“Love may not be enough to wake a child in the morning, dress him, and get him to school, then to feed him at night, bathe him, and put him to bed. Still, can any of us imagine a childhood without it?” from Hope’s Boy by Andrew Bridge
Hope’s Boy by Andrew Bridge is a memoir of a childhood spent in foster care. There are approximately half a million young people in foster care in the United States. They are removed from their homes when the court decides that they’ve been abused or neglected by their parents, or when poverty, death, illness or other circumstances beyond their control make it impossible for their biological parents to properly care for them. Such was the case with Hope’s boy, Andy.
When the book opens, 5 year old Andy is living in Chicago with his grandma Kate, who is struggling financially but doing the best she can. One day her daughter Hope calls from California, insisting Kate put Andy on a plane and send him out to her. Andy barely remembers his mom, but Kate, feeling she has no choice, says goodbye to Andy and sends him to Los Angeles.
Life with Hope is unpredictable and chaotic. She means well and loves her boy but isn’t prepared to take care of a child. In their two years together Andy witnesses his mother’s rape at knifepoint, is woken up at 2am to burglarize a house with his mom and her friend, and eats from dumpsters. Hope, plagued by voices in her head that tell her they are coming to take Andy, becomes paranoid and protective, insisting Andy not go to school for fear they will ‘get him’. They are evicted from their apartment for nonpayment of rent, but Hope refuses to leave, smashing the front window so they can enter after the locks have been changed. They briefly live with a pastor’s family who try to help, but eventually they wear out their welcome and move to a motel. Finally, in a heart-wrenching scene, Andy is pulled away from his mother by a social worker as police shove Hope to the ground.
Life with Hope is hard, but life without Hope is hell. Hope’s Boy shines a light on the harsh realities of a broken system. Taken to MacLaren Hall, more like a prison than a juvenile facility, nothing is explained to this frightened little boy. After several months in that horrible place he is placed with a family that offers stability and food but lacks any semblance of nurturing, encouragement, or love. He stays with the Leonards for the remainder of his childhood, hanging onto the scraps he has from his mother (“You are my boy”) and finding solace in school. There is no effort to reunite his family, and the abuse and neglect in his foster home goes on unchecked. He sees Hope only a handful of times, in one hour increments under the watchful eye of his foster mother. But then the visits stop completely for nearly a decade, leaving Andy to worry and wonder. Andy remains ever hopeful that she will somehow come back for him. Like a child lost in a big department store, Andy believes that if he stays put, she will find him.
Against staggering odds, Andy goes on to college, later graduating from Harvard Law School and becoming a Fulbright scholar, without any assistance from family of from the foster care system. This is miraculous as the majority of foster children never graduate from high school, let alone college. In fact, 30-50% of children aging out of foster care are homeless within 2 years. They crowd our shelters and prisons. Without the memory of his mother’s love to hang onto, who knows what might have become of Andrew Bridge.
In an impassioned plea for reform, Bridge wonders:
“Did Hope’s visits to the Leonards’ house have to be so hostile? Did she have to be limited to one visit a month for an hour? Could someone have asked her what she needed to assume more of motherhood’s responsibilities, to assure her son that she was there for him, to ease her son’s unyielding loneliness? Was it necessary to leave her boy to think that she had just disappeared?” from Hope’s Boy by Andrew Bridge, page 295
You can check out the author’s website for more information about the book and the foster care system.
Thanks to Molly at Hyperion for sending me this emotional memoir and for offering a copy to one of my readers. If you’d like a chance to win a copy of Hope’s Boy, please leave a comment here by Monday, March 23rd.
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