By Carolyn Shearlock © 2016 • all rights reserved

A sailing adventure that gave her the strength to stand up to her abusive father.

Fourteen is Leslie Johansen Nack’s memoir of the time leading up to and then sailing across the Pacific with her sisters and father – when she was 14.

It’s an interesting but disturbing story and I want to make one thing clear at the outset: it’s not a book to give to a young teenager to get her excited about the family’s cruising plans. (A friend saw the book sitting in the cockpit and asked if I thought her 12-year-old daughter would like it.)

Leslie’s family can only be described as dysfunctional: her mother is mostly absent (even when she’s physically present, which isn’t all that often) and her father is an abusive tyrant. He drills his three daughters in sailing; Leslie is the middle girl and the most adept.

In 1975, the three girls and their dad set out for French Polynesia. There are all the normal perils of such a voyage in the days before GPS or accurate weather forecasts, along with the added one of her father’s explosive temper and sexual interest in Leslie. On one hand, Leslie is scared of her dad; on the other, she wants to be his right hand in running the boat. She understands his power but also craves his praise.

The relationship is complex; Leslie’s increasing sailing competence – and taking over for her dad when he is incapacitated – gives her the strength to stand up for herself. Day by day, week by week, you see Leslie taking charge of her own life and developing the strength she needs to literally be safe – both while sailing and with her dad.

As the story unfolds, you find yourself simultaneously holding your breath for the next episode of her dad’s strange behavior, and cheering for Leslie’s growing strength in dealing with it. She not only survives, she shows an amazing strength in dealing with situations that would overwhelm many adults, let alone fourteen-year-olds. I found the book gripping.

You can buy fourteen on Amazon, both in print and for Kindle (you don’t have to have a Kindle, you can read on any device with the Kindle app):

DISCLOSURE: I was given a copy of fourteen to review. My opinions, however, are my own.

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  1. Her father’s “sexual interest” in her immediately turns me off from wanting to read it. Sounds depressing.

  2. Ditto. I’d be more interested in reading about people’s gps/ navigational system advice!

  3. Thank you for posting this. I may or may not read it, but value your review.

  4. It was a good read. While her upbringing was abusive and beyond dysfunctional, it’s still an incredible book. I grew up reading the Lin Pardey’s books, pre internet, savoring every paragraph. Now to consider a 14 year old at sea (before Laura Decker and GPS), capably handling such a boat – wow! Don’t be put off by sections about her father. She was shaped by her experiences. The sea was her solace. To skip the book because of him is for the abuser to win.

    • I agree with Nita. Sounds like a wonderful story of overcoming and survival. This is the real world and ignoring these types of reality does victims a disservice. I look forward to reading it.

    • Thank you Nita Haas. I think it’s important to speak out and share the story of abuse. My story is so much more than just that element. It’s a story of overcoming. Did you see the review I got in Sailing Magazine this month? It’s pretty awesome.

    • Leslie, going to pick up now. I’ve shared the book with many who “get it” and loved it. You nailed it when you said it’s the story of overcoming – and overcoming SO much: the changes, the sea, your father – all of it. Great read! If you’re ever in Chicago…love to buy you a drink – pm me. 🙂

    • Nita Haas thank you! I will do that.

  5. Reading it now…

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