THE STOVEPIPE by Bonnie E. Virag
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Virag’s memoir paints a bleak portrait of a broken childhood, but her strength shines amid the rubble.

In the early 1940s, Virag and four of her siblings were forced into a big, black car and taken away from their home by the Children’s Aid Society. She was never told why; she was 4 years old. Though poverty-stricken, Virag had always felt love from her mother and an older sister, “Muggs,” who helped care for the younger children (Virag’s mother had 18 children total). Virag’s home life was hardly idyllic—her rowdy older brothers gave her canned molasses to quiet her when she cried from hunger—but it was far better than where she ended up. Plunged into foster care, the children were often abused and used for labor. Virag and her twin sister, Betty, performed grueling, dangerous work on a tobacco farm and were locked in an attic at night with no heat other than a stovepipe, which provided minimal warmth and became a comfort of sorts for the girls. Virag’s plainspoken style makes for a powerful read. At one point, the children are so hungry they eat sassafras leaves. When the girls slice open their bare toes while hoeing, Virag describes how they “simply rinsed off the blood and went back to hoeing.” Readers should prepare to be angered and moved to tears: One of the most heartbreaking scenes involves the rape of Betty when she is 7 years old. But there are better times and even much “whistling in the dark” humor, as the author does a beautiful job of capturing the voices of childhood. The book is a swift, well-written read and not merely an indictment of the foster-care system. There is compassion from some adults, such as a foster-care worker who helped Virag enroll in art classes during her high school years. Amazingly, Virag’s voice is not bitter, as she plumbs the depths of despair and rises above what no child should ever have to endure.

An inspirational story of survival and the loving bond between sisters.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-1936782307
Page count: 440pp
Publisher: Langdon Street
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2012


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