A clear, calm, journalistic approach to your own life? Hard to achieve, but Rhodes-Courter did. This memoir is one of those books that isn’t so much about the way it’s written as what it’s written about.
It’s about being a foster child available for adoption (eventually, when somebody noticed and the system got around to it) and winning the adoption lottery, because the parents who adopt you don’t “return” you, even when you put pills in their wine. (Read it; it’s kind of like horror comedy except these were real people coping with the moment.)
The descriptions of how Ashley felt at a young age of course have to come later, so they often have an adult spin put into a child’s word. Which gives it a kind of awkward clarity that’s really helpful if you’re trying to get to the core of the feelings involved. The chronological development of Ashley’s awareness of what kind of rabbit hole she’s fallen down is really described well, because she’s been there done that and chooses straightforward language to depict the twists, turns, and funhouse mirrors.
It is no small thing to turn a maze into a straight line and still let the readers understand what the maze was like. This is that kind of book – no poetics, no histrionics, just the feelings behind the facts. It’s also built on a moment that pretty much sets the tone for the whole book: those three little words are not, in the first instance, “I love you.” Which gives the memoir a lot of its power to help us understand what it means to learn to trust when you’ve seen so little reason for trusting.
An insightful, thought-provoking book, not overly sentimental and not given to voyeurism, is unusual in the growing field of “I was a……” true life books. Good for Ms. Rhodes-Courter. And good for those who want to understand what this strange, broken world of child “protection” looks like these days.