March 25th, 2015

planet

book - have you found her by janice erlbaum

Someone left this 2008 title in the Little Free Library in my front yard, I was intrigued, the author has written for BUST and wrote another memoir about being a homeless addicted teen, so I got into it.

This is her second memoir, like a follow up, where Erlbaum returns to the shelter that helped her off the streets earlier in her life to try and mentor older teen girls. It's a challenge to get on their good side and reach a place where they'll talk to her, but she comes up with the idea of bringing beads and helping them make jewelry, and her visits become sort of an art therapy.

When she starts volunteering she is told that there are rules. Don't play favorites. Don't give them anything, don't accept gifts. But she breaks the rules and totally has favorites all the time, with smart girls who remind her of herself, and then especially with a favorite named Samantha who's story is heartbreaking, but she shows so much potential Janice is sure she can help her out.

What follows is a trying story that poses some very big questions. Like, when are you giving too much of yourself to help someone? What's truly good for them? Who needs and deserves help? What sort of people get sucked into helping addicts, and what does it say about the caretakers?

My favorite thing about this story was just reading about a woman's life in which feminism and generosity are assumed, if that makes sense. She gets married in this story, and her decision to keep her last name is just this obvious default that she doesn't even get into. Her partner's support of her volunteering to help other women is never questioned. It's like this magical world where everyone just is a feminist, with no explanation needed. As an engineer in the middle of Kansas, that's a totally different world from the one I live in.

I also want to keep reading stories about cycles of poverty and violence, and ways people try to help end them.

The book is something like 300 pages but I blasted through it in a few days. It's a non-fiction page turner - the best! So I'd recommend it if you're looking for a good read.