Title: Real Raw Hope
Author: Rio McKee
Real Raw Hope is a book of poetry inspired by Rio McKee’s history of trauma and journey towards recovery. McKee shares in the Introduction that she survived an active shooting on her college campus. The trauma of this event prompted her to unlock a larger and deeper history of trauma. The poetry gives voice to the events and pains McKee had silently held secret for so long. This process contributed to McKee’s healing, and she hopes sharing her work will help others feel less alone in their own pains.
McKee’s poetry is indeed raw. Some poems discretely and others more explicitly describe the various forms of abuse she experienced. McKee is vulnerable and open with her emotions, drawing the reader into many painful moments and a few seemingly joyous ones. It is both heartbreaking and astounding to read about the terrible events she survived, and to also see her victorious reminders that she did survive. The poetry demonstrates an inner strength and resilience that is inspiring.
Real Raw Hope presents the poetry in non-chronological order. Each poem is accompanied by incredible photography. The photos and visual imagery add to the emotional context. Given the non-chronological order, the flow could sometimes feel disjointed. McKee intersperses poems that depict childhood abuse with poems that seem to reflect an adult love story. The sequence of events is not immediately clear, the reader must follow along the unfolding journey to understand the whole story.
Yet, this back-and-forth reflects the true experience of trauma, as memories of painful moments often do ignite during otherwise happy times. In this way, McKee is able to demonstrate for the reader the experience of being “triggered”—hit with a flood of anxiety, grief, and overwhelm by some event or object that reminds her of her past. Additionally, McKee lets the reader make unexpected discoveries (some happy and some not-so-happy) along the way. Again, this surely reflects her own life experience.
In addition to raw events and emotions, McKee also uses her poetry to make disclosures about her the state of her mental health. She describes having nightmares, moments of dissociation, and difficulty functioning in her relationships (due to understandable difficulties in trusting new people). She also shares her journey through therapy, highlighting the way in which therapy allowed her to uncover and work through the painful moments of her past. She also acknowledges the healing power of her horse.
McKee’s Real Raw Hope is probably not the sort of book you would read for pure fun. This is the sort of book you read if you want to better understand a person’s struggles, know the incredible resilience of the human spirit, and have hope for the future, in spite of a painful past. This book can help other abuse survivors feel less alone and more hopeful. It is an excellent read for therapists, who want to better understand these experiences.
Please note, some of the book’s contents may be triggering. Given the difficult content and some of the imagery, this book is recommended for adult readers.
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