Imagine finding out at the age of thirteen that you have a retarded sister who has been hidden away in a state hospital. Imagine knowing about her for twenty-five years before meeting her for the first time. This is at the crux of Secret Girl, a touching, revealing, and heartbreaking memoir of one woman discovering both her sister and herself.
Molly Bruce "Brucie" Jacobs recounts her childhood: her distant parents, who cared more about keeping up appearances than showing their emotions; her rebelliousness; and her development as an alcoholic. When Brucie is thirteen, her father comes clean to her and her sister Laura about their other sister - Laura's twin, who was sent away shortly after birth, not expected to live past her first year. Her parents only had minimal contact with this sister, Anne, and pretended like she didn't exist. For awhile, Brucie is both horrified and fascinated by the mental images she conjures up of Anne, but it isn't until she is struggling to overcome alcoholism at the age of thirty-eight that she finally gathers up the courage to meet her. Anne is thirty-five at the time.
The memoir jumps between Brucie's childhood and her adult life, showing how her life has always been intertwined with Anne's even before they met. Going through Anne's records, Brucie attempts to reconstruct the life that Anne must have had growing up. Much of the memoir is speculative, but Brucie is tender and empathetic as she imagines Anne's experience. While she attempts to make up for lost time after she meets Anne, she realizes that her family's ambivalence and neglect has irreparably hurt her. Despite this, Anne is filled with childlike wonder and what Brucie describes as "unadulterated joy," and Brucie learns a lot about life by being around her.
Secret Girl is not just a tribute to Anne; it is a catharsis for Brucie as well. But since memoirs are about real life, Secret Girl does not have a happy ending. The epilogue is especially heartbreaking, but Brucie is a courageous storyteller. I highly recommend this book, not just for its honesty, but because it gets to the core of what is real and true about human existence.