The noted African-American singer/songwriter evokes with insight and a bracing lack of self-pity a childhood spent in foster homes and shelters as her mother struggled to cope with mental illness.
Love’s debut memoir constitutes a remarkable testimony to the role humor and character played in overcoming the setbacks and hurts of the author’s childhood. As she notes in the prologue, Love and elder sister Lisa grew up in the midst of chaos, but despite the racism of 1960s Nebraska, their mother’s recurring mental illness, and their chronic poverty, the girls somehow found “humor and hope in the strangest places.” Winni, a single parent, told her daughters that their father was dead. When Laura was three, Winni was hospitalized, and the sisters were put in a Children’s Home. At this brutal institution, whose staff members were as violent as their charges, the high point of kids’ stay was getting to pick out shoes donated by a local charity. Once released, Winni struggled to get her degree, leaving her daughters with a succession of good, bad, and awful babysitters. Then, close to graduation, she tried to hang herself, and the girls were placed in foster care. In a chilling replay of this episode when Laura was 12, Winni made her daughters put nooses around their own necks and the neck of their much-loved cat; the animal’s escape encouraged them to remove the nooses and embrace their pet. Love recalls with affectionate appreciation the teachers who encouraged her to sing, to be a gymnast, and later to go to college. She is even grateful to Winni for instilling in her a love of music and books. Initially bitter when she learned that her father was in fact alive, she admits that as she grew older, it seemed “silly and self-indulgent to spend so much time mourning the deprivation of a life I never had.”
A gritty but redemptive survivor’s story.