Chosen: A Memoir of Stolen Boyhood (Paperback)
Winner of the National Jewish Book Award for Memoir
"An unparalleled achievement, a work of shattering, almost unbearable radiance. I did not stop crying throughout. For Mills. For my young self. For all of us who have lived and continue to live in that pitiless abyss of childhood abuse. To read this courageous book is to be transformed utterly by Mills's empathy, resilience, and grace. Mark my words: Chosen is destined to be a classic because this is a book that will save lives."
—Junot Díaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
At thirteen years old, Stephen Mills is chosen for special attention by the director of his Jewish summer camp, a charismatic social worker intent on becoming his friend. Stephen, whose father died when he was four, places his trust in this authority figure, who first grooms and then molests him for two years.
Stephen tells no one, but the aftershocks rip through his adult life, as intense as his denial: self-loathing, drug abuse, petty crime, and horrific nightmares, all made worse by the discovery that his abuser is moving from camp to camp, state to state, molesting other boys. Only physical and mental collapse bring Stephen to confront the truth of his boyhood and begin the painful process of recovery—as well as a decades-long crusade to stop a serial predator, find justice, and hold to account those who failed the children in their care.
The trauma of sexual abuse is shared by one out of every six men, yet very few have broken their silence. Unflinching and compulsively readable, Chosen eloquently speaks for those countless others and their families. It is a rare act of consummate courage and generosity—the indelible story of a man who faces his torment and his tormentor and, in the process, is made whole.
"A searing, haunting, urgent cri du coeur.”
—The New York Times Books Review
"An . . . unforgettable memoir of sexual abuse and its lifelong consequences . . . visceral, gripping . . . A vitally important book for fellow survivors—and anyone seeking justice for victims."
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Mills lays bare in this unflinching account the irrevocable impact of the sexual abuse he suffered as a teen . . . Mills’s ability to persevere . . . offers hope, and his raw vulnerability inspires. This is a searing testament to human resilience."
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"In a lean, sharp telling that is as propulsive as it is painful, Chosen relates a devastating story of childhood sexual assault and one man’s Herculean reclamation of his adult life. Mills also illuminates the silent brotherhood of boys whose shame and pain remain unreached by our institutions and our conversations, even by the benevolent efforts of the #MeToo movement. There's a very good chance that this constantly surprising, urgent book will save lives."
—Lacy Crawford, author of Notes on a Silencing
"A searing and singular account of how a young boy’s experience of abuse reverberates through his life until he finally confronts not only his abuser but also the powerful institutions that enabled him. Chosen is a masterfully written story of love and hate that is as tender as it is traumatic. I couldn’t put it down."
—Geraldine Brooks, author of People of the Book
"In this game-changing memoir, Stephen Mills draws the reader into a boy's and then a man's journey through the wilderness of trauma. Beautifully written and deeply moving, Chosen elevates the survivor story to an Odyssean trek to reclaim one's soul."
—Marci Hamilton, CEO and founder, Child USA
"Truly a remarkable book, not only for the life story that Mills shares, but for the power of its message. Too often the Jewish community promotes a belief in the "otherness" of domestic and sexual abuse—that it happens somewhere else. This beautiful, heartbreaking memoir is a reminder that no group is spared.”
—Loribeth Weinstein, CEO Emerita, Jewish Women International
"A breathtaking memoir. Mills is not simply a survivor of sexual abuse telling his story. He is a writer whose literary power shows on every page of this extraordinary book.”
—Dr. Richard Gartner, author of Betrayed as Boys
"Chosen is not so much an abuse-memoir as a tale, masterfully told, of what it means to live in a human body with a human heart. Yes, there is brokenness here, but there is also extreme beauty, wisdom, and bravery on Mills’s crooked path toward healing and justice."
—Florence Williams, author of Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey
"Chosen left me shaking. Mills's searing portrayal of the layers of grief, anger, guilt, bewilderment, and helplessness capture so vividly the lasting trauma of child abuse. It is a compelling contribution to helping children and adults heal, and to pushing all of us to do better to protect our kids."
—Nina Sankovitch, author of American Rebels
"Chosen is at once a compulsively readable account of the insidious effects of being molested and a revelatory portrait of the classic male predator, who disguises his sexual addiction as fatherly love. Mills has done the nearly impossible by bringing him to vibrant life. He also shows how predators seduce the parents of their victims into handing over their children; he indicts our society for turning a blind eye to an epidemic of abuse; and he recounts his own painful, brave journey to heal himself."
—Rafael Yglesias, author of The Wisdom of Perversity