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If I hadn't been stunned by Rachel Louise Snyder's previous book, "No Visible Bruises: What We Don't Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us," I doubt I would have been drawn to her new one, "Women We Buried, Women We Burned: A Memoir."

The title of "Women We Buried" would have been off-putting even to my jaded sensibilities and that would have been unfortunate. Snyder's memoir is as heartbreaking, wrenching and compelling as the stories of the victims in her eye-opening book on domestic violence.

When the author was 8, her mother died of cancer. It was the 1970s and she wasn't given the help a child would need to understand, let alone grieve, that tremendous loss. Instead, her comfortable life was jolted by her father's abrupt embrace of extreme evangelical Christianity. He moved Snyder and her brother from the family home in Pittsburgh to suburban Chicago and married a woman with two children of her own.

"Cancer took my mother. But religion would take my life," she wrote.

Snyder's father enrolled her in a tiny Christian school of meager means that failed to provide her with social or academic stimulation, so she found outlets in risky behavior and got in a fair amount of trouble.

When Snyder was 16, she was expelled from school and she, her brother and step-siblings were presented with suitcases and told to pack and leave. She lived out of her car, working and taking help where she could find it. She used drugs, endured sexual assaults and the unrelenting stress of poverty.

Knowing in advance how her story ends doesn't make it any less astonishing. Snyder earned her GED, went to college, traveled the world, lived in Cambodia, fell in love, got married, adopted a dog, had a child and got divorced. She's a successful journalist, author and professor who built a tremendous career raising the voices of those who need it most: the unseen and vulnerable.

In explaining her own history, Snyder shows why she was drawn to the darkest stories and how she is able to retell them with such detail and compassion. While in Cambodia, she visited sites and explored the legacy of the Khmer Rouge's mass murders. She pondered why tourists visit concentration camp sites in Germany and Poland or killing fields in Rwanda, a quest that may explain her own curiosity.

"Maybe there is a solidarity in these places," she wrote. "A way to give one's own story necessary context, not to compare, but to acknowledge an infinite human continuum of despair and grief, and if we're lucky, hope."

The violence and neglect of her adolescence sounds nearly unsurvivable. And yet she is here, proof that there can be healing, reconciliation and professional triumph. It's my hope that the foreboding title won't keep readers away from Snyder's remarkable book.

Rochelle Olson is a Star Tribune reporter.

Women We Buried, Women We Burned

By: Rachel Louise Snyder.

Publisher: Bloomsbury, 254 pages, $29.

Event: Snyder will be at Wordplay in Minneapolis on July 8,, $20-25.