In 1973, the ACLU filed a suit on behalf of Shirley Wilder, a 13-year-old black girl who had been placed in foster care in New York. The city’s foster care system, they charged, was utterly corrupt: It farmed out public bed space to private Jewish and Catholic agencies that favored Jewish and Catholic (which also usually meant white) children, while black, Protestant kids like Wilder fell through the cracks. In her fast-paced narrative, Bernstein introduces us to Wilder, her son Lamont (whom she placed in foster care while still in foster care herself), the judge who first heard the case, the probation officer, the head of New York’s Special Services for Children, and the “tender-hearted and strong-willed” nun who cared for Lamont. Marcia Lowry, the neurotic and compassionate lawyer who took on Wilder’s case, steals the show, claiming more of the reader’s attention than Wilder herself. We’re taken into schools, convents, hospitals, and, of course, courtrooms—sometimes (but too infrequently) this story even takes us into homes.
A fast-paced and vivid account of a domestic nightmare.