Twisted could have been titled Trigger Warning…and it’s the true-crime book you absolutely cannot miss this year.
Twisted was written and narrated by Mary Pilon and Carla Correa.
We aren’t going to sugar coat this. Twisted takes true crime writing and reporting to a new level of intimacy with the unflinching retelling it made of the Larry Nassar child abuse and assault case that centered around U.S. Gymnastics. Unlike the other true crime trends you see today– specifically, murderers– this case is one of child molestation and abuse by a man these young girls trusted with their bodies and their health. The narrative is built on the foundations of survivor testimony and interviews, and delving into this book feels intensely personal, knowing that these victims are still out there today living with the violations they survived.
And that’s why you have to read it. These women are survivors and the story that Mary Pilon and Carla Correa have written and produced here celebrate their ultimate victory. More than that, Twisted takes an honest look at the struggles of victims, both to hold their abusers accountable and to grapple with the long-term consequences of not being believed when you speak your truth. There is much to be learned in this narrative about the grooming behaviors of predators and will make each reader a stronger ally to victims and a more adept adversary of those that prey on the young, trusting, or vulnerable.
Content & Storytelling
This book is every parent’s worst nightmare. It takes you into the world of competitive gymnastics, where young female athletes (let’s not mince words here: they were little girls) were systematically abused by Larry Nassar, a renowned and celebrated doctor, and then subsequently marginalized and silenced when they tried to speak out.
Pilon and Correa bring you into the narrative where most of Nassar’s victims met him: from the perspective of the parents and young gymnasts he worked with. His reputation was impeccable, both as a physician and as an all-around great guy within his various personal and professional communities. The sense of dread builds as character witness after character witness pile on to the list of things that it was easy to love about Larry… Because all you can do as the reader is listen and wait for the bottom to drop out.
When the realities of his abuse start to float into the narrative, told in interviews by the victims or the parents of the victims themselves, the dread is replaced by a sweeping wave of frustration and sympathy for these girls (now women) who survived his treatment. But it doesn’t stop there. Without being too graphic, the details of Nassar’s abuses shock and disgust readers. I personally was horrified to learn that Nassar abused his victims with their parents present in the room.
The narrative takes an excruciatingly frustrating turn when the first victims, who were unaware of each other, filed complaints only to hit roadblock after roadblock. Time after time, institutional corruption and general ineptitude on the part of other adults and mandatory reporters who should have protected these children left more and more victims vulnerable to Nassar’s predation. As the story hits a fever pitch of incredulity for the reader, the case finally breaks.
The tension that Pilon and Correa build is bearable only because Nassar has been sentenced in a court of law. What that allows for the reader as you listen along on this journey, as the victims recount again and again all the lost or dodged opportunities to stop Nassar, is a stunning identification with those victims and their apparent frustration. The book’s total listen time is just over five hours and the sympathetic stress I felt for these women and the lack of justice and the mounting helplessness they faced as victims was almost overwhelming.
And then the story pivots, and all that frustration and tension rolls into a rallying cry. The victims are allowed to face Nassar down in court at his sentencing, holding him accountable in a very public way for his behavior toward them. One of Nassar’s earliest victims, Kyle Stephens, was the first to address him in court and declared with a steely resilience in her voice, “Perhaps you have figured it out by now, but little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women who are determined to destroy your world.” It’s all you can do as the listener not to stand and cheer for her strength, and for the catharsis you know she must have felt, being able to stay that to his face in a forum where Nassar will be held accountable for what he did to her and to countless other little girls.
The story swells into what can only be called a victorious cacophony. A hallmark moment in listening is when the honorable Judge Rosemary Aquilina handed Nassar his sentence and then stated in a tone of assertive satisfaction, “I just signed your death warrant.” By the end of the story, the triumphs of the survivors and the friendships they’ve forged are the center of the narrative. Their work has far outlived Nassar’s day in court, with many of them going on to work in advocacy in their hometown communities, creating safe places for other victims to come forward and helping to normalize the shame and guilt out of survivor’s stories.
Length & Pacing
This story is a short listen, but the weight of the material makes it feel longer than its 5-hour run-time. The use of interviews instead of a straight author narration give depth to the story and keep it moving. Pilon and Correa’s reporting pace it so that you have enough time to process the gravity of each component of the story without feeling too mired down in any one place, offering a balance between the depth of the darkness found here and the reprieve of resilience and justice.
