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Sexual Assault Survivor Alleges Penguin Random House Knowingly Let Her Assailant Rewrite History in Memoir

A woman writing.

There’s a lot of upheaval in publishing right now. HarperCollin’s workers are on strike, and the publisher keeps making editorial mistakes like adding “Christmas” to a Jewish book title without the author’s consent. Now, Penguin Random House Canada is facing controversy with a new memoir by Leah McLaren, a Canadian journalist who debuted her memoir, Where You End and I Begin, in the summer of 2022. PRH describes this book as a “riveting and devastating portrait of … intergenerational trauma is shared between women and how acts of harm can be confused with acts of love.”

What the promotional material and the manuscript fail to acknowledge is the trauma that McLaren herself has been accused of causing—and accused of rewriting it as something else in her memoir, despite that PRH had been made aware of the situation.

The allegation

On December 6, 2022, Zoe Charlotte Greenberg wrote a piece on Medium, in which she asserted that McLaren sexually assaulted her when they were teens. In the post, Greenberg said, “McLaren portraying my sexual assault as the loss of my virginity — which it was not — was disgusting.” Greenberg’s piece states that Greenberg and McLaren talked about the events prior to the book’s release. Greenberg says that she “needed consent over that story, to decide whether or not I wanted it portrayed in public, and I needed my truth to be part of it. McLaren agreed, saying that it would ultimately be my choice.”

McLaren corroborates Greenberg’s statement by saying, “When Zoe raised concerns about the draft pages of my memoir I’d sent for her to review, I took the matter seriously. Over a series of emails, calls and Zoom meetings, Zoe expressed her concerns in detail and I considered all of them. Based on these conversations, my editors and I made amendments that we felt were appropriate.”

However, Greenberg alleges that the account of events that wound up in the final memoir didn’t address her concerns, and worse, that it portrayed her assault as consensual.

In a Toronto Star article featuring an excerpt from McLaren’s memoir, according to a Guardian article,

McLaren wrote that at age 14 she “chased a bottle of Schnapps with a tab of acid and ended up in a three-way with my close friend and a guy I’ll call Scott” at a pool party. “I promise you it was a lot less fun than it sounds,” she wrote, adding that “rumours spread through our Toronto high school” and that Greenberg “broke up with me, saying our relationship was ‘too intense’”.

Penguin Random House apologizes

Greenberg’s Medium post led to an outcry, which led to McLaren issuing an apology where she said, “I did not, as an adolescent child, assault my older 16-year-old best friend at a pool party. Nor did I assist in her assault. I stand by everything I wrote.” This is the same apology where McLaren admits to collaborating with Greenberg to depict the event that occurred during their teens tactfully. 

This has reached the point where Penguin Random House Canada needed to issue a statement of its own:

While the memoir promises to explore intergenerational trauma via McLaren’s mother’s departure and neglect, it’s an interesting choice for Penguin Random House to depict McLaren as a victim of suburban parental selfishness and “how acts of harm can be confused with acts of love” in regard to her mother, when McLaren herself has been accused of rewriting harm she caused as something it wasn’t.

In the Medium post, Greenberg described the event as a sexual assault that “is so terrifying and overwhelming that the survival response takes over: the well-known fight, flight, freeze, and fawn reflex. In my case, I froze. Froze and could not stop what was happening. Under the weight of the horror of what my friends were doing to me, my survival response was forever bent, fused into a singular pattern inscribed on my brain.”

(featured image: Shutterstock)

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Nava was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Currently, they edit economic textbooks by day and write geeky articles for the internet in the evenings. They currently exist on unceded Lenape land aka Brooklyn.