In this in-depth review, Reverend Ron Minor delves into the psychological aspects of Elizabeth Isola’s encouraging work Jamie, recently re-published by Warner House Press. A shorter version of this review appeared on Amazon. Used by permission. Warning: This review contains spoilers.
This book gives amazing insight into the life of a young girl who suffered through years of sexual abuse at the hands of a respected medical doctor who kept her in social isolation. Jamie was adopted from a Boston orphanage when she was six by the orphanage doctor who moved her to an ideal looking but evil life in California. There she was raised in a totally controlled environment and given everything she would want—except her own identity, friends, and freedom.
Elizabeth Isola has written so brilliantly that my first thought was that Jamie was a fictionalized autobiography. When I inquired about this possibility, I discovered that this was not at all like her own experience. I then realized that God had given her the inspiration, down to the smallest details. No wonder this is such a compelling account. Elizabeth goes on to describe how the doctor is finally exposed for the evil he perpetrated, how Jaime is freed to begin her long recovery, and how God draws her to a personal relationship with himself. Her “conversion” is described sensitively and authentically. Jamie finds her healing as she returns, now a college graduate, to teach art at the orphanage where she began her life. All through the narrative the style is daringly yet refreshingly detailed.
I am impressed at the numbers of social and personal issues and conflicts that Elizabeth addresses in the course of her story. These are unselfconsciously highlighted and much insight emerges in the natural context of the story line.
For instance, how can a respected and accomplished member of society perpetrate such evil in his personal life? Yet we know that the most awful crimes are committed by people we would least expect. Robert Lewis Stevenson, in his The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, describes the caricature of a split personality that is relived here.
Then, how can a person create an alternative reality, so complete and isolated as to be believed by another person? Yet we all know that as children we are loath to let reality dawn on us until we come into our teen years. We have all been raised in a certain amount of unreality by our families to avoid having to face the negative side of life. We naturally believe what our parents want us to believe until we discover that it doesn’t match our reality.
How does a young person deal with the great inner conflict set in motion by this unreality? Dr. Butler freed Jamie from the orphanage, gave her a home and a name, provided for all her needs, gave her a good education, and provided a running commentary on how good this all was for her. On the other hand, he demanded constant sexual favors, refused her any outside contacts, created and treated an imaginary illness which “required” regular injections that limited her energy, and all of this was a lie. Jamie had a growing sense that something was dreadfully wrong.
The growing conflict is chronicled in detail. Elizabeth describes how Jamie is caught between loyalty to her “savior” and a growing desire for a life of her own.
She is taught to feel so guilty for doing the slightest thing to displease her “father”: the threat of hurting him or making him angry immobilizes her. Yet on the inside her anger mounts at the continual repression of her natural desires. We have here an extreme example of the inner feelings of a “good child,” and the inner battle between self-control and fantasy. For instance, Jamie can see the coastal beach from her bedroom window and fantasizes about the people frolicking in the surf, yet she is never allowed to be one of them.
Once Jamie’s growing suspicions are confirmed and the doctor is exposed by church leaders, the author introduces us to the extended recovery process for an abused child seeking to enter society as an adult. Jamie has tolerated a lie so long that learning to trust people is a process full of setbacks. Freedom becomes a tedious adjustment.
Elizabeth takes us with Jamie as she goes to college, graduates, returns to her orphanage, comes to personal faith, meets a very eligible and caring Christian man, and struggles with what direction her future life should take. Most importantly we go with her to visit her “father” who is dying in prison. Jamie’s doors slowly open as she is able to accept that God is very different from her own father: that he can be trusted, taken at face value, and that he truly loved her.
Jamie faces the challenge of finding out what her dreadful life experiences have prepared her for. Does her being born into a Catholic orphanage and finding her healing with Catholic sisters mean that God is asking her to be a sister, as the head sister strongly suggests? Or would that be an escape from a fuller healing through marriage?
Since I had read an earlier version of the book some years ago, it seemed realistic to plan to simply dip into the narrative here and there to re-familiarize myself with the details. Instead, once I picked the book up again, I found that I couldn’t put it down and read it again from cover to cover.
The author can be forgiven for what seems to me to be an excessive and repetitive detailing of Jamie’s inner thinking and of her emotional conflicts. At times I sped along in my eagerness to keep up with the story line.
I found this book refreshing—a realistically redemptive account of a girl raised in great evil, who found the courage to forgive her abuser and to move on from the damage done to her into a progressively healed adulthood. If God can provide an escape and a new life in this extremest of cases, then there is certainly hope for all of us who are struggling to maintain hope for our healing.
About Rev. Minor
I am an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), being ordained by the Presbytery of Boston in 1962. I first came to faith in college through Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship at the University of Rochester. I then earned my M.Div. degree, summa cum laude, from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
I served as pastor of the First United Presbyterian Church in Cambridge, MA for nearly twenty years. While there I moderated the Presbytery of Boston, taught at Harvard Divinity School, and supervised intern students from Gordon-Conwell
My wife, Barbara, and I have been married for sixty years, and have
three daughters. In 1980 we moved to the Community of Jesus, a
residential, ecumenical, Benedictine Community on Cape Cod, MA.
where I have been on the clergy staff for forty years. I have worked in
the Community’s publishing house, sung in the traveling, professional
choir (singing in twenty-one countries), and served in the United
Kingdom for two years founding an affiliate house.