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Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses [Hardcover]

Paula McLain

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Little Brown and Company; 1 edition (Mar 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316597422
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316597425
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 13.7 x 2.3 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,545,972 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon.com: 4.9 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Growing Up Scared 20 Aug 2003
By Lynn Harnett - Published on Amazon.com
A couple of months after their feckless, volatile father lands in jail, Mom drops the three girls off at Granny's one evening and doesn't come back for 16 years. Paula, age 4, and her sisters, Teresa, 6, and Penny, 3, prove too much for the old lady and enter into a long and rocky relationship with the Fresno, CA, foster care system.
Paula McLain's harrowing memoir of growing up among strangers who may or may not become family teems with complex, shifting emotions. Chief among them, especially in the early years, is fear, and the yearning to belong to a family, any family. But that was not to be. Not quite anyway. McLain's fluid prose captures the reader with its immediacy; its sense of urgency and its intimacy. This is a page-turner with real orphan children to root for.
It never seems to occur to the girls, as it does to the reader, that they could be separated. But they never are, which is the saving grace of stability that runs through their Dickensian childhood. Their first brief placement ends with a charge of thievery, but their second is a mystery. The Clapps are wealthy and their children are grown. Mrs. Clapp has no humor and no affection. Her rules and routines are rigid and she is fanatically house proud.
One rainy day after school, the girls slosh through puddles to the car. "Just as we got to the Cadillac, the sky started to drop hail like frozen BBs. Mrs. Clapp sat behind the wheel in her lavender rabbit-fur coat, her dry fingers toying with the door lock as though it were a chess piece, deciding whether she would let us into the car. We'd ruin it, we would."
So what does she want with three little girls? This is not McLain's question; it's the reader's, and McLain never comes out with the horrifying answer, either. She simply takes you there and lets you see for yourself how things are. The third placement, also brief, is the most heartbreaking. These people want children, delight in their new girls, and yet suddenly, mysteriously, it's over and the sisters find themselves with their fourth family in three years.
"If we felt any hope that this new situation would be different, then it was the stowaway version, small and pinching as pea gravel in a shoe." The Lindberghs make no secret of their reason for taking in three foster girls. Their daughter, Tina, is an only child and wants siblings. It's that simple. Bub Lindbergh is a big bear of a man, "easy to love," who teaches the girls to ride and gets each of them a pony, while his wife, Hilde, a German immigrant, is prickly and unpredictable. She spoils her "real" daughter and delights in telling perfect strangers the sad history of her foster daughters.
McLain's anger comes through in shock waves of description - hilarious bizarre incidents perpetrated by blotchy, oversize, cartoon character Lindberghs. Interspersed with moments of tenderness, even joy. McLain (her first book of poems, "Less of Her" was published in 1999) is a visual, visceral writer unafraid to mix brutal honesty and laughter. She and her sisters are not easy children and never lose sight of the fact that, unlike other children, they can be cast off at any time, their worldly possessions lumped in a trash bag in the back of the social worker's car. It's a scary way for a child to live.
McLain's memoir is many things: a gut-wrenching portrayal of growing up insecure and longing for love, a celebration of sibling solidarity, a catharsis and a satisfying revenge on people who once had the power, and will recognize themselves as they read. Funny, bleak, angry and winsome, McLain's debut is beautifully written and compulsively readable.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars American foster care nightmare with a bittersweet ending 25 Oct 2004
By Kristin J. Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Poet Paula McLain's memoir of growing up among foster families because of her ex-con unreliable father, and a mother who took off for the movies for sixteen years, is an American tragedy with a bittersweet ending.

McLain's characters, the people she meets during her harrowing journey through a foster-care system increasingly gone mad, are both abusive and pitiable, criminally unfit to be their own children's parents, and yet as adrift as Paula and her two sisters, Penny and Teresa. McLain's prose is a long-overdue love letter to her wry, spunky, strong personality, the children and families rebelliously proud of their differences in mainstream America, the love coming from real parenting such as McLain's father's ex-wife Donna, McLain's churchgoing Granny, and the kindly Fredericksons, a foster family for the McLain girls, the forgotten Americana of the 1960's and 1970's, the heartbreak of teenage girls looking for love in sexual embraces, and most of all, the unbreakable bond between McLain and her sisters, Penny and Teresa, who are as fascinating as she is.

Even McLain's absent mother, who returns miraculously out of the blue, as often happens in real life, gets sympathetic treatment. A brilliant, complex memoir.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving, compelling, happy and sad. 7 Mar 2003
By Linda Perlstein - Published on Amazon.com
Paula McLain has a way with words. And a way with sentences, paragraphs, ideas and pictures. She tells the story of her and her sisters' foster childhood with fantastic descriptions, but at the same time there is a surprising matter-of-factness that parallels what, sadly enough, a child feels as she lives through these kinds of experiences. A lovely, touching book.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars couldn't put it down 14 Dec 2005
By LovingLife - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Paula McLain's account of her childhood is compelling reading. I am deeply concerned with the dismal state of the foster care system and the impact of it on our community's children. I have also been a foster parent. Ms. McLain's writing is powerful and personal, a beautiful and touching memoir allowing the rest of us to experience the abysmal consequences of parenting taken too lightly (by biological parents or misguided fosters or officials entrusted with responsibility). The reader does not have to have a specific interest in this topic to be moved and gain value and insight. Ms. McLain takes full responsibility as an adult to have her own life work, even with the vestiges of her childhood forever present. No whining here, which makes it all the more powerful. A quick read, highly recommended.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Growing up in other people's homes 27 Mar 2009
By Joanna Mechlinski - Published on Amazon.com
Having entered the foster system at age 4 with her two small sisters, Paula McLain spent the next 14 years bouncing from family to family -- never quite fitting in, or feeling like she was "home."

With Teresa, a year and a half older, and Penny, not quite a year younger, Paula suffered emotional, physical and sexual abuse in the various houses she stayed throughout the '70s and '80s. She also struggled to understand precisely why her biological parents had given her and her sisters up -- her father, in between jail stints and remarriages, would mysteriously resurface time to time; although her mother would vanish for nearly 16 years after dropping the girls at their grandmother's to go on a date. Similarly, Paula wondered, why would strangers want the girls -- they weren't perfect. Could they possibly hope to one day find parents who would really love them? Or were people just taking them for the money?

McLain utilizes a strong mix of evocative language, combined with plain language -- unlike others in her position might, she conveys no self-pity, only a statement of facts. Her story is like that of countless other foster children, yet unique and gripping.
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