On the second page of Thalia Chaltas’ first novel Because I Am Furniture, a tumult of an emotional young adult novel written in poetry, you find this:
When the garage door goes up
We close up conversation
and scuttle off like crabs
each to our room –
Shut the door.
Shut the door.
Shut the door.
Mom alone in the kitchen
where she should be
before the garage door goes down
and we are locked in hell.
Now, I’m reading this in my car, on a chilly winter’s evening sitting in an increasingly darkening parking lot with no one around. (I was early for a meeting, which turned out to be a good thing because I read about 130 pages of this. Written in verse, this moves fast; it’s definitely the type of book that you can read in one sitting.)
Because I Am Furniture is a story that is as chilling, as lonely, and as dark as the surroundings where I was reading it. It’s the haunting story of Anke, a high school girl whose father is physically, emotionally, and sexually abusing everyone in her family – except her. Anke isn’t noticed by her father – not when she makes the volleyball team, not when she earns an A, nothing. Her mother doesn’t take much notice of her either and is a silent victim. Despite the hell at home, Anke painstakingly tries to appear like everything is fine.
Nobody talks about the abuse that is so obviously happening within the family – the bruises that appear at the breakfast table, the sister taking birth control pills (and not because she is having sex with a boyfriend), the incidents from the previous nights when chairs are smashed over one’s head.
The furniture itself is almost part of the family, and Chaltras does an excellent job of showing the reader the symbolism of the deteriorating furniture with the stuffing coming out from the seams, the rats crawling in the springs of chairs, the fact that Anke’s parents bought this same furniture new when life was happier. The furniture symbolizes much of the characters’ inner lives in the book.
This isn’t an easy book to read, but it is an important one. I feel it should be required reading in many classrooms, as it could prompt students who may be living in an abusive home to recognize themselves or aspects of their lives in Anke’s and perhaps reach out for help. (Whether Anke does or doesn’t seek help is something that I cannot share, for fear of spoiling the ending.)
I think a mark of a good book is whether or not you want to know “what next?” after you close the cover, and Because I Am Furniture succeeds with that. I wanted to hear more about Angeline, and if Anke and Kyler had another dance, and what the family’s status was now.
It sounds like I’m talking about real people, I know.
Which is one of the messages brought home by Because I Am Furniture. That abuse is more common than we think, that it can be happening to someone you know, and what the consequences could be by remaining silent.
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