skyridge Church in Kalamazoo has set up.)

When I received The Invisible Girls from the publisher, I did not intend to read the entire book—just enough to get the gist of it so that I could write a short blurb on my blog. Despite its many flaws, it was a quick and inspiring read, and I finished the entire book in a couple of hours. It is one of those books that you read, sigh, and go "Ahh, nice!" and then move on with living. 

An interview with Sarah Thebarge.
Sarah Thebarge's website, blog, and donation site for the Invisible Girls.

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