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Book Review: The Dead Inside by Cyndy Etler


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Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher, Sourcebooks Fire, via NetGalley for an honest review.

Genre: YA/Non-Fiction

Plot: I never was a badass. Or a slut, a junkie, a stoner, like they told me I was. I was just a kid looking for something good, something that felt like love. I was a wannabe in a Levi’s jean jacket. Anybody could see that. Except my mother. And the professionals at Straight.

From the outside, Straight Inc. was a drug rehab. But on the inside it was…well, it was something else.

All Cyndy wanted was to be loved and accepted. By age fourteen, she had escaped from her violent home, only to be reported as a runaway and sent to a “drug rehabilitation” facility that changed her world.

To the public, Straight Inc. was a place of recovery. But behind closed doors, the program used bizarre and intimidating methods to “treat” its patients. In her raw and fearless memoir, Cyndy Etler recounts her sixteen months in the living nightmare that Straight Inc. considered “healing.”



When I say WOW, I mean…Holy S*** WOW.

I have to say guys, I wasn’t expecting this story to turn out like that at all. A few months ago I was looking through the new books on Netgalley, found this story and immediately requested it. I had heard about these types of camps and institutions years ago, but I have never looked into them that deeply. This story follows Cyndy Etler as she recounts her adolescence and her time in a “tough love” style rehabilitation camp.

At the young age of fourteen, Cyndy is thrown into a boarding school by her mother, or so she thinks. Cyndy quickly realizes that her new home is called Straight Inc., and it is actually a drug rehabilitation center for youths. From her first moments stepping inside Straight, Cyndy begins to realize that the methods used in the facility are far from normal. From being dragged down hallways by her pant loops, group meetings where teenagers wave their arms around erratically chanting, and frightening moments of being broken down by her peers…Cyndy has to decide how she is going to survive in this program.

So let’s first begin with how SERIOUSLY BIZARRE these programs are. Cyndy explains the more than frightening and psychologically damaging rules and things that went on at Straight, and I am still in shock. Kids are lead around by the back of their pants, forced to believe they have drug problems even if they don’t, screamed at and put down by their peers, and encouraged to report each other in order to get ahead in the program. The rules that the program instills is even more absurd. If you lean on the back of your chair in group, a peer will roughly drag their first down your spine to remind you to keep your back straight. As a newcomer, Cyndy wasn’t allowed to look or speak to any boys, and she was monitored at all times…even in the bathroom.

I think the oddest aspect of this program for me was what they called “motivating”. “Motivating” entails all these kids to be sitting in plastic chairs, boys and girls separated on either side of the room. Basically what happens is they flail their arms around above their heads, jerking and screaming about. Cyndy describes this process as a way to motivate each other to want to share your experiences, but admits that many of the kids “motivate” so hard so that they won’t be called on. Once called on, the kids are expected to stand up and admit a story from their past…but in most cases these kids are forced to make something up in order to impress the staff. If you mess up or do something wrong, you are confronted. This is where a peer may run up to you and start screaming in your face, or even psychically harm you.

The list truly goes on and on with all of the strange things these kids were forced to do, and from the outside this program made it look like they were only using tough love and peer pressure techniques to get these kids off drugs (see the below video). Cyndy expresses that it took her years to get “back to normal” after all of the psychological abuse and brainwashing that she went through at Straight. She wrote her story in a way that it felt like the reader was actually with her at fourteen, listening to her describe the horrors that became her life. Her writing style becomes a little confusing when she starts to describe “THE BEAST” or her group when she is first introduced to the “motivating” technique. It got me a little jumbled up, but as I continued to read her writing started to feel like a horrifically beautiful style of poetry which I really began to enjoy.

Honestly, EVERYONE needs to read this. For parents who are thinking of giving this to their kids to read, please keep in mind that there is a bit of sexual abuse that happens in the beginning of the story. That aside, this is a tale that anyone would be enthralled by. As soon as I finished this book I immediately started researching Straight Inc. and other programs like it. This is a disturbing story that will make your heart droop, but it is a MUST read! GO GET THIS!! You will not be disappointed.

For more information and personal stories on Straight Inc., check out



22 thoughts on “Book Review: The Dead Inside by Cyndy Etler

  1. I participated in a Blog Tour type thing with this book and it did sound interesting. I’m going to watch the video, but I’m not surprised that programs like this exist. Or existed. I once got clean in a place for 24 hours where they had to keep the temp at 55 degrees to keep “the homeless people from smelling” according to the director. It was horrible when ppl next to me were crying out from withdrawal. It was wonderful (insert sarcastic tone).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I had heard about these YEARS ago, and I remember watching a movie about a camp similar to this with Mila Kunis. It’s crazy how these kids were treated, and even more so how screwed up a lot of them were afterwards.


  2. Ok that was creepy as hell. But that was the result of the “War on Drugs.” And it happened to my sister in a program called Charter in AZ. They were allowed to do a lot more than they should have been. 😣

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I also reviewed this book yesterday and reading it was absolutely terrifying. I had never heard of programs like this and that video you showed made my thoughts of how things were even worse. This book broke my heart, but as you said it is definitely a must read!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Exceptional book review and has made me want to go buy and read this one! Many times the harder the subject matter is it is supposed to make you FEEL many different feelings…. Sounds like this one does 🙂
    Author/Columnist, Catherine Lyon

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I hear you! 🙂 I did go add it to my GoodReads list as my own Memoir shares many not so good details, but it was a healing process for me and to give a deeper insight to how addiction can devastate lives. Especially gambling addiction as many have much stigma around this hush, hush addiction…. Cat

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on “Welcome To ~Cat Lyon’s Reading Den” and commented:
    My Weekend Must Visit Blog! And THIS Book Review is so Exceptional it made ME go buy and start reading this one! You’re going to love reading and exploring this awesome blog READERS!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The whole premise of this book sounds terrifying but eye-opening. As a counselor I hope to see fewer and fewer programs like “Straight Inc.” popping up. Coercion, punishment, and all those “tough love” approaches have been found to only hurt and traumatize patients even more.

    Thanks for sharing this review! I’m picking up The Dead Inside as soon as I finish my current book.

    Liked by 1 person

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