This is the story of T.J. and Angela, their struggles with their overly lost and confused mother, and their juggle between foster care homes. Their mother is anything but competent, loving, or motherly. The father is a mystery, and all possibilities for father-figures turn into disasters and disappointments. Their mother might as well be dead when she leaves them and does not return. In foster care, the children are 'guided' to express themselves either through verbal communication or by building a 'life book.' All the while, these children are whole human beings with memories, daunting realities, and inescapable pains, who wish to be heard, to be listened to, to be nurtured. Is anyone truly there for them? Listening? Tending to them? More or less, but not altogether.
Here is an excerpt from the book:
"You lived in a black house?" Mrs. Cox sounded concerned
T.J. shook his head and said, "It's supposed to be blue."
"Oh, well, here, why don't you start over? Use this white paper. That way the blue will turn out blue. Or better yet, use crayons. When you're filling in a large area, crayons work better than markers. Don't you think?"
"No," said T.J.
Mrs Cox sighed. "Maybe we've done enough for one session. Neither of you seems to be trying. I mean, these books are something you can treasure the rest of your lives. You can show them to your new family. Marlene is a scrapbooker herself. She will love looking at your life book! You can add on new pages after you move in with Dan and Marlene. And I'm certain they will be interested in your past. In everything about you."
He didn't believe Mrs Cox. There were a lot of things T.J. didn't think his new parents would want to know. There were things he didn't want to remember himself.
I would like to say that I felt her doing her best, as a single mother, but these children suffered so much from her poor actions. She couldn't hold a job long enough without tending to her insecurities and inferiority complex. Granted she may have felt lonely, but this woman switched men every chance she got. Her excuse being that she couldn't afford her living style, being a single mother with two kids, and she needed these men to help her, but her last comment would always be relevant to how good she looked because she could finally afford hair color, clothing, furniture, and a car. Like those things mattered the most to these kids. What about their education? What about their sense of family structure? What of their father? No grandparents, either, just briefly at one moment in their lives. This woman couldn't resolve her issues with any aspect of her life to provide for them a decent childhood. I felt so angry with this character.
This story broke my heart to see these children being deprived of joy, of ease and peace, and of security rather than fear and helplessness. These kids are suddenly left home on their own for a whole weekend while their mother goes on a trip to Las Vegas. Little do they know things are about to get much worse for them. They are abandoned. No one to reach out to feel a sense of family or community. Not that their lives were any better before she had left. The kids were verbally abused, the boy being called a 'whimpette' and 'Frankenstein,' the girl manipulated to steal from a mansion on the pretenses of being given a parakeet only to provoke her to be further abused due to misbehavior. I felt like these kids were so innocent and were constantly being dealt all the wrong cards.
The writing in this book is effortless. I fell in love with it more and more as I was reading it. It is a short read. I read it in a day. It doesn't take much out of you, and it is nothing but rewarding to read it. I felt a connection being built for these kids as I was reading the book. Powerful short story.
Read this book if you have any background in social work, or have had encounters with foster kids or even special education children. You have to absolutely read it if you like stories based on familial structure, family dynamics, and childhood. It is a young adult book, but it is a book for anyone.