The Lost Boy: A Foster Child’s Search for the Love of a Family by Dave Pelzer.
Health Communications, Inc. Deerfield Beach, Florida, 1997.
Memoir, 340 pages.
Lexile: 720L .
AR Level: 5.1 (worth 9.0 points) .
NOTE: Despite the reading level, this is an adult book, not suggested for MG readers.
Peltzer’s first book is all about the inhumane treatment he suffered at the hands of his mother. The second, after a brief recap of the abuse, focuses on his life in the foster care system.
I believe this was the first book that I ever read about foster care. Many years later, I found some of the series in a thrift store and decided to read through it again. After the sensational story of the first book, this one is significantly milder. Peltzer’s mother still has a lot of power over him – mentally, emotionally, and legally. But her physical control of his body is limited and he starts to heal in some ways.
Many things in the system have changed since Pelzer’s days, and it’s fascinating reading how different the legal system is now. Yet others remain the same. The difficult balance of protecting children AND protecting families remains. Although at times this story feels overdramatized, it’s also important to recognize that Pelzer’s willingness to share his story has helped garner change in the system and hopefully better outcomes for children experiencing similar abuse today.
One aspect of this book that I disliked was the timeframe. While this is a true story and Pelzer did move houses quite a bit, it was difficult to keep track of all the places he lived and which were which, especially when he returned to a previous home or only stayed somewhere for a short while. I wish this book had a timeline covering major events, that would have helped my understanding a lot!
The book also reads somewhat like a novel. While that does help hold the reader’s interest, I think it will also make it hard for some readers to believe that Pelzer is telling the true story of his life.
As I have mentioned in other reviews, it’s important to remember that many things in the foster care system are different from the time period discussed here. However, Pelzer does a better job of setting his experiences in a particular time and place, so it should be easier for the reader to differentiate between his experience and those of others.
The style and formatting of this book are very 90s, and I’m curious if modern readers will find that off-putting. These days memoir readers are much more particular, and I would expect to find a longer disclaimer at the front explaining that conversations in quotation marks are approximate and so on. While the book is over 300 pages, a lot of that space is used up by the formatting and generous margins, so you can expect to read this fairly quickly.
Readers coming fresh off of Pelzer’s first book may be impatient with the first chapter, which relays yet another saga in the mistreatment he endured, this one an attempt to escape that was thwarted. Later on, readers may be impatient with Pelzer as he tries desperately to help the father who so often stood by or even assisted his mother with her cruel treatment. However, this reaction is very common, and it’s more unusual that Pelzer is able to break from his family and find a true home.
I suspect that I will probably find this the best of Pelzer’s books. There are three more volumes about his life, the third installment in this trilogy (A Man Named Dave), a later book which revisits part of the time covered in this book in more detail and focuses on his adolescence, and the final book, which covers how being an abuse survivor has impacted his adult life. He has also written some self-help books.
The thrift store had the first two books and the teen one. I’ve previously read A Man Named Dave back when it first came out, but don’t remember anything about it. Because this is such a whirlwind, Pelzer focuses more on some homes and events than others, although I expect some will be expanded on in his teen book when I get around to reading that one. Pelzer’s tendency to make direct statements (and the overwrought nature of his descriptions) make his writing unique, and I could see it annoying readers who are accustomed to a more literary style.
Overall though, I do feel I can recommend this. Pelzer gets into some serious trouble and occasionally swears, so I’d recommend pre-reading before giving this adult book to a teen. But he also honestly portrays some of the toughest parts of being a foster child and dealing with trauma, and I found this a very readable book.