________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 20 . . . . June 6, 2002

cover My Crazy Life: How I Survived My Family.

Allen Flaming and Kate Scowen, Compilers.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2002.
127 pp., pbk. & cl., $12.95 (pbk.), $18.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55037-732-9 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55037-733-7 (cl.).

Subject Headings:
Teenagers-Family relationships-Case studies.
Problem families-Case studies.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Sheila Alexander.

** /4


Peter ... Life with my family was hard. My dad was an alcoholic .... My parents split up when I was two ... There's a lot of stuff from my childhood that I don't remember. I remember most of the bad stuff, but the good stuff hasn't come back to me ... For eight years after that, I didn't get to see my mom ... I was always getting grounded, or getting the belt, just for stupid things ... Everything I did was wrong ... My dad and my stepmom were always fighting ... A lot of my anger came from the environment I was growing up in at home ... I was abused mentally, physically, and sexually ... I think I just shut off a lot of the feelings. I didn't want to deal with them. I never really had an outlet ... After being on the street for a while, I went back to the shelter. At this point, I was becoming an alcoholic ... The second time I got arrested, I hadn't even done anything ... I don't think anyone understood me ... The advice I'd give a kid growing up in a similar situation would be: Get help! Find someone you can talk to before it's too late.

This collection of ten true life stories is a brutally honest and heartrending portrayal of the difficult circumstances which some young adults have faced during their early lives, with particular emphasis on the impact of the actions of family members. Although the title and cover design suggest at first viewing that this book adopts a humorous tone, in fact this compilation is anything but lighthearted. Indeed, the lives of these young adults have been extremely difficult and emotionally painful, including multiple family and personal problems, such as the loss of a parent through divorce or death, physical and mental illness, homosexuality, alcoholism, thieving, abuse, street life, and drug addiction.

     The compilers, two social workers from Toronto, present real lives and events which attempt to validate the experiences, choices, and emotions of those readers who face dire circumstances. In so doing, they aim to provide support and advice, and also to suggest ways in which adults can be helpful in their involvement with such adolescents. The two-page "Introduction" and the brief comments before each story provide a limited, general context. In a four-page "Afterward," a psychiatrist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto acknowledges the painful emotions and implications of such circumstances and recommends some sources of help.

     Although each story is written in the first person, there is a monotonous sameness of voice throughout the collection; consequently, readers who do not personally associate with the stories may lose interest. Furthermore, the somewhat distant tone adopted through retrospection and the level of understanding of their circumstances in hindsight suggest that these young people have received considerable editorial assistance in interpreting and relating their stories. Nonetheless, the accounts tend to ramble, lacking clear thematic or chronological organization.

     One of the most striking commonalities in the life stories is the lengthy duration and severity of the difficulties. Consequently, certain readers may feel even less empowered to extricate themselves from their own difficult circumstances within the immediate future. While the comments of the social workers and the psychiatrist are valuable, they may be insufficient in length, substance and specifics to counterbalance the despair which some teens embroiled in similar events may feel upon reading these accounts. These ten life stories are related by survivors, but their paths have been particularly tortuous due both to external circumstances and to personal decision-making. Some others facing similar situations might be able to find more positive, effective, and timely resolutions to their problems, but such potential variety in paths and outcomes is not included. However, this book may provide invaluable support for some young people, simply in acknowledging by example that others have emerged from difficult times, or continue to survive despite ongoing problems.

     Given the diverse responses which these accounts might engender, it would be prudent for potential purchasers of this book for library purposes to make themselves aware of the tone of the content and to ensure that locally-available individuals and agencies who can provide support are indicated in some way.

Recommended with reservations.

Sheila Alexander is a recent graduate of the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364