A heart-wrenching memoir recounts two siblings’ upbringing by their abusive adoptive parents and Oregon’s foster-care system.
The children of a paranoid schizophrenic mother and a developmentally challenged father, Hadassah and Ezra split their early years between foster homes and their parents’ unstable household. When their already tenuous living situation was swept up in 1970s-era adoption reform, they were taken from their biological parents and adopted by the Spencer family, who changed their names from Hadassah and Ezra to Heather and Rex. The Spencers were cruel taskmasters, using adoption to gather young laborers for their home, incapable and uninterested in helping with Rex’s developmental disabilities or Heather’s emotional withdrawal after being molested in foster care. This was compounded by the severe beatings and draconian punishments inflicted on the Spencer children, so pitiless that Heather was barely able to protect herself, let alone help her older brother, whose inability to fly under the family’s radar left him locked away in his room, unfed, and living in filth. Heather escaped at 18, finding a measure of stability with an understanding and loving husband. With this support, she reunited with Rex, who rediscovered his faith and professed a personal, literal friendship with Jesus, turning him into an odd but enthusiastic figure of forgiveness in her life. Young’s debut avoids many of the typical pitfalls of an abuse narrative, approaching its often tragic subject matter in a forthright manner, never sensationalizing her own or others’ suffering. Though Mormonism figures prominently here, the Mormon church’s assistance and shortcomings are treated with honesty, and those outside the faith won’t find themselves feeling recruited or ostracized. The book’s heartbreaking power emanates from the author’s candid account of her struggles, from her fear of inheriting her mother’s mental illness or the abusive tendencies of her adoptive parents to dealing with the guilt that comes with sometimes prioritizing one’s own health and survival.
An unsentimental, affecting look at foster care, abuse, and mental illness.