memoir / true crime

Nowhere Girl: A Memoir of a Fugitive Childhood by Cheryl Diamond

Eep! This is a tricky review to write. I was so excited to read this book and was overjoyed when I was contacted to see if I wanted to be part of a book tour. A memoir about a woman who lived her childhood on the lam with her parents crisscrossing the globe? Yes, please!

I loved the cover and the description seemed tailor-made for my interests. What could go wrong? As it turns out, quite a bit.

The setup and structure of the book were a little odd. Each chapter (or section) was basically one year of her life. That’s fine but the level of detail varied very wildly. Oddly, the chapters about her early life were much longer and more detailed than that of her life as a young adult and model when presumably, she’d remember more and be more involved in the logistics and happenings of her own life. A little odd but I can roll with it. I’ve found many, many books start off very wordy and involved and then wrap up very quickly–presumably when the author realizes they need to finish and no one wants to read a 1,000 page book!

She is the youngest child, her siblings are older teenagers when the book begins but even into their twenties, they are still travelling from city to city, country to country with their parents. At one point her sister enrolls in college but then they have to leave suddenly before she can complete her studies. This is one of those situations I’ve encountered mostly in books that I think of as a “cult of one family” where one or both parents are so strong willed and domineering they have outsized control of the family so this didn’t seem too strange. If they too had grown up on the lam, it would be all they knew.

This is where I started to run into some issues with the book. The whole premise is that her parents are constantly changing identities and locations to avoid trouble. But what trouble? It isn’t addressed until well into the book–more than halfway and even then it is confusing. The villain seems to be her maternal grandfather and her dad is said to have stolen some money? It is really glossed over and I was never sure if she was saying the police were actually involved? It was also confusing because her mother was in contact with her father from pay phones periodically. Why? Later in the book they move back to the states and the author even begins a relationship with her grandparents. Why? How? I was never quite sure.

I really hate to say it but many, many parts of the book did not line up for me. I truly wonder if any of it was fact-checked or corroborated by the publisher. The author writes under a fake name, one of her many aliases. She doesn’t give the original name for any of her family. Her stories about troubles getting authentic legal documents like a passport ring false. She was born on the run and off the grid and her birth certificate from NZ had her parents fake names on it which causes issues but then they are able to find a nurse who was at her birth nearly a quarter of a century before and who some how remembers her birth and is willing to testify who she is and who her parents are?

By my calculations her father (who is revealed to be about 20+ years older than her mother about 3/4 of the way through) had to be around sixty when the book began. Never is his age mentioned as a factor in anything. Of course you can be a spry 60 something but by the end of the book he had to be in or near his eighties yet was still physically intimidating his daughter. Speaking of that, there is one scene where her dad stabs her sister in the leg with a pen while they are on the way to a public place with lots of people but then there is no discussion of how the sister was able to walk properly, why no one noticed the blood or torn clothing? There were so many instances of this–a wild story and then no follow up and no one paid them any attention.

Another bizarre bit is that during these many years they are on the lam, the author is training to be an elite gymnast. They even go so far as a hire a full time coach who moves from his home with his family to work with her. Why on earth would you have your child train for the Olympics if you were on the run from your family and authorities? Putting aside that people might recognize you as the world of elite athletes is small, they are moving all the time! How could anyone successfully train that way? She also becomes a model in her teens which is also glossed over–she seems to be able to rent an apartment as a child with fake documents and live there on her own?

There were some other odd bits too–at one point they move to Northern Virginia and become Conservative Jews because of her father’s frankly anti-semitic view that it would be a good way to get close to people with money and power. This is never really addressed. Diamond ends up attending Hebrew school and a Jewish day school and no one ever seems so suspect that they just became Jewish, as a family and with no training or actual conversion overnight? She is middle school aged at this point so should be a more reliable narrator and involved but she really isn’t.

I would love to read her previous memoir about being a model. I can’t bring myself to give this woman money so I requested through inter-state library loan. I did read some reviews and a few were very skeptical about the truthfulness of the book. I am not surprised because most of this book didn’t make a bit of sense if you thought about it for more than a minute.

I would not be surprised if the author did live a transient life with her abusive, charismatic parents and siblings. I even think her dad sounded like he was a low level hustler or con artist–having money was a constant and there were a few location details that rang true but I don’t believe the vast majority of the book happened the way she said it did at all. I would not be surprised if she was a low-level model of some kind–hair modeling was mentioned and even I was a hair model back in college, all you need is hair–and she didn’t complete her studies and moved around a lot. I don’t think most events in her life happened as she presented them. I really don’t know how it made it to print. It’s an interesting story but even if it was 100% true she glosses over so much–sometimes almost whole years are reduced to her having a cat–there isn’t much of a narrative there. She doesn’t seem to overcome her childhood, she doesn’t have any insight into what happened or how it was. It was very flat and you’d have to be very naïve to take any of it at face value. I was left with the thought that when a story sounds too fantastical to be real, it probably isn’t. Not that weird, horrible, and unusual events don’t occur but very few details of this tale had even the faintest ring of truthfulness to it.

2 thoughts on “Nowhere Girl: A Memoir of a Fugitive Childhood by Cheryl Diamond

  1. I agree with you…I was immediately sucked into the story but the more I read the more I became suspicious. Mostly about the relationship with her half brother, she became very oblique about the actual molestation. I am not suggesting that it was not abusive and harmful but was extremely unclear as to the level of intamacy he forced on her. But for me the big elephant in the room is the part about the night he came back from NYC and disappeared! It was almost as if she insinuated that the father and half sister murdered him ( why else would the mother go into a spiral of depression for years) then that is never addressed or explained. Too many holes for me to take all the other detailed horrors at face value.

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    • It was very strange. I, of course, would believe anyone who is saying they are the victim of abuse and I think she is quite troubled but it was really hard to decipher what exactly happened, when, and how. Did he disappear because their mom found out what he did, made him leave and then felt bad because it happened practically right in front of her during this bizarre self-imposed period of transient life? That would make sense to me but like everything else, it was glossed over and not mentioned really again.

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