Reviewed by: BigAl
Approximate word count: 15-20,000 words
Shana Hammaker is the author of the TwelveTerrifying Tales for 2011 series, where a different short thriller was released each month, and another memoir, The Cookie Dumpster. Follow Shana on Twitter.
“Words are puzzles. Words are lies. Words are power. Words are hope.
Hieroglyphs is a dark and unique coming-of-age story.
Shana Hammaker was the second of three girls born to young and ill-equipped parents. She and her sisters grew up under some of the most harrowing conditions you’re likely to encounter in print.
Shana spent her formative years dueling against a drug-addicted mother, an uncaring father, and a cruel stepmother. She lost her virginity to a trusted family friend before she could ride a bike. And she was ultimately abandoned by her family and the child welfare system. At seventeen, Shana’s childhood ended on the street.
Through it all, Shana found strength and comfort in words. Words are everything. Words can uplift and they can condemn. Words can name you and give you strength. Words are puzzles. Words are power. Words are lies. Sometimes words create. Other times they destroy.
Words can turn a rape victim into a whore.
But words are also HOPE.”
Last year when I read and reviewed The Cookie Dumpster, Hammaker’s memoir about her time living on the streets of Santa Cruz, California, I praised the book for its authentic, unvarnished look at the plight of the homeless. But I also begged for more. The Cookie Dumpster covered a very specific and relatively short period of Hammaker’s life, but I thought there was more to tell and suggested her story cried out for a prequel, telling us what brought her life to the point where living on the street was her only, or at least best, option. The Cookie Dumpster ended at a logical point in Hammaker’s life, a turning point where her life was changing, but it felt like there was a possible sequel there as well.
Hieroglyphs is both prequel and sequel, starting with Hammaker’s childhood, deftly covering the time chronicled in The Cookie Dumpster without feeling like anything is being skipped for those who haven’t read Hammaker’s first memoir, and without feeling like covering old ground, for those who have. It then finishes with the next chapter of her life, ending at another logical stopping point. I got what I’d wished for.
There are many lessons or insights to be gained from the author’s life, starting with how much the luck of the draw influences the life you lead and ending with the realization that what politicians describe as “the safety net,” while imperfect and flawed, is much better than the alternative. Running through the story is a constant refrain of the power of words, for both good and bad, which gives insight into why Hammaker gravitated towards the writer’s life.
Some adult content.
No significant issues.
Rating: ***** Five stars