Brief Reviews

J. Dana Trent – Between Two Trailers [Review]

Between Two TrailersSurviving Madness in the Heartland
A Review of

Between Two Trailers: A Memoir
J. Dana Trent

 Hardcover: Convergent, 2024
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Reviewed by Stephen R. Clark

I was intrigued by Between Two Trailers: A Memoir by J. Dana Trent for a couple of reasons. 

First, her book was compared by two reviewers to This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolfe and Educated by Tara Westover – both excellent memoirs. 

Second, Trent and I seemed to have a few things in common. We met our spouses on eHarmony, we married them in 2010, and we are both Hoosiers. She grew up (in the 1980s) on the west side of the state in Vermillion County, and I grew up (in the 1950s) on the east-central side in Henry County. But that’s where the similarities more or less end.

The book is a written version of Trent’s podcast “Breaking Good.” 

The author was actually born in California. Her parents, intent on having a child, and being told “they needed faith and warmer weather” moved shortly after they married to Los Angeles to be near Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral. They believed that being near Schuller and his “positive-psychology self-empowerment sermons” would somehow bring them luck and fertility. Three months after Trent was born in 1981, the family moved to Dana, Indiana – her father’s hometown and the reason behind the author’s name.

There, her dad (aka King) became a flunky for a Hoosier drug lord named Viper. He began shuttling marijuana and cocaine around the state hidden inside the hollow plastic bodies of ponies used for kiddie-rides outside stores. Meanwhile, her mother, Judy Trent (aka The Lady) lounged on a mattress in their trailer’s back bedroom snacking, smoking joints, and watching religious TV shows.

There was never enough food and the trailer was in perpetual disrepair. They stored drug money belonging to Viper in the bedrooms. Her dad had even cut an escape hatch in the floor so he could slip out and hide in the nearby fields if the sheriff came around. A prized possession was a My Little Pony sleeping bag Viper gifted to Trent.

Her parents had met while working at Rollman Psychiatric Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1978. Her dad, a recreational therapist, was thirty-one and her mom, a psychiatric nurse, was thirty-eight. Ironically, they both also suffered from mental illnesses. Her dad was eventually diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia (that went untreated) and her mom suffered from narcissistic and dependent personality disorders.

The book opens somewhat improbably with Trent as a four-year-old knife-toting toddler, doing drug runs with her dad. Trent describes how she used a razor blade to chop up the marijuana, separating seeds and stems. She would then accompany her dad on “drops” to act as the lookout being prepared to “explode” wielding her knife if needed to defend them. King explained she was perfect for the job since, “No one expects a runt in a Looney Tunes T-shirt to shank you.” The knife she carried was a pocket knife with a “foldout two-inch blade with a horse and buggy painted on the handle.”

In this chaotic milieu of untreated mental illness, drug trafficking, superstition-driven religiosity, willful poverty, and careless food insecurity Trent attempts to navigate life wanting to be needed– perhaps needing to be needed– by both parents. She writes, “If neither of them needed me, I wouldn’t be of value. My worth was tied to my helpfulness.”

She unspools her life story in sometimes disjointed snippets, often jumping forward or backward in time within a few paragraphs. The effect feels disorienting, making it challenging to clearly follow the timeline and the characters that come and go. She maintains a narrative coolness as she recounts events, like a stunned, disbelieving observer watching from a distance as this crazed story unfolds.

In the midst of the madness there are touching moments when Trent encounters King’s relatives, who are more stable and protective. And there are moments when her dad and mom actually behave like good parents. But these sweet moments are fleeting.

At age six, The Lady suddenly comes off the mattress, packs up Dana and moves away to her hometown in North Carolina. The Lady divorces King to attempt a new start despite the fact that her own mental illness has not abated but has only taken a different form of expression. Somehow Trent manages to make it through high school, get into Duke University, and for reasons that aren’t exactly clear, ends up an ordained progressive Baptist minister married to a former Hindu monk.

The book is a recounting of her attempt to reconcile her past and present, discover the meaning of home, make some sense of it all, and come to a place of peace with her past. She concludes her book, “Home, it turns out, is where the war is. It’s also where the healing begins.”

While not as engaging as Wolfe’s or Westover’s books, Trent’s tale is jarring, angering, and amazing. That she managed to survive and is thriving despite having been subjected to harrowing trauma is a testament to her strength.

Stephen R. Clark

Stephen R. Clark is a writer who lives in Lansdale, PA with his wife, BethAnn, where they are members of Immanuel Church. His website is He is a member of the Evangelical Press Association and managing editor of and contributor to the Christian Freelance Writers Network blog. He has done news writing for The Baptist Paper and MinistryWatch. He writes a weekly column, “Quietly Faithful: Being a Christian Introvert” for He has published three volumes of poetry, and his writing has appeared in American Bible Society blogs, Bible Advocate, Breakthrough Intercessor, Christian Century, Christianity & Literature, Christian Standard, Friends Journal, Hoosier Lit, Influence Magazine, In Touch Ministries, Net Results, Outcomes Magazine, Outreach Magazine, Tipton Poetry Journal, and more.

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