A debut memoir traces the long-lasting consequences of childhood trauma.
Childs’s startling and evocative autobiography begins thus: “I am fifty-two years old and have changed my name seven times so far.” What follows is the story of those name changes, and of the life changes that prompted them. Childs was born in Liverpool, the mixed-race result of her white mother’s extramarital affair. Her mother kept a slovenly house and neglected her children. Occasionally, Childs was placed in temporary foster care, but she was always returned to her mother’s squalid surroundings until social services finally moved her to the Park Hall Children’s Home, which was run by Irish nuns. Though the nuns were emotionally distant, and Childs found their Catholic morality foreign and arbitrary, she settled into a routine, and began, if not to flourish, at least to function. Just as she had found her niche, she was shuttled into a horrific situation with a manipulative foster mother. All in all, her childhood was “a series of starvations.” Eventually, Childs enrolled in a two-year college nursing course. On the surface, things were looking up: No one knew her background, and her classmates were friendly and nice. But Childs’s life caught up with her. She began cutting herself (treating her razor blade with sacred reverence, wrapping it “in white tissue paper like a delicate, fragile piece of china”) and binging and purging. A breakdown, a suicide attempt and a stay in a psychiatric hospital followed. By the end of this searing account, Childs’s recovery seems simultaneously remarkable and unfinished. Her blunt, straightforward prose is eerily effective, and there are moments of real literary sophistication; her recollection of a childhood attempt to steal apples from a tree reads like a subtle commentary on the famous scene in which Augustine steals from a pear tree.
Grueling, but riveting.