Jane Doe January is the compelling true story of Emily Winslow’s long search for justice after being attacked and raped when she was in college. Twenty years after the assault, her rapist was finally identified—and Winslow was thrown back into a quest for closure she had all but given up on.
In part, Jane Doe January is a detective story: Winslow’s own research into her rapist Arthur Fryar’s past forms a gripping narrative that wouldn’t seem out of place in one of Winslow’s crime novels. In part, it is a self-help book, full of Winslow’s own heart-felt advice and wisdom. But the central premise of this memoir is Winslow’s strong desire to see her rapist sentenced to die in prison.
From the moment the book opens on the horrifying rape scene, it’s easy to share Winslow’s wish—except that I am, for a myriad of reasons, deeply opposed to the punitive prison system. With this so core to my beliefs, I certainly wasn’t expecting what happened: Winslow had me rooting for her cause every step of the way.
Of course, what happened to Winslow was terrible—I didn’t need any convincing there—but I was surprised to see how easily she had me questioning my anti-prison stance. Winslow’s writing is at once hauntingly emotional and startlingly rational; her reasons for why she wanted Arthur Fryar to die behind bars made sense to me in a way that most arguments for retribution do not. While Jane Doe January didn’t ultimately sway me all the way over, it opened my mind to a new way of thinking about justice and punishment—and that’s not the only lesson I learned from it.
Emily Winslow teaches her readers how to respond to friends who have survived sexual assault. She teaches us that the past is not something to run from or smooth over. My favourite lesson from Jane Doe January was about how to value yourself—whether it’s in the face of unrequited love, or whether it’s when your body has been used, violently, against your will. It’s how to value yourself when you’re up against a system that wants to assign you a number: your pain is worth 20 years of this guy’s life in prison, or 30, or 40. It’s how to value yourself when being “broken” is seen as a bad thing: when everyone wants you to be a survivor, but you know you were a victim; when everyone wants to help you move on, but you know that what happened can be a part of you.
Jane Doe January will break your heart and mend it again—and it will do that over and over. My copy is already dog-eared from my wanting to bookmark Winslow’s most beautiful, wise or heartbreaking quotes; this is a book I will flick back to.
Jane Doe January is on sale from 24 May in the US and 30 June in the UK.
*I received a review copy from HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review.