Diary of a Bad Girl

Non-Fiction - Memoir
86 Pages
Reviewed on 02/23/2018
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite

Hidden: Diary of a Bad Girl is a nonfiction memoir written by Karen Truesdell Riehl. Riehl was one of the six young women currently in residence at the Florence Crittenton Home for Unwed Mothers when she was twenty-one years old. Whenever they would go out as a group for their somewhat clumsy-looking strolls into town, some of the less charitable townspeople would look down their noses at them and even spout hateful jibes. They were considered bad girls; girls who had shamed their families by getting pregnant out-of-wedlock.

Karen was an aspiring actress who had graduated from Stephens College where she had met and befriended fellow aspirant, Tammy Grimes, and fallen in love with a staff actor named George C. Scott. After graduation, she performed in Summer Stock in Toledo, where Riehl was offered the lead for the theatre’s winter season. Her heart and mind, however, were set on going off to New York City with George. Then she got pregnant, and life became incredibly complicated. Tammy’s mom took her in and helped her obtain a place at the Home. Riehl had been terrified walking up to the rather austere looking building on that first day, but it soon became home for her, and those five other young “bad girls” became family she would never ever forget.

Karen Truesdell Riehl’s nonfiction memoir, Hidden: Diary of a Bad Girl, had me fulminating at the unfairness of societal attitudes toward sex, permissiveness and the genders. While attitudes and opportunities have changed dramatically since the author’s time at Florence Crittenton, there are still some primitive and chauvinistic elements of society who seem to harshly judge young women for behavior that’s perfectly acceptable and encouraged in their male peers. Riehl had my attention transfixed by her story. I loved seeing those other young women through her empathetic lens, and could feel the mingled jubilation and loss they all felt as each of them came to term and were forever lost to their other friends. The author’s story highlights the cultural changes that began during the sixties and seventies and continue to this day. Riehl is a gifted and fluent writer, one who intuitively knows how to tell a story. Those books of hers that I’ve had the opportunity to read have been marvelous. Her memoir is no exception. Hidden: Diary of a Bad Girl is most highly recommended.

Viga Boland

As tempting as it is to write a memoir, most authors avoid doing so. One of the key reasons is they simply don’t know how to write a memoir. Memoirists tend to launch into a long narrative where everything is told from the narrator’s viewpoint. Unfortunately, that can become boring as it doesn’t let readers become emotionally involved with any character but the narrator. The other reason authors avoid memoir writing is the very real possibility they could get sued if they name names. Well, Karen Truesdell Riehl seems to have no problems with either obstacle in Hidden: Diary of a Bad Girl. This is the true story of her pregnancy, as an aspiring young actress, after a deep love affair with none other than well-known actor George C. Scott. And although much of the book is written as a narrative, Riehl is such a skilled writer that readers won’t be able to put Hidden down.

Why is the subtitle “Diary of a Bad Girl”? Because in the era in which Riehl found herself joining five other young women who had become pregnant outside of wedlock, that’s how they were seen. While Riehl kicks off her memoir by filling us in on how she became intimately involved with Scott, the real focus of the story is the bond of friendship and understanding between these young women preparing to give birth. In each other they find someone who cares and doesn’t judge when the rest of the world points fingers at them. When each goes off to give birth, they leave knowing they won’t see each other again, but you sense they will ever be alive in each others’ hearts and memories.

Hidden is a very short book that can be read in 90 minutes or less. But in that short time span, readers feel every emotion Karen Truesdell Riehl did. Her writing is that good. If you’re not familiar with her work, it might interest you to know she has authored 13 books, won awards for her writing, and most surprising of all, she has battled dyslexia all her life! Hidden: Diary of a Bad Girl and her achievements as a writer are proof of that adage: “It’s your attitude and not your aptitude that determines your altitude.”

Anne-Marie Reynolds

Hidden by Karen Truesdell Riehl is the Diary of a Bad Girl. Karen couldn’t read before she was 10 because she was dyslexic, but this didn’t stop the school bullies, didn’t stop Karen having to go into hiding from them. At the age of 20, she found herself pregnant, unmarried by a married actor, and went into an unwed mother’s home. She was soon left behind by the actor as he pursued his dreams of international stardom and, after marrying into a high-society, wealthy family, she continued to keep her past a secret. She quickly found out that her husband had his own secret. Delve into Karen’s account of what life was like when women were meant to be seen and not heard and to be pregnant outside of marriage was a scandal to be avoided at all costs.

Hidden: Diary of a Bad Girl by Karen Truesdell Riehl is quite an eyeopener, covering dyslexia which was largely unknown about in those times, bullying, and the follies of falling for a married man. Life has changed so much in the last few decades and Karen gives us a first-hand glimpse, in the form of a diary, into what it was like for her, how she persevered through thick and thin to survive, making painful choices and struggling with loneliness, even though she married another man who cared for her. Secrets tumble out of this book like an overstuffed cupboard opened for the first time in years, and you can feel the emotions that Karen swims through, brought out by the incredibly descriptive nature of her words. This is a story that stirs feelings of inspiration, a feeling that, no matter what life throws at us, there is always a way through it. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would love to read more of Karen Truesdell Riehl's work.