Julia Latchen-Smith’s memoir, Daddy’s Little Girl, tells the story of the author’s experiences being sexually abused by her father from the time she was eight until she was a teenager. Julia’s initially normal family becomes dysfunction after several moves and her mother becomes obsessive about keeping the house clean. Her coldness drives her towards her loving father who takes advantage of his daughter during their time alone. While the few instances of sexual abuse Latchen-Smith documents are horrifying, the memoir focuses on Julia’s emotional turmoil, and is more powerful for this. The primary struggle Julia suffers is knowing that her father’s actions are wrong, but not wanting to lose his love by telling others. For much of her youth, she struggles with keeping their “secret” and the desire to tell others. Julia confesses a few times and receives help from friends and agencies, but before long she misses her family and is pressured into dropping the case so she can return home. The story continues into Julia’s adulthood, where she struggles to maintain a good relationship because of her father’s abuse, which eventually leads to prosecuting her father.
Latchem-Smith’s tale is both horrifying and enlightening. It’s horrifying because of the physical and emotional experiences she endures; it’s enlightening because it exposes what children suffer through when they have abusive parents. Her story reveals that parents and family aren’t always the best role models, that parents have power of their children through the love they give them, and that love can control us and lead us into harmful situations.
The story is as compelling as it is horrifying. Readers will cringe as Julia returns to perilous situations but understand her actions because Latchem-Smith provides readers with a lot of insight into her thinking processes at the time. It is well written and while it is very engaging for the first two thirds, the last third seems somewhat distant, probably because they occurred close to publication and she was too close to be able to effectively portray them. Still, this memoir explores very pertinent issues, exposing what lies behind closed doors, and reveals how much children depend on their parents. If you think you can stomach the moments of unsavoury material, which aren’t overly graphic, I recommend it.