Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Like Family - McLain

In Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses: A Memoir, Paula McLain recounts her childhood during the 1970s and early '80s. After being abandoned by her parents, her mother ran off with a boyfriend and her father ends up intermittently in jail, McLain and her two sisters endure fifteen years of being wards of the State of California.

At first, they are juggled from foster home to foster home, experiencing sadly typical horrors such as sexual abuse and unkindness. The sisters, when able to bond with these families, learn the hard way that nothing is forever and the only people they can count on is each other. And, while any connection with "real" family is usually a good thing, what little connection the girls have with their paternal grandmother is scarce, confusing and ultimately guilt laden, as McLain struggles with not being able to maintain bonds that a child should not have to carry on her own.

Eventually, the sisters are taken in by a couple long term, but are never quite able to accept it as "home" or the couple as family. The mother is unable, or unwilling, to share anything resembling love with the sisters (or even much for her own child), despite their obvious needs. And when she finally leaves the home upon reaching adulthood, she returns rarely and without a feeling of nostalgia or loss. It is with this family that McLain learns that everyone is fallible, and sometimes saying "I'm sorry" is the best way to show love.

These struggles - to feel accepted, loved, important to others - continue into their adult years making them forever searching for some sort of emotional fulfillment. A powerful memoir, McLain's writing captures the sadness, loneliness, and confusion of being a young girl struggling to find herself with little support from adults and no one to turn to to help fill the hole.

3/5- Good. Read it, have a good time and move on. Or not.