The gritty memoir of a runaway who crawls out of the grave of our deepest urban nightmare.
Tina S. now helps the homeless, while Bolnick is a journalist and screenwriter who helped Tina get her former life into print. Tina's descent into homelessness begins with her father's death and a fire that drives her mother and siblings to a welfare hotel. The poverty and maddening fights in the one-room home with her mother's belligerent boyfriend drove her to escape, first with books, TV, cutting school, drinking alcohol and smoking reefer, and, finally, living in the surreal subterranean strata beneath Manhattan's Grand Central Terminal. She stayed with a girlfriend she loved (who finally commits suicide) and a junkie boyfriend (who choked her for smoking crack while carrying his baby). Eventually Tina became a ward of Family Court—which proceeded to put her in the psycho ward of Bellevue for a month. The hospital cleaned up her grime, removed her lice, cured her wounds, and aborted her pregnancy, but the clean bed and regular meals (without bringing the day's panhandling or muggings to Burger King) couldn't keep Tina from returning to the streets—and below. There were lighter moments (such as trick-or-treating dressed as "bums" on Halloween) but in between the crack highs and harassment from family and the police were mostly a life of despair and deprivation. Tina got placed upstate in a boot camp–like detox and rehab center (a "Club Med for ex-junkies") and, after a shaky start, finally graduated from the program and earned her high school diploma. She even managed college and work. Her story is told with many flashbacks, and Bolnick narrates it with authenticity and sympathy.
A harrowing account worth a hundred social-science textbooks.