Why some people are able to transcend unimaginably harsh childhoods to become healthy, productive adults is the question explored in this often gut-wrenching study. The question holds more than academic interest for psychotherapist Rubin (Families on the Fault Line, 1994, etc.), for her own childhood, revealed here in ugly details, has many parallels with those of the eight men and women she profiles (all identities are disguised). In varying ways and degrees, their home lives were painful. All were mistreated; some, like Sara, were victims of incest, and one, Karen, was even sold by her mother to a couple on another continent. The common elements in their success, Rubin finds, are certain personal characteristics, an important one being resilience, a refusal to regard themselves as victims. Others are the ability to distance themselves from their families and the imagination to picture a different life. Further, they all have a quality that Rubin calls ""adoptability,"" the ability to attract other people--surrogate mothers, mentors--who are willing and able to help them. Equipped with these psychological strengths, they can respond to political and cultural movements of their time. Witness Aha, who grew up as a migrant farmworker but whose awareness of other possibilities was brought home to her by the ethnic pride movement and the feminist revolution; today she is studying for a Ph.D. Although all the men and women in these case studies overcame their backgrounds and now lead fulfilling lives, getting to the happy endings can be rough. In their own words, they tell tales of extraordinary violence and torment. What gives this study a certain poignancy as well as believability is Rubin's repeated ""I was there"" assertions. She feels for her subjects and makes the reader feel, too. Tough stories, but well worth reading for the lessons to be learned.