A Memoir of Secrets, Survival, and Unbreakable Bonds
By: Michelle Horton
Narrator: Michelle Horton
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: 01/30/2024
My Rating: 5 Stars ++ (ARC) (ALC)
A breathtaking memoir about two sisters and a high-profile case: Nikki Addimando, incarcerated for killing her abuser; and the author, Michelle Horton, left in the devastating fall-out to raise Nikki's young children and to battle the criminal justice system.
In September 2017, a knock on the door upends Michelle Horton’s life forever: her sister had just shot her partner and was now in jail. During the investigation that follows, Michelle learns that Nikki had been hiding horrific abuse for years. Stunned to find herself in a situation she’d only ever encountered on television and true crime podcasts, Michelle rearranges her life to care for Nikki's children and simultaneously launches a fight to bring Nikki home, squaring off against a criminal justice system seemingly designed to punish the entire family.
In this exquisite memoir, Michelle retraces the sisters’ childhood and explores how so many people, including herself, could have been blind to the abuse. An intimate look at a family surviving trauma, Dear Sister is a deeply personal story about what it takes to be believed and the danger of keeping truths hidden. Ultimately, Horton turns her family’s suffering into hard won wisdom: a profound story of resilience and the unbreakable bond between sisters.
Michelle Horton's powerful debut, DEAR SISTER: A Memoir of Secrets, Survival, and Unbreakable Bonds, is a heartbreaking story of her sister's years of domestic abuse, murder, and an unfair justice system leading to her prison away from her children.
Horton's story is a must-read, an essential call to action for judicial reform, accountability, and protection of those who suffer abuse from domestic violence. In America, domestic violence accounts for 15% of all violent crimes that cannot be overlooked.
Michelle Horton pulls back the curtain in this well-written personal memoir, revealing the human side behind what you read in the news or see on TV. Told with love, passion, and sensitivity, DEAR SISTER is sometimes challenging to read; however, it is critical. Victims of domestic violence need to get help because the system does not always protect the victim.
In 2017, Michelle's younger sister, Nikki Addimando, was arrested in Poughkeepsie, New York, for shooting her boyfriend, Chris Grover, with his gun after threatening to kill her. The case created a media sensation and was widely publicized.
In addition, she had suffered years of him brutally abusing (physically and sexually) her and forcing her to participate in pornography that involved rape and battery—beating and torturing her even when she was pregnant. The videos were found, and even her therapist contacted the authorities about the abuse.
Nikki was a loving mother of two small children, Ben and Faye, and was not believed, turning it around on her—from victim to perpetrator. While everyone knows when you are in an abusive relationship, it is not easy to leave due to safety and control.
From statistics to real life. Despite all the evidence, she sadly was convicted of second-degree murder in 2019 and sentenced to nineteen years in prison (which has been reduced to 7.5 years in 2021 due to the new Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act).
Addimando’s case was one of the first to test a new law in New York called the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act. It allows a court more discretion in sentencing crimes involving domestic violence survivors if the abuse was determined to be a significant contributing factor to the defendant's criminal behavior.
The author discusses her attempts to help her sister along with the events leading up to the murder and the traumas and those affected by the events. It is raw, visceral, honest, emotional, and powerful.
Addimando maintained her self-defense claims, and her attorneys presented evidence of abuse, which included Addimando’s testimony, photos and reports by forensic nurses documenting her abuse, her therapist, as well as nonconsensual pornographic images that Addimando claimed had been uploaded to a pornography site without her permission.
Michelle is also a single mom raising her son Noah and the toll it has taken on their relationship while assuming full responsibility for her sister's two children, with her ongoing support, visits, and calls to prison and advocate for her release.
Nikki did not receive clemency, so she will be released in 2024 when her children are nine and 11. They were just two and four when she was wrongly imprisoned.
DEAR SISTER is heartbreaking but a strong wake-up call to our society and judicial system that something is broken, and it must be corrected to safeguard those of domestic violence—not to humiliate them further with shame as they try to keep it hidden, taking them away from their children and family when they were only trying to protect themselves and their family.
An intimate exploration of two sisters, the complexities of familial bonds, the impacts of abuse, the horrific challenges of seeking justice in a flawed legal system, and the emotional impact on those it fails to protect.
