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Victor Malarek.

Toronto, Macmillan, c1984.
241pp, cloth, $19.95.
ISBN 0-7715-9795-9.

Grades 9 and up.

Reviewed by Chris Kempling.

Volume 12 Number 6
1984 November

Nothing could demonstrate the resiliency of the human spirit more poignantly and vibrantly than the transformation of Victor Malarek—street fighter, delinquent, and foul-mouthed punk—to Victor Malarek-acclaimed muck-raking journalist, editor, and author. It is an autobiography that seethes with rage, violence, torn emotions, and broken lives.

Malarek describes vividly the horror of his youth—a barely imaginable litany of brutality, vicious beatings, and deprivation of all the familial comforts most of us take for granted. He and his two brothers are placed in a Dotheboys Hall type of boys' home due to the breakdown of his parents' marriage and the refusal of the welfare authorities to let them remain with their mother. Malarek's story is a heart-wrenching one. It is a childhood peopled with sadistic boys' home employees, cruel teachers, ignorant and incompetent government officials, and puffed-up bullies. These characters far outnumber the few caring, humane personages in Malarek's early life.

Yet Malarek does not seem to embellish the facts or minimize embarrassing information about himself or his family. He recounts the many emotional traumas that result from his bed-wetting and does not hide his father's penchant for physically and emotionally abusing his mother. Themes that strike deep chords in the human spirit are ably handled by the author. The most moving passages in the book are those describing Malarek's fierce loyalty to his cancer-ridden, abusive father, a drunk and a petty criminal. One's stomach churns with tension as he describes his many violent confrontations with power-tripping adults and street bullies. A wave of nostalgia is evoked as the author recounts his turgid dance-floor gropings.

The book is a gut-wrenching indictment of the current child welfare system-one that is improving but still flawed (as Malarek states in his epilogue). The epilogue, incidentally, is perhaps the major flaw in the book. Malarek takes several paragraphs editorializing the importance of the new Young Offenders Act and excerpting flattering articles about his crusades against the child welfare system in Ontario. The impact of the book is definitely lessened by their inclusion.

Readers ought to be forewarned that the book contains much foul and profane language, descriptive sexual situations, and almost constant violence and brutality. Nonetheless, it is a riveting story, and a tragic reminder that the rebelliousness and criminal behaviour of many of today's youth has much to do with the breakdown of family life and the hopelessly inadequate and sometimes downright destructive responses of government agencies to the situations.

Chris Kempling, Quesnel, BC.
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