TORONTO - Pattie Mallette's new memoir "Nowhere But Up" is an unflinching document of a difficult life, chronicling how the 37-year-old endured sexual abuse, drug abuse, a teenage pregnancy and a deep depression that triggered suicidal impulses.
It's not an easy read for anyone, but Mallette says it was particularly difficult for her son, Canadian pop star Justin Bieber.
"It was tough for him to read, parts of it," Mallette said during an interview this week from a well-appointed hotel room in downtown Toronto.
"Because you know, it's his mom going through this pain. It's hard for him to look at that pain. But he also wants to see people's lives change, and he sees the bigger picture.
"He supports me in what I'm doing."
And while it was hard for Bieber to read the new memoir (the 18-year-old also penned its foreward), it was just as difficult for Mallette to re-open wounds from decades ago.
Like her pop prodigy of a son, Mallette grew up in a blue-collar family in Stratford, Ont. Even before Mallette was born, her family faced tragedy — her sister, Sally, was hit by a car and killed upon impact when she was five years old.
While similarly senseless personal catastrophes seemed to crop up with unusual frequency — Mallette's biological father left her family when she was two, then died suddenly just as he was trying to reconnect — she writes that, on the surface, she appeared to have a standard suburban upbringing.
However, "under all the apparent normalcy" — as Mallette writes — she endured many years of sexual abuse from an array of perpetrators: male and female, young and old. According to Mallette, those responsible included a friend's seemingly charming grandfather and an aggressive male babysitter.
At one point long ago, she held these secrets so close that their heavy burden was in part to blame when a teenaged Mallette became so distraught that she stepped in front of an oncoming box truck. The driver skillfully swerved, but the suicide attempt landed Mallette in the psych ward of the Stratford General Hospital.
So clearly, committing these childhood traumas to the public record wasn't an easy decision for Mallette.
"I had to just keep remembering the only reason I wrote this book was to help other people," she said. "So I knew that it was going to be painful putting it down on paper. Some things are even still painful to talk about.
"But you know, I'm so much more healed today than I was and I really want to help other people get to that place as well."
And really, Mallette's honesty seemed boundless.
She opens up about a litany of details that many celebrity memoirs might have glossed over: her adolescent tendency to numb herself with drugs and alcohol; the brief period she spent supporting herself by dealing weed and selling stolen cigarettes; and her occasionally difficult relationship with her well-meaning mother. Mallette, a faithful Christian, also concedes that she's been celibate since she was 21 years old, a revelation that has inspired plenty of tabloid gawking.
Later, she writes about the revelatory experience she's had recently sharing her story with teen moms. And she says now her book wouldn't have had value to those struggling youngsters if it wasn't thoroughly candid.
"I wanted to connect with people and relate to people, so I knew I had to be as real and raw and honest as I could," she said.
"It's tough being vulnerable in front of the whole world. But again, I'm hoping to reach even one person. If just one person's life gets changed after reading this story, it's worth it."
That complete transparency also meant probing the difficult relationship she had with Bieber's father. Writing about the early years of their mercurial relationship, Mallette portrays him as magnetic but immature, and the two young lovers had a rocky relationship exacerbated by mutual substance use.
He was in county jail the day his son was born over a fight. But Mallette stresses, both in print and in person, that neither party was blameless and Bieber's father (who also has children now from another relationship) has deeply matured over the years, and is very much a different man now than he was.
"We (had a) toxic, on-again, off-again relationship when we were younger," said Mallette, who penned the book with A.J. Gregory.
"We've both grown. We've both changed.... He's been there since Justin was a baby. Some people think he just showed up when Justin became famous, but he's been a good dad."
Of course, the book brightens considerably once Mallette gives birth to her only son on March 1, 1994, when she was only 18 years old.
Although she lived for a time at a home in Stratford for teen moms (and portions of the book's proceeds will be dedicated to a charity benefiting single-parent homes and addiction centres) and endured some dramatic episodes with his father, Mallette found purpose with her son's arrival.
And Bieber was a handful as a child, seemingly possessing a boundless energy that irked teachers and kept his single mother perpetually occupied. She writes in the book that although Bieber was never formally diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the "signs were obvious."
"He still has a ton of energy," she says, laughing. "I had a teacher say that ... he was like having 10 kids. When he was good, the whole class was good. When he was bad, the whole class was bad. "So he kept me on my toes."
It's clear how closely bonded Mallette and Bieber became after spending years living together in tiny Stratford apartments. Bieber has never been shy about expressing his love and appreciation for his dear mom, and her influence runs deep — for instance, it was the Boyz II Men records she played during her pregnancy and Bieber's early childhood that informed his love of R&B.
And the effervescent Mallette seems to share her son's gregarious streak. Just before the interview, she chides an American member of her team for being unfamiliar with the CN Tower, then muses on whether there's time to scale up to the peak — before pointing out herself that she and her son share a "mischievous" streak.
But the fact that their relationship is so close explains why it was so difficult for Mallette to allow him into show business in the first place. As a pre-teen YouTube sensation, Bieber (who got his start by placing second in a Stratford singing competition) was attracting attention from a number of reputable entertainment types, but Mallette was initially reluctant.
"I'm very protective — and he would say over-protective and maybe strict," said the diminutive Mallette. "But I didn't want to see him go through the same sort of pain that I went through. And I just wanted to protect him at all costs.
"You hear all the horror stories of the industry, and I just really wanted to make sure that anything I could do to prevent him from being hurt, I would do."
In the early-going, that meant meticulously monitoring the comments sections below Bieber's videos and judiciously paring the more mean-spirited posts.
But of course, as Bieber's star rose and he became a multi-platform superstar with an army of social media faithful and worldwide record sales well past the 15 million mark, it became impossible for Mallette to shield her son from the scornful backlash.
"He's a human being, and when he sees those hurtful, hateful comments, I'm sure he feels some sort of way about them. I know I do as his mom," she said. "It hurts me to see that stuff. Because some people just don't see us as human beings.
"But he's just, he's great. He just brushes it off. And he's got a lot more people that love him, so as mom, I just have to realize it comes with the territory."
For all her fretting, Mallette is proud of the way Bieber has turned out after his atypical adolescence — "My biggest achievement is just seeing that he's turning out to be ... a good man," she says.
Still, she stumbles over that "man" part. She bristled light-heartedly when it was mentioned that the "Baby" hitmaker, who turned 18 earlier this year, was now all grown up.
"Grown up?" she interjects with a smile. "It's so bizarre to think of him as a grown-up. Because he's my baby, and will probably always be my baby."
Still, Mallette acknowledges that she no longer needs to be focused on her son to the exclusion of all else.
After devoting all of her adult life to her only child, Mallette says she's finally ready to carve out some time for herself.
"Now that he's 18 and doesn't need mom as much anymore, it's good for me to have time to focus on this book and my message and being able to help other people and do my own thing," she said.
"I have over a million Twitter followers because of Justin, and they all call me mom. So I feel somewhat of a responsibility to have something good to say. I feel like there's a lot of people with a platform and they don't have anything to say or they don't have anything good to say.
"And I really want to bring some hope and encouragement."
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