What if you were accused of a crime and never given the opportunity to share your side of the story? What if all people knew about you were the details cherry-picked by media outlets and twisted to make a juicy, provocative story? Waiting to Be Heard, the long-anticipated memoir from Amanda Knox, details this exact scenario. Amanda Knox was a student from the University of Washington who pursued a study abroad opportunity in Perugia, Italy. In the fall of 2007, Amanda’s British roommate, Meredith Kercher was found brutally murdered in their apartment, and local police soon championed Amanda and her then Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito as the culprits. It’s a horrifying thought–being locked up for four years for a crime that you maintain you did not commit, all the while watching your reputation and life be tarnished the world over. Amanda Knox finds the strength to relive these terrifying years through her first opportunity to truly tell her story unfettered by others with competing agendas.
The result is 461 pages of heart-wrenching anguish as we watch a naive, young and optimistic Amanda transform into a jaded, if stronger, individual. The memoir opens with Amanda recounting her decision to study in the college town of Perugia, Italy, an experience that she sought out for reasons of personal growth as every bit as for the educational benefits. Knox helps the reader to understand why the Italian prosecutors and media latched on to the image of Foxy Knoxy as some sexual deviant, all thanks to the innocent parting gag gift of a bunny vibrator and her modus operandi for the travel experience: to discover the person she was meant to be, both sexually and otherwise. It is the brief casual sex that end up costing Amanda more than she bargained for later on. These events are made all the more worse because Amanda learned through these few encounters that casual sex, though a generationally-accepted practice by her peers, is simply not for her. Unfortunately for Amanda, it was a personal lesson learned too late, but one that helps the reader to understand that this is a situation that could happen to most any young woman participating on a journey of self-discovery.
Though it must have been very difficult for Amanda to share such personal details with the world, the book’s strength lies in Amanda’s willingness to invite us into her mind and consider these innermost thoughts, all while maintaining a clear and organized writing style. After experiencing the solitude of Capanne prison alongside Amanda, it becomes much easier to understand the quirky personality that got Amanda into so much trouble. For the majority of the book, you see the situation through the rose-colored glasses that Amanda refused to take off. It is truly astounding how long Amanda is able to maintain her optimistic outlook that justice, as she sees it, will prevail, an element of the story that makes it all the more upsetting once we finally see Amanda crumble after her first trial ends in her being charged as guilty.
As terrible as it is to witness what Amanda has to endure during these long years (and the frustration is truly palpable), one critique I have of the memoir is that the tragic death of Meredith Kercher remains in the shadows of this whole situation. It is, of course, in no way at the fault of Knox, who understandably spends most of the book recounting her story that she had to wait so long to share. Still there are moments when the garish murder of the UK student are recounted that leave the reader longing for a little more mourning and focus on the central victim of this tragic story. Here, we can blame the media again, rather than having elected to focus on remembering Meredith and respecting her family’s mourning, they decided to invent a salacious character fit for headlines. Amanda is left with almost no choice but to use every page she has to renounce the years of allegations that piled up while she was behind bars. And while there are certainly moments where the reader sees Amanda grieving for her slain friend and the family she left behind, the lack of mention to Meredith or her family in the author’s note at the end of the book casts a cold reminder of the victim that was often overlooked through most of this media circus.
Waiting to Be Heard is a book that any college student about to study abroad should read since it is very easy to forget that not all justice systems throughout the world are created equal and, as a student studying abroad, you are at the mercy of that country’s legal system. However, it is also much more than a cautionary tale. It is a rare look at the resiliency of the human spirit and a moment of justice for a young girl that had to grow up quickly. But just as much as it should be read by anyone who might have an opinion on the culpability of Amanda, it is a haunting reproach to the behaviors of our current media system. It is sickening to read how Amanda learned of one libelous story after another that emerged from various media outlets leaving a girl helpless to defend herself and the real tragedy of a lost daughter and sister as only a backdrop to a story of sex and scandal. Hopefully readers will not only walk away with a more balanced perspective of this tragic story, but a more judicious approach to consuming media.
In the meantime, Meredith will forever be waiting to be heard.