An intriguing glimpse into a foster parent’s life that falls short of helping readers understand its young subjects.

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AIRDRIE'S BOYS

FOSTERING AS A FAMILY FORM

A social worker looks back 50 years to her decision to become a foster parent to five boys.

As debut author Thompson-Guppy recounts her story of fostering children from dysfunctional families, she comes across as brave, nurturing, and naïve by turns. In 1963, the Canadian Children’s Aid Society sponsored a group home for the first time, and the author and her then-husband received minimal information on their kids’ backgrounds and no training: “it did not occur to me that I was putting my family at risk by inviting them into our home—and that naïveté may have been the reason they integrated in a successful manner,” she writes. With only a psychology degree and a short stint as a social worker at Toronto’s Unwed Mothers Department, she plunged into her new role. “Lefty,” 15, was the first to join the author, her husband, and their toddler, Trisha; he’d been abused by his father, who’d chained him to a swing set as punishment. After that came 13-year-old “Bob,” whose parents drank excessively and beat him. Later, “Val,” “Johnny,” and “Dan” joined the household. (The boys’ names are all changed.) Some boys stayed for about a year, but others left quickly; one was removed after he hit Trisha. The kids fell into predictable trouble—drug dealing, addiction, failed relationships—and the author tells of calmly helping them navigate their problems. Overall, the tone of this book is like a warm letter home, and it engagingly illuminates the life of a foster parent for troubled kids. However, it also has one primary weakness: a lack of extensive interviews with the boys themselves. For example, nearly 50 years after she took them into her home, she met Lefty, Bob, and Dan for a reunion. It’s a largely happy gathering, but Bob remains remote as he struggles to hide his addictions to alcohol and drugs. This scene would have benefited if readers could have heard more from Bob directly. Without such information, the portrayals of the boys sometimes amount to little more than lightly sketched case studies.

An intriguing glimpse into a foster parent’s life that falls short of helping readers understand its young subjects.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4759-3050-4

Page Count: 116

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2017

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

THE ESCAPE ARTIST

Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

DAD'S MAYBE BOOK

Ruminations and reminiscences of an author—now in his 70s—about fatherhood, writing, and death.

O’Brien (July, July, 2002, etc.), who achieved considerable literary fame with both Going After Cacciato (1978) and The Things They Carried (1990), returns with an eclectic assembly of pieces that grow increasingly valedictory as the idea of mortality creeps in. (The title comes from the author’s uncertainty about his ability to assemble these pieces in a single volume.) He begins and ends with a letter: The initial one is to his first son (from 2003); the terminal one, to his two sons, both of whom are now teens (the present). Throughout the book, there are a number of recurring sections: “Home School” (lessons for his sons to accomplish), “The Magic Show” (about his long interest in magic), and “Pride” (about his feelings for his sons’ accomplishments). O’Brien also writes often about his own father. One literary figure emerges as almost a member of the family: Ernest Hemingway. The author loves Hemingway’s work (except when he doesn’t) and often gives his sons some of Papa’s most celebrated stories to read and think and write about. Near the end is a kind of stand-alone essay about Hemingway’s writings about war and death, which O’Brien realizes is Hemingway’s real subject. Other celebrated literary figures pop up in the text, including Elizabeth Bishop, Andrew Marvell, George Orwell, and Flannery O’Connor. Although O’Brien’s strong anti-war feelings are prominent throughout, his principal interest is fatherhood—specifically, at becoming a father later in his life and realizing that he will miss so much of his sons’ lives. He includes touching and amusing stories about his toddler sons, about the sadness he felt when his older son became a teen and began to distance himself, and about his anguish when his sons failed at something.

A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-618-03970-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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