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Saturday, June 12, 2021

If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood

It took me some time to finish this book because it's hard to read. Not because it was badly written, but because reading about what the three sisters in this story went through for years is not for the faint-hearted or squeamish. While I like reading and watching true crime stories, I had to put down the book several times because the details were just too much.  

If You Tell chronicles, the abuse three sisters had to endure while living with their sadistic mother.  The mother, Michelle "Shelly" Knotek, is someone who could go  "zero to sixty, from calm to rage, in less than five seconds."  She subjected her daughters Nikki, Sami, and Tori to all kinds of abuse, torture, and degradation. Such acts of sadism extended to relatives and friends, which eventually led to murder and her incarceration.  As manipulative as she was, she even convinced one of her daughters to participate in one of her crimes.

Gregg Olsen described the events in a raw, graphic, and sometimes sordid way.  He interspersed the recollection of people who knew Sherry, including her stepmother, her daughters, and her ex-partner. You'd be forgiven to think that the book is fiction, but it's not. It all happened. What happened to the sisters was so horrific that normal everyday objects would trigger memories of their fears and anguish. He also underscored that despite the horrific events,  the sisters remained resilient and how, through the strength of the bond between them, they became empowered to end their mother's reign of terror.  To this day, they remained in contact with each other.

I just wonder how such terrible acts could happen, and nobody could even notice it.  Especially that these events happened in a small, rural town in Washington where everybody supposedly knew each other. Of course, nobody could blame the sisters because years of manipulation and mental abuse would make them submissive to their mother.  In fact, the police and other authorities did not act when the sisters reported to them earlier and acted only after someone has died.

While the narrative is simple, the details became repetitive in several parts and did not contribute to the story anymore.  Olsen also did not completely tell what drove the mother to such heinous acts.  Was she born evil? Was her troubled past responsible for the behavior her stepmother already noticed when she was still very young?  Clearly, the book was not to psychoanalyze Shelly or her victims.  However, these are unanswered questions that should have been addressed to better understand how this monster came to be. 

If You Tell: 
A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood
Gregg Olsen
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer 
Publication date: December 1, 2019
Kindle Edition (File size: ‎ 4464 KB)