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Thompson Rehder describes ‘growing up on America’s fringe’ in new memoir

Special to The Missouri Times 

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who had to grow up fast. It’s not your typical fairy tale, but it’s one that is a bit more familiar than any featuring an omnipotent godmother. 

It’s the story of Holly Thompson Rehder, a Republican state senator, who candidly shares her upbringing navigating abuse, addiction, and poverty in her upcoming memoir, “Cinder Girl.”

Thompson Rehder forgoes flashy sentences. She doesn’t dilute any details, even of the more lurid, intimate memories. 

Instead, she paints a realistic picture of the trauma her mother and sisters faced, the sexual abuse she painstakingly endured at the hands of someone who was supposed to be her protector, and how, as a young teenager, she learned to “stretch a dollar” to provide for her own daughter. 

Gov. Parson signs PDMP bill into law in June 2021 as Sen. Holly Rehder and Rep. Travis Smith looks on. (OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR)

But she also details how she left — people and situations — and didn’t give up on herself. She was her own advocate, managing to care for her family, become a successful businesswoman, and enter an increasingly volatile world of politics. 

It’s a raw, emotional, but truthful recollection, expelling any stigma regarding her circumstances. It’s Thompson Rehder’s own story, one she hopes will be a lifeline to those, like her, who have felt forgotten or left struggling in the shadows. 

The purpose of her book is twofold, she said: “Hope for those who did grow up like me, who are pushed down in the stigma of shame because of addiction or sexual abuse or domestic violence. But also for the people who have the ability to affect change — that they do it, and realize that they have the power to do that.” 

Thompson Rehder wants her book to shed a light on the reality of so many Americans who are struggling — whether it be with abuse, addiction, poverty, trauma, or a combination — so well-meaning lawmakers can enact change that doesn’t ultimately “continue to trap intelligent women in poverty.” 

That’s her own goal as a lawmaker, the purpose at the forefront of her mind as she served in the House and now in the upper chamber. It’s the catalyst for her championing a prescription drug monitoring program and for her tenacious fight for legislation aiding sexual assault survivors to be heard (and passed) on the floor. 

“It’s just a tremendous honor, the fact that God would give me this opportunity to be a voice for my people and to hopefully be illustrative enough on the floor in my lawmaking that helps others who, thank God, haven’t seen that side of life but are in the position to help people from that side of life,” Thompson Rehder said. “It’s a tremendous honor, and I want to use every tool I have.” 

The title of her memoir is a reference to the 1998 movie “Ever After” starring Drew Barrymore. It’s a type of “Cinderella story,” but one where Barrymore’s character frees herself. 

The theme of the movie and Thompson Rehder’s memoir are one and the same, she said: “It’s about somebody who did grow up rough, but she fought and still had compassion and cared about other people getting out of similar situations. She’s not bitter and didn’t blame other people. She worked her way out, and it’s not because some prince came around and saved her.” 

Throughout the book, it’s impossible not to connect in some way with Thompson Rehder and her experiences. She deftly pulls in her readers, opening her heart and home and experiences. 

“Cinder Girl: Growing Up on America’s Fringe,” from Post Hill Press, is out Aug. 9. It’s available for preorder on Amazon