Straightling by Cyndy Drew Etler
A Memoir

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It wasn’t supposed to get this bad. I used to be just some kid, whose dead dad was famous and whose only friend was her headphones. We're a dime a dozen, right? But then my mother marries a molester, and the seesaw tilts down hard.

So I’ve been trying to find something good: a grownup with some love to spare, or a safe place to hide. Instead I find Bridgeport, this city that’s always dark, even at noon on Sundays. I love Bridgeport so much I run away to it, to its basements and pot smoke and man-boys.

But then some relative sees Princess Di on the news, visiting this place for teen screw-ups—Straight Inc, it's called. On the outside, Straight's a drug rehab. But on the inside, it''s something else.

When my mother signs me in, I tell them I’ve only smoked pot twice. But they don’t listen. To Straight, every teen is a drug addict—at least, every teen with a desperate parent and a checkbook.

My mother says bye to my beach ball of a face, puffy with tears and terror, and then I’m dragged into this warehouse full of teen savages. And the doors are locked behind me. If I’d known I was gonna be trapped there for a year and a half, I would've fought harder.


They had said they were taking me to a boarding school, where you read good books for teens, make tie-dye T-shirts, and—ha!—learn how to smoke weed. Instead, I learn to read staff’s mood by the smell in the air. Will it be bloody tonight, or just spitty?

Don’t think I’m kidding. Straight Inc? Total cult. And cult kids don’t sit around reading books, we bash around and hunt other kids, like we're all Katniss, come to life.


At Straight, the most important thing is that monster confession each kid eventually makes: "I’m a gutter addict. Straight saved my life!" Parents hear that and can’t wait to fork over the money. But how do you get a kid who’s not on drugs to confess to being an addict? Easy! Use Straight’s special therapy:

-Trap three hundred teens in a room, sixteen hours a day.
-Don’t give them enough food, water, or sleep.
-Pull a random kid out of Group. Make him scream. Make sure Group hears him.
-Tell Group, "You want to be safe? Make other kids admit they’re addicts."
-Provide humiliation tools: Spit Therapy, Toilet Paper Therapy, the Spanking Machine…

The kid-hunt takes place twice a week. We smash. We spit. We scream. And we confess our "druggie sins." You might call them stories, but we swear they're true, and you would call it child abuse, but for us, it's called Review. After sixteen months of Review, I'm such a Straightling, I'd rather die than leave.


When I’m finally sprung, my druggie high school doesn't do much to make me want to live. But the grownups at AA do. I’m fifteen years old, with a year and a half of sobriety. To AA, I’m a symbol of hope. So they’re kind to me. They almost…heal me. And eventually, I’m able to go out into the world. I go to college and work with street kids and start teaching.

In the end, Karma wins. Straight Inc—called "a concentration camp for throwaway kids" by the ACLU—is investigated, sued and closed down.

And me? Well, there are two things I’ve always wanted: to be a writer, and to be loved. I had a hunger for family, and a need to write good books that would make all teens—like, the struggling readers to the AP students—put down their cell phones and video games; a YA series that makes kids say, “OMG, reading doesn’t suck!”

When New York Times bestselling author Ellen Hopkins read and loved my memoir, I knew my time had arrived. I ran to tell my husband; our dogs licked the laugh off my face. So me? Yeah, Karma got me. Karma got me and handed me my dream life.

*A school edition of STRAIGHTLING, featuring discussion questions and modified content, is also available.

About Cyndy Drew Etler

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A modern-day Cinderella, Cyndy Drew Etler was homeless at fourteen, summa cum laude at thirty. Currently a YA author and teen life coach, Etler spent the prior decade teaching troubled teens in schools across America. Before earning a salary for her teaching, Etler did it for free, volunteering at public schools and facilities for runaway teens. Today she donates her time to her local library, recruiting teens to come check out the underutilized YA section. Within a year of graduating from the University of Massachusetts at Boston with a Bachelor's degree in English and American studies, Etler held a Master's degree in secondary education. Along the way she picked up numerous awards, including the Student Leadership Award in her junior and senior years, and the prestigious American Studies Department Book Award in her senior year. Etler's debut memoir, STRAIGHTLING, is now earning its own acclaim and endorsements, including those from noted authors Ellen Hopkins and LouAnne Johnson. She is currently at work on COILED, the prequel of STRAIGHTLING. After years of hopscotching domiciles, Etler now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and her dogs.
Published November 27, 2013 by Lucky 17 Publishing. 253 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Parenting & Relationships, Health, Fitness & Dieting, Self Help. Non-fiction

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ForeWord Reviews

Yet this is a true story, written by Cyndy Drew Etler, who barely survived her childhood and adolescence … and, as they say, “lived to tell about it.”.

Jun 22 2012 | Read Full Review of Straightling: A Memoir

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