“Etched in Sand” –A Book Review

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“When you’re a kid with no one to protect you, everything comes with a price.”

Etched in Sand by Regina Calcaterra is an eye-opening memoir. This story tells of the impoverishment Regina and her four siblings had to endure throughout their childhood in Long Island.

Each child has a different father (none of which are in the picture), and their alcoholic mother is both verbally and physically abusive. Leaving the kids on their own for weeks, even months, at a time (to spend time with a new boyfriend or drink herself senseless at a bar), “Cookie’s” kids have never known stability. Regina is tasked with keeping her two younger siblings safe, fed, and sheltered. Sadly, this task is much easier when their mother, Cookie, is away.

“To me, feeling secure means the opposite of what it means to most kids. Children are supposed to find their greatest safety and comfort in the arms of their mothers. Instead, Cookie’s homecoming is our darkest danger, like the worst storm anyone can imagine.”

One night, after Cookie stumbles home from wherever she’s been holed up for the past several months, she decides to take out her aggression on Regina. But this time, the damage is too extensive to hide, and school authorities report it to social services. With the promise of keeping her two younger siblings safe and away from their mother’s grasp, Regina is “tricked” into telling her social worker everything. However, she soon learns that kids like her are often thrown under the bus by the system put in place to keep them safe.

“We’re poor. We have no connections and even fewer resources, and we’ve learned not to trust anyone who says You can trust me. We’ve had to put our faith in the people who treat us coldly, who attempt to prey on our vulnerabilities and take advantage of us; but in the end, no one can really save us from our own hard reality. Every single one of us has had to climb out of our childhood and help ourselves.”

“When you live on the fringes of society with no resources, you have no voice, and your complaints are easily ignored.”

Ripped apart from her younger siblings, Regina must learn how to navigate the world on her own (while still struggling to keep her family together). Somehow, through more hardships than most of us can even begin to imagine, she manages to pick herself up and create a good life.

“Maybe my impossible upbringing sets me apart from the rest. I’ve cultivated a strong work ethic and faith in my capacity to take care of myself.”

 “The older I get, the more I’m convinced: I’ve suffered for a reason. It’s a reason I don’t know yet, but it’s been circling me—a forecast of something mighty.”

This spell bounding account will have you thanking the heavens for everything you have and help to remind you that there is always someone out there worse off than you. I give this heartfelt piece four out of five stars.

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“How to Save a Life”—A Book Review

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How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr was a very absorbing read. This tale was very different from the stuff that I normally read, so I kind of surprised myself by how much I enjoyed it.

Jill hasn’t been the same since her dad passed away, and now her mom has decided to adopt a baby. But as if that idea, in and of itself, isn’t hard enough, it’s not a typical adoption. Mandy, the young pregnant girl wants to live with the family before she gives birth. Weird as it sounds, Jill’s mom agrees to Mandy’s terms. And so Mandy comes to live with Jill and her mom in the months leading up to the birth of the baby.

This book is told in alternate narratives from Jill and Mandy’s points of view. It was very intriguing hearing the dramatic difference in the voices of these two teens, even though they are roughly the same age. While Jill is very closed off and pissed at the world, damaging any relationship that comes her way, Mandy is extremely naïve and almost childlike. Along the way you find out that Mandy has not had a very pleasant childhood, being brought up by a mother that has made it clear all of her life that she never wanted a child. And while Mandy was exposed to some pretty harsh truths at a very young age, her intellectual growth seems to be stuck somewhere around middle school.

Jill doesn’t trust Mandy, and is a total bitch to her from the start. Mandy is a compulsive liar, feeling like she has to keep the truth of herself and her past hidden. Mandy feels that if Jill’s mom knows the truth, she won’t go through with the adoption, and Mandy wants her baby to have a good life and a good mom, but the reality is…Mandy really just needs a mom herself. And Mandy not only lies to Jill’s mom…she seems to lie to everyone in order to receive attention, and struggles with the boundaries of real and fantasized relationships.

I’m telling you, even though Mandy seems like a complete dumbass and I just wanted to reach through the pages and strangle her most of the time, I could not put this book down. The dynamics between the characters were simply riveting. And of course, the more you read on, the more the story pulls you in. Will these girls learn how to let go and when to hold on?

I give this book four out of five stars. Definitely worth the read.

“Pretty Girl 13”—A Book Review

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Pretty Girl 13 by Liz Coley is a haunting tale, indeed.

Angie was taken at the age of 13 while on a Girl Scout camping trip. Three years later she finds herself walking home with no recollection of what happened. In her head, she’s still 13 and is just returning home from said camping trip.

Through therapy, it is discovered that in order to cope with her situation, Angie’s brain has created alternate personalities to individually deal with certain situations—her physiologist refers to them as “Alters.” The insane part is, Angie has no idea who these alternate personalities are or how to control them. Certain situations and triggers cause one of her Alters to take over. When this happens, Angie basically blacks out and loses periods of time, having no memory of what went on when an Alter “took the wheel.”

Through hypnosis, her therapist helps draw each Alter out in turn to hear their story, unraveling the mysteries in Angie’s past. The ultimate goal is figuring out how to essentially make Angie whole again.

This sounds stressful enough to deal with, but on top of the whole “Alter” fiasco, Angie must try to rebuild her life again—a difficult enough task for any kidnapped victim, but doubly so for a sixteen-year-old still stuck inside of a thirteen-year-old’s head.

Assimilating back into to school proves to be a special challenge, taking classes several years lower than her peers, and having any given Alter take control without warning, causing Angie to do things she wouldn’t normally do and can’t remember afterward. The actions of one particular Alter even causes Angie to become the target of school bullying. This poor girl cannot seem to catch a break.

But Angie is strong. She is a survivor. One step and one day at a time, she slowly but surely begins to take back control of her own life. Angie is a literary heroine to be admired and applauded. I give this valiant tale five stars!

*warning, some of the descriptions from her time in captivity are pretty graphic and a little hard to stomach.

 

“She noticed that she’s automatically used the past tense, like she was getting a sense of time—a then and a now. She didn’t feel thirteen anymore. She felt—undefined. “