Review and Giveaway: Hope’s Boy by Andrew Bridge

cover1“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.

bridgeAgainst 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. 

If Only They Would Send Books AND Chocolate..

My day wasn’t going so well earlier.  It started off with a stupid fight with my stupid dear husband and went downhill from there.  It’s pretty sad when you find yourself snapping at the dog for not getting out of your way fast enough (and the poor dog has stitches on her head!) and then telling your 9 year old that her head would be shaved if she didn’t brush her hair RIGHT NOW.  And then the damn zipper broke on my favorite shorts- the ones that actually fit.  And for chrissake, is that a zit on my chin??  (Pass the Midol- and the chocolate- and the tissues!)  Grrrrrr grrrrrr grumble grumble leave me alone.  

Ok, so not the best day ever for moi.  But it did get better.  I had some really positive emails this morning on my new venture.  Yeah, me!  And then my dear husband apologized, because (obviously) everything was his fault.  And remember how I wanted to be WOWed by a book?  Let me just tell you, I have been WOWed, big time!!  I spent an hour and a half (while my kids were at their tutoring) reading, and I may not sleep tonight trying to finish this fabulous book.  

And then, the icing on the cake- when we got home, I had a package of two beautiful new books from Hyperion waiting in my mailbox.  They are Schooled by Anisha Lakhani (YA fiction that just came out yesterday) and Getting Rid of Matthew by Jane Fallon (chick lit, coming out Aug. 12).  They both look great.

Free books in the mailbox.. almost as good as chocolate!  Now, if only I could get them to send both!  

Thanks, Hyperion, for making my day!

Review: House and Home by Kathleen McCleary

What makes a house a home?  Is it the picket fence and the flowering trees?  The gleaming floors?  The paint, the curtains, the book shelves?  The pencil marks in the doorway where you measured your children year after year?

In House and Home by Kathleen McCleary, Ellen Flannagan loves her house.  She and her husband, the sexy, irresponsible Sam, have been married 17 years and settled in Portland after a few years of moving around.  They are raising their daughters in a beautiful yellow Cape Cod that Ellen has lovingly decorated and furnished.  Her best friend lives next door and their daughters are best friends too.  

Sam is an inventor and Ellen owns a shop in Portland where she sells coffee and antique furniture.  The couple take out a 2nd mortgage on the house to fund Sam’s latest invention in a string of unsuccessful ventures, requiring them to dip into their savings and even the girls’ college fund to pay the bills, but soon they get behind and Ellen determines that the only practical solution is for them to sell the house.  She and Sam separate, not because they don’t love each other, but because Ellen realizes she “can’t do this anymore”.  Her daughters are devastated about the break up, but Ellen isn’t allowing herself to think about the impending divorce very much as she is so focused on the loss of the house, projecting all her fears about her marriage onto that.  

The sale to the somewhat obnoxious Jordan Boyce and her husband Jeffrey is finalized, and Ellen regrets it almost immediately.  Ellen rents her house back from the new owners for a month while waiting to move into her new place, so she is living in her house but it is no longer hers.  Her love of the house crosses over to obsession and desperation when she decides that if she can’t live in the house, no one should. 

As I mentioned in this post, there are a lot of parallels between this book and my life.  I identified with the main character Ellen on a number of levels.  Like Ellen, I’m in my 40s and from Southern Michigan originally, and moved around a bit before landing on the west coast.  I’ve been married many years and have two young girls.  Also like Ellen, I’m married to a charming and irresponsible entreprenuer who has put our financial security at risk on more than one occasion with one of his big ideas.  I too love my house.  This is the house I brought my babies home to.  This is the house we are raising them in.  This is also the place that nurtured me as I licked my wounds after losing a much-wanted baby boy in my 5th month of pregnancy, another parallel to Ellen. 

It’s hard to imagine another family here, in my house, hanging their Christmas stockings over OUR fireplace, carving their Thanksgiving turkeys in OUR kitchen, or parking their cars in OUR garage.  I know which stair creaks and how to avoid it if I want to quietly sneak up the stairs.  I know which closet door sticks, and which one routinely falls off the track if you open it too quickly. I love the kitchen, I love the windows, oh!  And I also love my wonderful neighbors.  If my husband and I divorced and we were forced to sell I would be upset, but this book made me think about what makes a house a home.   This is my home, but what would it be without the chaos, warmth and love of my family?  Empty.  Just a house.  This book is about Ellen finally figuring that out.

I would highly recommend House and Home, which is due out July 1st.  Book clubs will find much to discuss.  I received this ARC through the publisher, Hyperion.  

Kathleen McCleary is a reporter and writer for HGTV.  This is her debut novel.  You can visit her website HERE.