Title: If You Tell
Author: Gregg Olsen
Genre: True Crime, Biography
“It isn’t a mask that she wears to cover the past but an invisible badge of courage.”
Nikki, Sami, and Tori Knotek are survivors of a tragic past. For years, they withstood both physical and mental abuse from their mother, Shelly, and watched helplessly as she tormented others. The things that they endured and witnessed were horrific, making these sisters lucky to escape with their lives. As hard as their mother tried to keep them isolated and cut off from one another, the sisters built an unbreakable bond that even their sadistic mother could not penetrate. This bond eventually led them to salvation and a new, free world that they did not know existed.
“She’d done exactly what she’d wanted to do. Making people unhappy was her way of having fun.”
This book reminded me a lot of the Netflix documentary series “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez.” If you enjoyed that series, you will likely enjoy this book as well. The abuse that these kids experienced from their own mother is shocking to say the least. This book left a really heavy feeling in my heart and affected my mood for a full day after finishing it. It is one of those books that is a real eye opener, but knowing it actually happened and is still affecting the lives of those involved is heart wrenching.
“Victims of abuse can still love the monster. This ambivalent loyalty might just be the predator’s ultimate form of damage.”
While the story was tragic and left holes in my heart, being a psychology major I also found the behavioral aspects of both Shelly and the abused persons very interesting. Shelly, whose full past is still unknown, exemplified sadistic behaviors from a very young age, enjoying the infliction of pain onto others. It makes you wonder what caused her to be this way. Was it a biological change in her brain or were environmental variables at play?
The psychological torment that her victims endured may have been one of the most difficult aspects to read through. Even given opportunities to run away, many stayed out of fear or pure confusion as to what was really happening to them. Shelly knew how to manipulate her captives to make them think she was their only option and she chose victims that she knew did not have much familial support. She was a master in her own, twisted form of art.
“Dying, she thought, is the only way out of what is happening to me.”
Gregg Olsen did a great job capturing the stories of the three sisters and creating vivid images of the abuse that was endured. My only fault with this book is that it was a slow burner. There was a lot of back story about Shelly before she had her daughters including describing the different places she lived and husbands that she married. Although I think that some backstory was needed to show Shelly’s abusive side throughout history, there was some information that I felt did not contribute to the story. However, I still really liked this book and highly recommend you try it!
Please also be aware that Shelly Knotek is being released from Prison this year, 2022! If you find yourself in an abusive situation, please be sure to contact the police or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.