Patton’s inspiring memoir of survival in an abusive adoptive family offers a well-informed and startling take on violence and racism in America.
At five years old, the author was adopted by a New Jersey couple who by all outward appearances were model middle-class African Americans. But the facade dropped the moment they reached their gleaming house with manicured lawn and shade trees. Patton was the prisoner of a passive father and bitter adoptive mother whose frustration at her infertility was loosed on her adoptive daughter in violent beatings and emotional abuse. From ages five to 13, the author was the victim of terrifying assaults, including beatings with an extension cord, by a woman determined to keep the child under manipulative control. Upon entering school, Patton was shocked to discover that such violence was condoned by the community, whose deeply held Pentecostal beliefs reinforced the philosophy, “spare the rod, spoil the child.” Merging her personal experiences with a provocative examination of African-American history, the author credibly argues that violence is a continuing legacy of slavery. She makes many plausible connections among the corporeal punishment of children, low self-esteem, fervent religiosity and fathers too weak to assert themselves after centuries of having their paternity denied. Patton charts her nascent awareness that the abuse she experienced was plainly not right, even though her adoptive mother’s family and friends condoned it. She ran away and was eventually placed in a group home. Despite the outrageous negligence of her guardians, who did their best to discourage her, she won a full scholarship to an elite private boarding high school.
Personal discovery combines with knowledgeable historical argument to create a document at once carefully reasoned and powerfully emotional, striking in its endeavor to relate a unique individual experience to broader communal ills.