The Dead Inside #BlogTour

Cyndy Etler is the author of The Dead Inside, a young adult memoir about the sixteen months she spent as a teen in notorious “tough love” program Straight Inc.

At 13, Cyndy was homeless. At 14, she was locked up. At 15, she was suicidal. At 30, she was teaching tough teens at an alternative school. Today Cyndy is a young adult author. Her YA memoirs are honest and raw, taking readers into the real-life experience of a kid who will do anything to feel accepted.

When she’s not writing, Cyndy is coaching teens. With humor and non-judgement, she helps kids figure out what they most want, and how to get it.

Cyndy holds a Master’s degree in Secondary Education and a Bachelor’s degree in English and American Studies from the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is a Certified Youth Life Coach via Youth Coaching Institute, and a licensed English, Special Education and English as a Second Language teacher.

Cyndy’s debut memoir, THE DEAD INSIDE, will be released by Sourcebooks Fire in April of 2017. The sequel, WE CAN’T BE FRIENDS, will be published in October of 2017.

After years of hopscotching across the country, Etler now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and her dogs.

Coming Back from the Dead

“Hey, stop talking, wouldja? And open that window.” That’s the soundtrack on repeat in my brain. Other folks have their own soundtracks, I guess—“Gimme! Gimme!” for the skinny lady with the Birkin bag; “Redrum” for that weirdo staring at you from the corner of the train station. Our soundtracks define our bone-deep drives. They spell out what makes us feel alive inside.

For me, it’s nature. I’m most vividly hyper-alive when I’m hiking in the woods with no humans around. Stepping from the broad open of pavement into the sheltering cathedral of trees, my neurons fire; my cells flush open. And my dogs—they have to be with me, because they are my heart. And if you don’t have your heart with you, how alive can you be?

So it’s me, my dogs, the trees, the dirt, the birds, and nothing else. The only sound is sweet wind and birdsong; my soundtrack is finally on pause.

I’ve always been an outside kid. The few pictures taken of me as a child show boulders and pine cones and ferns and sky. As a teen, my escape was driving empty roads with windows down to get to the pine-circled reservoir. So I could sit. Alone. And listen. To nothing.

It’s not that I don’t like people—some of them, I really do! I just don’t like absorbing their stuff, their feelings and judgements and needs. I have this radar where I can’t not see and understand people’s clutter, the stories they hide from the rest of the world.

Maybe it’s a writer thing. The best of us are hermits, right? Think Salinger. Dickinson. Proust. Poe. Maybe writers need to be able to see the invisible, to show it to the world on the page…and then we need to be able to hide from it. Maybe to stay alive, to keep from being suffocated, writers need to escape everyone else’s aliveness.

Or maybe it’s nothing that fancy. Maybe I got my fill of humanity as a teen, during the 16 months I was trapped in Straight Inc., which the ACLU called “a concentration camp for throwaway teens.”

I was thinking about this post today as I walked my dogs in my neighborhood, which fortunately has a lot of trees, and unfortunately has a few humans, too. I was thinking about how nature feels like religion for me; how the further I am from humans, the more alive I feel. I laughed out loud when it hit me: no wonder Straight broke my will. For 16 months, I was 100% cut off from nature, 100% in forced contact with humans. My God. Sheer torture.

I get home from my walk and start writing this post. My husband comes in and starts talking; my soundtrack kicks in. I look up to see one dog staring at me, ears pressed down in “I love you, Mom.” The other dog’s getting belly-rubbed by the husband who, really, is more nature than human. There are two huge windows behind him, framing tall, beaming pines. And I’m alive. Right now. I am 100% alive inside.


For readers of Girl Interrupted and Tweak, Cyndy Etler’s gripping memoir gives readers a glimpse into the harrowing reality of her sixteen months in the notorious “tough love” program the ACLU called “a concentration camp for throwaway kids.”

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.”

Sourcebooks Fire
On-sale: April 4, 2017
Young Adult, Hardcover



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