LIKE FAMILY by Paula McLain


Growing Up in Other People’s Houses
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An unsentimental and thus telling memoir by the middle of three sisters who grew up in a series of foster homes in Fresno, California.

Their father was already in prison for a bumbled robbery attempt when their mother went to a movie with a boyfriend and didn’t come back. It was 1970: Paula was only four years old, Teresa was six, Penny three. Herein are Paula’s memories of their years in foster care, moving with her sisters from family to family until their 1974 placement with Bub and Hilde at Lindbergh Acres, a rundown ranch where they lived for almost 11 years. Earlier foster families ranged from the bizarre to the abusive. The Spinozas had a seven-year-old son who ran through the house clad only in a makeshift superhero cape. Mrs. Clapp was addicted to purple, and Mr. Clapp made sexual overtures to Paula and perhaps to her sisters as well; they never talked about it. The Fredricksons bought them bicycles and had family meetings and seemed to actually love them, but sent them away after only a few months. At their last placement, Hilde set rules that no one could fathom, occasionally beat them, and sometimes hid their clothes, but Bub was fun-loving and affectionate, and they were provided with food, clothing, toys, and their own horses. Several chapters are devoted to the sisters’ adolescence, no more or less tumultuous than most, although given an extra edge by Hilde’s increasingly unstable behavior and the ever-present threat of being moved to yet another foster home. Throughout it all, the sisters remained together, an extraordinary achievement in the annals of foster care. They were living together and attending college when their mother finally resurfaced in 1986 to establish a tentative relationship the author admits still baffles her today.

Not a foster-care horror story exactly, but a thoughtful recalling of the emotional toll a life of uncertainty can take.

Pub Date: March 18th, 2003
ISBN: 0-316-59742-2
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2002


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