Sunday, November 15, 2009
Memoirs always catch my eye. I had to read one called Hope's Boy when I saw it on the shelf. And, I haven't read anything like this book before. Hope's Boy is a memoir by Andrew Bridge about his experience in foster care. I haven't had much exposure to the foster care system, and it was very interesting to read about a personal experience of a person who went through the system and grew from the experience.
The back of the book made it sound like his foster care experience was going to be a lot more traumatizing than it actually was. Given, I can't even imagine how difficult it is to be separated from both parents during elementary school. I can't imgaine going to live in a house where kids come in and out of there like a grocery store on a Sunday afternoon. I can't imagine having pseudo-parents who don't really care for you like real parents. Instead of mom and dad you have Mr. and Mrs. Leonard.
I thought Bridge was going to expose how horrible the living conditions were, how atrocious the boy's home was that he lived in for a very brief amount of time. The pain and trauma really came in his own emotional experience, not feeling like he was loved and not having a real "family." He always felt like "just a foster child" instead of being "Andy," a real, loved person.
The beginning and end of the book take place in present day where Bridge has grown up and pursued a career helping out boys that were in his same situation, in foster care without parents. He first explains his career and helping out a boy who needs love, like he did. He also closes the book with his final conversation with this young boy. It's a nice wrap-around to see that even though he went through this pain, as many still are today, he's actually doing something about it. Maybe that's what gives him closure.
Hope's Boy goes through many phases of Bridge's troubled childhood. His first recollections are living with his grandmother in Chicago, wondering why his mother didn't live with him. She eventually calls for him to come live with her in Hollywood where they live a rocky two years together. His mother, Hope, is a flashy woman who smokes a lot of cigarettes and draws a lot of male attention. She lives in a shabby apartment and is very young to have a son. She doesn't seem to understand how to be a mother since it is just thrust upon her so forcefully.
She has abusive boyfriends, neglects him at times (sometimes unknowingly), wakes him up for midnight adventures (at one point robbing a house for money), but seems to really try and care. There's even an incident where Andy needs her to make a bunny costume for him at school and she ingores it until the last minute when she buys a very out-of-place suit that makes him feel both embarassed and proud.
Eventually, Hope strarts to lose her mind. She has visions that people are going to take Andy away from her. She stops working, so the landlord is constantly threatening to evict them. Hope eventually really loses it and is brought to a mental hospital, in which Andy begins his string of boy's homes and foster care. Hope continues to visit Andy for a few years until she escapes down to Arizona for a while where she is again thrown into a different mental hospital.
Meanwhile, Andy endures living with the Lenoards who take in many, many children who are characterized during his childhood. The most heart-breaking one was a boy named Jason who desperately wanted to become a part of the Leonard's family. He begged and pleaded with them. He eventually ran away to test if they would come looking for them, which they only did for a short while without success. Jason was then transported to the next home because of his run-away attempt.
The Leonards didn't seem to be abusive. They didn't really give out love, but at least they took care of him for all of these years. Andy ended up living there until college, which I wasn't expecting. That was kind of them. Mrs. Leonard's character was quite strange too; she grew up during the Holocaust where she was actually in a concentration camp. She wanted to take in children who knew pain and suffering like she had since her children were very spoiled. I thought that angle was really interesting.
After years of not seeing his mother, Andy seeks her out before he sets off for college on the west coast. In his path, many people didn't think he could go to college. They wanted him to go to community college because it would be easier. The main point was that no one really had expectations for him. But Andy wanted to prove them all wrong.
Andy shows one last experience with his mother where she still seems to care but she really is just gone inside. It's sad, but at least he got to understand at an age where it might be easier to make sense of the past.
If the topic of foster care interests you, it's a good read. It wasn't too depressing to bring down your mood. It was more informative and interesting, I found. He writes clearly and evokes certain emotions. It seemed therapeutic for him, which I like to read about through the lines.
I think his mother's name, Hope, says a lot too.
So what do you think of Hope's Boy?