Frock Off

Living Undisguised

Non-Fiction - Biography
306 Pages
Reviewed on 04/04/2014
Buy on Amazon

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Author Biography

Jo Dibblee was in hiding for 35 years - she was a key witness in a murder investigation. Out of necessity she wore frocks of protection, she lived in disguise and not even those closest to her knew the real story. She was successful and often acknowledged for the good work she did, even winning international awards; yet she lived in constant fear of being discovered. She is scrappy, a fighter for justice and the people she serves and is ever the optimist. She has been featured on Canadian media nationwide. Jo is described as fiercely loyal, adaptable, quick witted, driven, persistent, and philanthropic, she prefers to shine the light on others.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Carine Engelbrecht for Readers' Favorite

The saying goes that clothing maketh the man, but all too often, clothing serves as armor and disguise, hiding the pain and heartbreak of derailed human lives. Jo Dibblee knows all about hiding. As Frock Off: Living Undisguised chronicles, some of her earliest lessons in life revolved around hiding her dysfunctional family's doings from the outside world and protecting her flawed and damaged parents from the interference of social workers. At times, an 'earth angel' offers a respite from the tension. At times, hurtful family secrets are uncovered. With grim determination and an occasional lucky break, she is able to turn her life around.

Frock off: Living Undisguised is ultimately a well-written and uplifting tale of survival - both physical and emotional - against great adversity and against all odds. The book graphically illustrates exactly what potential dangers are faced by youth at risk, (especially when parents are incapable of providing adequate support) as well as the potential for damage that is realized when society turns a blind eye. I liked the honesty and introspection with which the author tackles her own past. I enjoyed her voice and her fighting spirit - people who have faced a struggle or two in their lives make worthier role models than overachievers born with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouths. I think this book can serve as great inspiration for anyone who strives to turn a damaged life around. It could also provide greater insight into the dynamics of dysfunctional families. Jo Dibblee should be praised for sharing her past with such courage and integrity.

Mamta Madhavan

Frock Off: Living Undisguised by Jo Dibblee is the personal journey of the author who will inspire readers with her story. Jo was born to parents whose life was dominated by depression, drug abuse, sexual assault, and alcoholism. She learnt to take care of herself at a young age. She used a coping strategy called 'frocking' which helped her to use it when required and hold back when she had to. This story of liberation of the self in spite of betrayal, poverty, assault, murder trial, and tragedy is an inspiring and uplifting memoir that will teach readers to face life with focus, clarity, and strength.

The author's journey is poignant and tragic, and it strikes a chord within the minds of readers. The author gives a candid account of living in a dysfunctional family and her book is an inspiration to all those victims going through abuse and neglect. I liked the book because it is motivating in spite of the tragic circumstances in the author's life. It is an honest account of the feelings of an abused person who hopes to change things for the better. It requires a lot of courage to share such intimate details about one's life especially when that happens to be a topic revolving around abuse.

It tells readers that survival is important and we all need to practice self love and compassion to make us better human beings. Though the story is tragic, it is also triumphant, which makes it an inspiring book.

Kathryn Bennett

When you grow up with parents who are tormented by guilt, shame, and secrets, you learn to protect yourself and that is what author Jo Dibblee did when she was growing up. With parents that were alcoholics and drug users, depression, and a foster parent who issues sexual abuse, it is no wonder a coping mechanism was brought about, one that Jo called 'Frocking.' We get an honest look at Jo’s life that is given with humor and a dash of hope, how she used frocking to keep herself safe and how in the end she found out it was holding her back so she decided she had to 'Frock-off.'

Frock Off: Living Undisguised by Jo Dibblee is a very real and very emotional read. The journey that Jo Dibblee takes in her life is both heart breaking and inspiring. There were so many points in her life and story where Jo could have given up and just gone down a path that was going to end badly; but instead she wrote a new chapter and chose to make things better. It takes such a brave person to be able to do that. This story is both uplifting and raw in the way it is told and you can tell every event is real, there's no creative embellishment here. A book that will force you to look at your own frock, and how you present yourself or cope with things. Are you making things better for yourself or harder? Overall, this is a must-read for everyone.

Faridah Nassozi

Mary Jo-Ann Sylvie-Anne St. Clair grew up in one of the most dysfunctional families you will ever read about. As little girl, she never knew a real home because her family moved so many times she could not even make friends with girls her own age. She had to grow up much faster due to her family dynamics and before she was even big enough to take care of herself, she had to take care of her siblings because either her parents were too drunk to do it or they had taken off to God knows where. Before she was seventeen, she had survived extreme poverty, negligent, intoxicated, depressed and suicidal parents, and sexual assault and betrayal by a system that should have protected her. Instead of letting this break her down, however, she developed a survival mechanism and put on a thicker skin and in the end beat the odds.

Frock Off: Living Undisguised by Jo Dibblee is a very heartbreaking and emotionally draining story, but it is also a story full of inspiration and triumph. The book is totally devastating as Jo-Ann narrates the story of great adversity through the eyes of an innocent little girl. This is a very compelling sad story and yet, at the same time, it is so inspiring to see Jo-Ann get up every day ready to face the world, keeping her hope and faith, and never giving up even when all the odds seemed to be against her. Her story is true testimony to the phrase "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and it is one of the most inspiring biographies I have ever read.

Michael McManus

Frock Off is a memoir, and memoirs are generally dull. That is certainly not the case with this author’s life story. Born in Western Canada in the last half of the twentieth century, Jo-Ann Dibblee faces poor odds of ever having a normal life. Constantly on the move, her family is searching for “the money,” using methods that never succeed. Her parents are drunks, who are more interested in their own squabbles than in the welfare of their children. How they manage to stay one step ahead of Child Protective Services is probably due to the children, and especially Jo-Ann, lying to authorities about their living conditions. To top it off, both parents are suicidal. As a solution to coping with the sometimes unbearable life she is leading, Jo-Ann invents invisible garments that she dons for protection. She keeps layering herself with these “frocks” until the outside world sees only her layers of protection and not her real self. For half a lifetime, Jo-Ann works to keep her family together, sacrificing for the sake of her loved ones, until a friend utters these fateful words: “Jo, when is it your turn?” At that point and from then on, she works to remove the “frocks” and find a life of her own.

Sometimes this story is so dark that you lose sight of the fact that it is true. However, the way it is told is inspiring and at times heartwarming and even funny. Jo-Ann Dibblee’s method of telling of her life is worthy of note. When she talks about her pre-teen years, you hear the voice of a child in her words, then, as the story progresses and she matures, so does the sound of the voice. I very much enjoyed this book and would recommend it to a broad, mature audience.