In this debut memoir, a victim of childhood bullying fights back and goes on to have a normal, happy adult life.
Schonborn, a professor emeritus (Sociology/California State Univ.; Violence and Conflict, 2nd Ed., 2004, etc.), here offers his first effort at creative nonfiction. He was born with a cleft lip and palate, and after his first day of kindergarten, he complained that no one seemed to understand him when he spoke. His mother, wise beyond her years, reassured him by saying that the other children “needed to be better listeners.” The author writes charmingly of his childhood, particularly when he describes the many ways his birth defect affected his young parents and siblings. For example, while Schonborn’s 2-year-old sister watched her mother use an eyedropper to feed him as a new baby, she declared, “He’s a bird and I don’t like him.” Soon, however, that same sister became the author’s fierce protector from schoolyard bullies. Schonborn eventually grew up to pursue a successful academic career—and win the heart of a beautiful girl who looked like film actress Audrey Hepburn. The prose loses some of its charm, however, when the author labors to provide historical context for his relatively privileged coming-of-age in the 1960s and his academic career studying the causes of social conflict and violence. Some readers may also wish the book had told them more about Schonborn’s beloved mother; after she taught her son how to be accepted and live a normal life, she succumbed to loss and loneliness in her early 50s. The author’s account of his mother’s death, informed by knowledge he gained as a first-year medical student, brings this coming-of-age memoir to a suspenseful close. Many readers, including parents with children struggling to be treated as “normal,” will likely find Schonborn’s mother to be an inspiration.
An often instructive memoir, particularly for anyone seeking to help a young person overcome bullying’s crushing effects.