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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.