Television news producer and journalist Carswell shares poignant, scattered memories of growing up on the estate of the Albany Home for Children, where her father worked as an administrator.
Carswell embarks fitfully on her story contained within other stories of the troubled children who attended her father’s school at 60 Academy Road, Albany, from 1968 until 1994, when he resigned his post. The author moves backward in time, from a reunion of the school she covered for People magazine in 1989 to her mother’s story of being orphaned as a young girl and subsequently brought up by her grandmother in Albany, rather than being sent to an orphanage. Then we move to Carswell’s own arrival with her four siblings at the Albany Home in the summer of 1968, not as wards but as the privileged children of the revered assistant director. From their home, they shared a view of the four little houses they called cottages, where 48 children from broken homes and ruptured pasts lived and played in the same backyard swimming pool—yet the author soon learned these children could never really be their friends or attend the same schools or church. Some were autistic or abused, many never had visitors, and Carswell recounts her confusion about them—at getting around the wall of her parents’ silence. She befriends a girl named Jodie, who continually tries to crash through her cottage window as if attempting to fly, and an emotionally scarred boy named Ryan, who tried and failed to save his mother in a fire. Gradually, the author grows up amid these complicated circumstances, moves to New York City, and struggles with her own psychiatric demons, which are detailed generously yet form the weakest narrative sections. Carswell diffuses the power of these “backyard” stories, for she can’t seem to decide whether she’s writing about these special children or her beloved mother, who dies at the end.
A historical record of import, if somewhat incohesive.