Writing & Narration
This was an exceptionally hard story to tell, and Pilon and Correa did an exceptional job with it. The format of the book feels more like a true-crime podcast; fans of that genre will feel right at home listening to this title. The multiple perspectives offered by including interviews with experts, witnesses, parents, and victims lent the narrative a degree of connection to this story that would have been lost by a straight non-fiction retelling by the authors.
There is no easy way to tell the story of hundreds of young girls being sexually assaulted, molested, and abused. Pilon and Correa have constructed here a retelling of this story with restraint and candor– not reveling unnecessarily in the “gory details” of what happened, but not shying away from the pertinent facts of the case, both in the abuse that took place and in the grooming behavior that everyone overlooked for years.
To end the story on notes of hope, and to celebrate the joys and recoveries these women have made in the years since Nassar hurt them was a wonderful decision. It leaves the reader with a resonating feeling of forward-looking brightness, a much-needed silver lining in what is otherwise a factually dark and perverse story. There are a lot of other ways this story could have been constructed and told, but Pilon and Correa hit every note when it came to honesty, respect for the victims, and celebrating the way in which justice ultimately prevailed. They let their readers feel every feeling, they humanize the victims, and they don’t over-editorialize the horrors of Nassar’s crimes. They let the facts– and the victims– speak for themselves in the way they chose to capture and tell this story, and the result is a phenomenal story on a challenging subject matter told in an expert way.
I have a very young daughter who just enrolled in her first gymnastics course, so I can’t pretend this book didn’t hit very close to home for me. I listened to most of the story while sorting through leotards and leggings for her, wondering if we made the right choice to let her try a sport that for so long harbored predators, that for so long looked the other way.
But I’m glad that I listened to this story. I’m glad that I know what predatory grooming behaviors to look for. I’m glad that as an advocate for victims’ rights and for systematic reform, I have the information I need to speak out in support of predators being stopped, being held accountable. This book left me a better person for having read it, and for that reason alone I cannot more highly recommend it.
It was incredibly well-told, with a strong balance of first-person interviews reinforcing the reporting work that Pilon and Correa produced. I’m recommending this title aggressively to every true-crime buff I know, and the parents of any young children who are invested in building a stronger and safer community for kids and families.
Official Description: America’s top gymnasts have been show-stoppers at the Summer Olympics for decades – the women’s artistic team won nine medals in 2016 alone. But beneath the athleticism, smiles, sponsorship deals, and haul of gold medals was a dark secret: a story of sexual abuse and trauma that, when revealed, became one of the biggest scandals in the history of American sports.
In early 2018, Larry Nassar, the former doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, was sentenced to serve out the rest of his life in prison after pleading guilty to a variety of sex crimes. In a show of unparalleled force, more than 150 young women – from gold medalists to former Michigan State University athletes to old family friends – confronted the once-beloved Nassar in court, sharing their pain and resolve. Many of them took legal, financial, and career risks to speak out.
But these women’s stories also reveal a stranger, more far-reaching truth: that the institutions responsible for protecting them – from the United States Olympic Committee to local police departments – had known in some form about the abuse for years, and had not put an end to it. Twisted tells the harrowing story of these crimes and how Larry Nassar got away with them for as long as he did.
New York Times best-selling author Mary Pilon and Carla Correa chronicle the scandal from its inception, tracking the institutions that Nassar hid behind, the athletic culture that he benefited from, and the women who eventually brought him to justice. In this Audible Original, you’ll hear directly from these people – including the voices of coaches, parents, industry leaders, and the survivors themselves – as they grapple with the truth about Nassar and describe what it took to bring him down.
As we mention in Twisted, here are some resources for yourself or a loved one who may need information or confidential support.
- Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-422-4453
- Darkness to Light: 1-866-FOR-LIGHT or text “LIGHT” to 741741. The organization works to empower adults to recognize and prevent child sexual abuse. The website includes a guide to grooming and red flags behavior.
- RAINN and the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline: 1-800-656-4673. Its website also has a chat feature.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
- Army of Survivors: The organization led by the survivor Grace French includes a guide to the basics of trauma.