Angels Passing Through

REFLECTIONS ON GROWING UP WITH FOSTER BABIES

Mastrantuono’s debut memoir explores his experience growing up in a family that fostered dozens of babies.
In the politically and socially tumultuous late 1960s, Mastrantuono’s family was already sizable: In addition to his two biological siblings, his parents also adopted four children of diverse ethnicities. Remarkably, his parents made the decision to add to these numbers by fostering babies in need—not just a few, either. In a span of 10 years, the Mastrantuono family fostered more than 40 babies. In addition to their own schoolwork, friends and puberty, the children also had to diaper, feed, burp, bathe and soothe infants on an almost daily basis. Mastrantuono details his experience as a foster sibling to this multitude of babies and the indelible impact they had on his life. He also recounts the sometimes-heartbreaking stories of five particularly memorable foster children, including Denise, who stayed with his family for slightly less than two years and was ultimately taken from them despite their many petitions to adopt her. Although Mastrantuono’s childhood experiences will seem extraordinary to many, he describes them with clarity and illuminating detail. In fact, his memories are so unusual that readers may regret the book’s brevity; it’s less than 100 pages, after all. Although Mastrantuono interviewed his family and studied diary entries, few direct quotes are included, though they could have provided more insight. However, Mastrantuono excels at describing his own memories and helping readers understand not only why his parents chose to undertake such a momentous task, but also the effects, not always positive, their fostering had on the family as a whole. Mastrantuono delves a bit into the self-examination process he has undergone to deal with emotional issues, such as the void created by Denise’s absence and the fact that, as a foster family, they rarely learned what happened to the babies after they left. Although these instances can seem like personal exercises at times, they nevertheless inform and enrich Mastrantuono’s story, one that will no doubt inspire contemplation and discussion.
Short and bittersweet, this memoir offers a unique perspective on the foster care system and the reverberating effects on those within it.

Pub Date: May 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1496064011

Page Count: 96

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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AN INVISIBLE THREAD

THE TRUE STORY OF AN 11-YEAR-OLD PANHANDLER, A BUSY SALES EXECUTIVE, AND AN UNLIKELY MEETING WITH DESTINY

A straightforward tale of kindness and paying it forward in 1980s New York.

When advertising executive Schroff answered a child’s request for spare change by inviting him for lunch, she did not expect the encounter to grow into a friendship that would endure into his adulthood. The author recounts how she and Maurice, a promising boy from a drug-addicted family, learned to trust each other. Schroff acknowledges risks—including the possibility of her actions being misconstrued and the tension of crossing socio-economic divides—but does not dwell on the complexities of homelessness or the philosophical problems of altruism. She does not question whether public recognition is beneficial, or whether it is sufficient for the recipient to realize the extent of what has been done. With the assistance of People human-interest writer Tresniowski (Tiger Virtues, 2005, etc.), Schroff adheres to a personal narrative that traces her troubled relationship with her father, her meetings with Maurice and his background, all while avoiding direct parallels, noting that their childhoods differed in severity even if they shared similar emotional voids. With feel-good dramatizations, the story seldom transcends the message that reaching out makes a difference. It is framed in simple terms, from attributing the first meeting to “two people with complicated pasts and fragile dreams” that were “somehow meant to be friends” to the conclusion that love is a driving force. Admirably, Schroff notes that she did not seek a role as a “substitute parent,” and she does not judge Maurice’s mother for her lifestyle. That both main figures experience a few setbacks yet eventually survive is never in question; the story fittingly concludes with an epilogue by Maurice. For readers seeking an uplifting reminder that small gestures matter.

 

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4251-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Howard Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

THE ESCAPE ARTIST

Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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