It is a captivating and powerful testament to the resilience and strength of sisterly bonds. Hopefully, this story can bring attention to other victims and survivors. The two sisters have shown much courage, bravery, and strength—while suffering some of the worst trauma and offering inspiration to others.
Thank you for writing this story while reliving all the painful events during a pandemic raising three children! A true heroine.
BOOK & AUDIOBOOK: I read the book and also listened to the audiobook narrated by the author, Michelle Horton, for an emotionally powerful performance. The book and the audio are thought-provoking and will stay with you long after the book ends. I highly recommend the book and the audio. The audiobook also includes personal snippets of audio, recordings, interviews, and videos to enhance the listening experience further.
AUTHOR: Michelle Horton is a writer and advocates living in the Hudson Valley of NY with her son and raising her nephew and niece while her sister is incarcerated. Through the Nicole Addimando Community Defense Committee, she continues to speak out for the countless other domestic violence victims criminalized for their acts of survival.
RESOURCES: Included in the book are excellent resources and author's notes for further reading samples of supplemental reading to understand better the cultural context for many of the themes in this book —including domestic violence and how it intersects with the criminal legal system, trauma, patriarchy and misogyny, pornography addiction, abolition feminism, mass incarceration, and the long history of fights for each other's freedom.
Broken down in Parts
part 1: Truth
part 2: Reality
part 3: Hope
part 4: Courage
part 5: Unbroken
Special thanks to Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Audio, and NetGalley for a gifted ARC and ALC for an honest opinion.
@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks
My Rating: 5 Stars +
Pub Date: Jan 30, 2024
"Incendiary...a powerful testament to the tenacity of sisterly bonds, a scathing indictment of the legal landscape for abused women, and a wrenching exploration of the shame that allows abuse to remain hidden. This is difficult to forget.”
―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Essential… this strong narrative points to the realities of the United States’ criminal justice system and how it can fail the most vulnerable.”
―Library Journal (starred review)
"The sheer scale of what Michelle Horton has done — in this book, in her life, in telling her sister’s story and her own, in her very survival — will leave you awestruck. I didn’t read this book, I swallowed it. It will make you feel despair, rage, horror, and ultimately reverence and adoration. Hopefully, it will make you stand up and take notice of all we get wrong with survivors like Nikki Addimando. I don’t think anyone will read this book and not want to take to the streets and demand we do better. I know I’ll be out there. In a word, this book is miraculous.”
―Rachel Louise Snyder, author of No Visible Bruises and Women We Buried, Women We Burned
“A gripping account of one woman’s ongoing journey through hell—the inferno of an abusive relationship that ended with a bullet; the Hades of a legal system more determined to punish than to understand; and the parallel torment for those who love her, fight for her, and admirably endure.”
―Scott Turow, New York Times bestselling author of Presumed Innocent
“This deeply felt and beautifully written book—this tale of tragedy and love, cruelty and community—will stay with me long after Nikki comes home and these two amazing sisters and their children can heal. It will stay with me, inspire me, and fuel my commitment to women, because as little Ben says at the end of the book, “It’s not over until we help all the other mommies who defended themselves get free.”
―Elizabeth Lesser, Cofounder of Omega Institute and author of New York Times bestseller Broken Open
“A searing read. The next frontier in preventing abuse against women is shining a spotlight on the cruelty and ignorance with which our courts treat victims of abuse, particularly those who defend themselves against violent men. Dear Sister is an important and painful story, beautifully told.”
―Leslie Morgan Steiner, New York Times bestselling author of Crazy Love
“The most difficult circumstances have the power to break open our hearts and bring our spirit fully alive. In this compelling, intimate and beautifully written memoir, we touch on the true meaning of healing and grace.”
―Tara Brach, internationally bestselling author of Radical Acceptance
"A devastating and heart-breaking account which sheds light on all of the secrets, the silences, the unnecessary opprobrium, and the injustice that still surround battered women in our society today."
―Sheila Kohler, author of Once We Were Sisters
An Epidemic of Violence: PW Talks with Michelle Horton Q&A
By Lenny Picker |
Oct 13, 2023
About the Author
photo credit: Jillian Burruby
Michelle Horton is a writer and advocate living in New York's Hudson Valley with her son, nephew, and niece. Through the Nicole Addimando Community Defense Committee, she continues to speak out for her sister and the countless other victims of domestic violence criminalized for their acts of survival.