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Notes on a Silencing by Lacy Crawford

Notes on a Silencing

by Lacy Crawford

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Quick take

A woman grapples with abuse she suffered at an elite institution in a memoir poised to challenge privilege and power.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Literary


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_GraphicViolence

    Graphic violence

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Serious



When the elite St. Paul's School recently came under state investigation after extensive reports of sexual abuse on campus, Lacy Crawford thought she'd put behind her the assault she'd suffered at St. Paul's decades before, when she was fifteen. Still, when detectives asked for victims to come forward, she sent a note.

Her criminal case file reopened, she saw for the first time evidence that corroborated her memories. Here were depictions of the naïve, hard-working girl she'd been, a chorister and debater, the daughter of a priest; of the two senior athletes who assaulted her and were allowed to graduate with awards; and of the faculty, doctors, and priests who had known about Crawford's assault and gone to great lengths to bury it.

Now a wife, mother, and writer living on the other side of the country, Crawford learned that police had uncovered astonishing proof of an institutional silencing years before, and that unnamed powers were still trying to block her case. The slander, innuendo, and lack of adult concern that Crawford had experienced as a student hadn't been imagined as the effects of trauma, after all: these were the actions of a school that prized its reputation above anything, even a child.

This revelation launched Crawford on an extraordinary inquiry into the ways gender, privilege, and power shaped her experience as a girl at the gates of America's elite. Her investigation looks beyond the sprawling playing fields and soaring chapel towers of crucibles of power like St. Paul's, whose reckoning is still to come. And it runs deep into the channels of shame and guilt, witness and silencing, that dictate who can speak and who is heard in American society.

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Content warning

This book contains scenes that depict sexual assault.

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Get an early look from the first pages of Notes on a Silencing.
Notes on a Silencing


October 1990, Fifth Form

One evening around eleven o’clock, a young man called a girl on the phone. This was a few decades ago, and they were students at a boarding school, so he called the pay phone in her dorm from the pay phone in his. Someone answered and pounded up three flights of stairs to knock on the girl’s door. She was not expecting the call. He was a senior—a grade ahead, but a couple of years older—and he was upset. Crying, she thought, but it was hard to tell, because she barely knew him. He said something about his mom, swallowing his words. He wanted the girl’s help. Please.

She knew the senior because she had helped his friends in math class. He’d joked in the hall to her once that maybe she could help him sometime. It had been a surprise that he’d sent his attention her way, and this phone call was a bigger surprise. Something must have happened, she reasoned. Something very bad.

She had no roommate that year and lived across campus from her friends (an unfortunate turn of the school housing lottery). Her parents were a thousand miles west. It will tell you something about her naivete, and maybe her character, that to her the strange specificity of the senior’s request—for her help, and no one else’s—is what made his summons feel important, and true.

School rules forbade leaving the dorm at that hour, but she knew, as they all did, how to let the back door close without rattling the latch. She skirted pools of lamplight where campus paths crossed. His room was in shadow. He pulled her up through the window. She landed, in his hands, on a mattress, and she felt and then dismissed surprise—beds could sit beneath windows, of course, there was nothing wrong with that.

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Why I love it

As a black girl who grew to become a writer, the only way to parse the wounds and gifts of my St. Paul’s School education was to write a memoir, Black Ice. Otherwise, the school’s self-regard pulls the gaze from the self to the treasured narrative of white male achievement; eventually it blots other stories, especially those that contradict. Lacy Crawford has not let that happen.

From the beginning of her memoir, there’s no mystery about what happens. As a 15 year old, she is lured to the room of two seniors who assault and rape her. Then the book slows down to walk us through the institutional gaslighting and humiliation; her own emotional shutting down; and only years later, finding documents that confirm her assaulted memory.

Crawford has managed an adult life of love, marriage, and children. That’s the life work of reclamation. But a writer must reclaim the language, too. She has done so. Her prose is by turns elegant and subtle, ragged with embedded grief and rage—and then astonished by life’s stubborn beauty. When the incident comes round again at the book’s end, her adolescence will not be silenced. The corrupting power of power will not change until truth be told.

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Member ratings (2,022)

  • Ciana C.

    Miami, FL

    It’s weird saying that I “loved” a book whose story was so infuriating and saddening. However, Lacy giving voice to the injustice that she suffered was incredibly powerful. A heavy read, but worth it.

  • John T.

    New York, NY

    Its impossible to say I “loved” this book. Its infuriating, saddening, and absolutely horrifying. But what I love is Laceys’s power telling her story - something people had stolen from her for years.

  • Erin W.

    Sparta, WI

    ETA. Initially DNF, returned to book and LOVED it. First 200 pages lag before the story finally takes off. And it’s heartbreaking, real, outrageous, & it’ll piss you off. It’s suppose to. Recommend.

  • Lillian B.

    Allen, TX

    It feels weird to “love” this because the story is so sad and infuriating. But it was so well-written and honest and reflective, that I am giving it a “love.” Definitely a heavy read but worth it.

  • Rachel H.

    Odenton, MD

    I don’t often read memoir, but I couldn’t be more grateful I made an exception. This book hurt so deeply, as it should. The horrors women and girls go through are so deeply ingrained, and this hit.

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