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Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir Paperback – March 6, 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Villard; 1 Reprint edition (March 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812974565
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812974560
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #682,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Erlbaum, a columnist for Bust, left her Manhattan home at 15 after her mother reunited with Erlbaum's abusive stepfather. Landing first in a shelter and then a group home, Erlbaum—shattered by her mother's choice—embarks on a treacherous course of self-destruction. Casual sex with a series of brutally uncaring boys coupled with daily drug and alcohol abuse become her antidote to the violence and racism in the child-welfare system housing her. Her isolation and loneliness threaten to swallow her whole. Yet when Erlbaum's mother invites her home (the dreaded stepfather gone for good), things don't improve. Erlbaum has more freedom, which allows more opportunity for trouble. At 17 she leaves again (this time to live with an older boyfriend), becomes addicted to the cocaine so plentiful in the 1980s New York club scene and nearly dies from an overdose. Through Erlbaum's adolescence, she often seems a willing victim. In her chaotic senior year of high school, she begins writing stories, attempting to put the life she's been living into perspective. Her memoir (comparable to Koren Zailckas's Smashed) reads like a neorealist novel. Sharp yet poignant, raw and vivid, it illumines the dirty underside of American girlhood and brings it to harrowing life. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–The author's childhood was not a pleasant one. Her mother's string of abusive boyfriends and husbands had left her with no choice; after her mom kicked her last stepfather out, Erlbaum told her, If you take him back, then I'm leaving. When she was 15, she left her Manhattan home after her mother once again reunited with the man. She spent several weeks in a shelter and eventually ended up in a group home. She had casual, unprotected sex with a string of boys and abused alcohol and drugs. Just over a year after she moved out, she moved back in with her now-single mother, and the book's title (a play on the author's last name) was realized: life as a high school student clashed with the cocaine-fueled club scene of the 1980s. This memoir illustrates the conflicting desires of adolescence–to fit in, to be loved, and to be independent. The writing is concise and engaging, but, most of all, it's honest. Erlbaum doesn't try to excuse her behavior; rather, she analyzes why she went down that self-destructive path and what made her change her ways. Readers will find solace in the knowledge that, despite the lack of structure in her home life, she managed to pull it all together. She worked at an after-school job, starred in a school play, graduated high school, and got into college.–Erin Dennington, Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Is it redundant to write a biography here when I've already written two memoirs? I should probably just say, "[Please see books above.]"

But since we're here:

I was born in New York City, just a few blocks from where I live today. At age 15, I was forced to leave my mentally ill mother's volatile home, and I lived at a shelter for homeless teenagers, then at a group home for bad girls, then with a boyfriend on the Lower East Side. I engaged in typical bad-girl behavior during high school (drugs, sex, lying, cheating, stealing, truancy, more drugs, generally being a jerk), much of which is detailed in my first book, GIRLBOMB: A Halfway Homeless Memoir.

I graduated from my NYC public high school and went on to study Writing at Hunter College. During college, several memoir pieces of mine were published in the alternative weekly New York Press, and I started participating in poetry slams - that's me on the cover of the anthology ALOUD: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café.

I also toured with Lollapalooza as a performance poet (see REVIVAL: Spoken Work from Lollapalooza '94), contributed to the feminist magazine BUST (see THE BUST GUIDE TO THE NEW GIRL ORDER), and appeared on MTV's "Sex in the '90s," pretending to be a lesbian (see YouTube, if you must).

In the meantime, I was researching future memoirs by having terrible relationships with men, toxic friendships with women, and a crazy mother.

There was also a lot of therapy. A LOT.

Ten years later, I was in a stable relationship and a nice apartment and a good place in my life, so I decided to try to wreck it by going back to the shelter where I'd lived as a teenager and volunteering. I got way too enmeshed with one of the residents there, and spent a year of my life in a co-dependent frenzy trying to "save" her, before discovering her insane secret. (Please see my second book, HAVE YOU FOUND HER, for the full story/insane secret.)

Today in late 2014, I remain in a stable relationship and a nice apartment and a good place in my life. I also remain in therapy. It's not a coincidence.

My new novel, I, LIAR, is a work of fiction, but it deals with many of the same real-life issues I've written about in my two memoirs: Addiction, obsession, self-harm, mental illness, women's psychology, fictional lives. It's got competitive women's friendships, crazy moms, and a narrator who may or may not be pretending to be a lesbian. In fact, one of the titles I considered for the book was FAKE BITCH.

I decided to keep that one for Memoir Number Three.

Customer Reviews

It seemed a little slow to me & a little average.
Juanita Harris
Other times, the book feels like an exploration of dumb luck.
Amy Senk
During the book Janice has flashbacks to her past.
William T. Stuart Jr.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Amy Senk VINE VOICE on March 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The book, Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir, tells the story of 15-year-old Jan, whose serially marrying mom has latched onto a real jerk of a man. She finally tells her mom to make the choice: Him or me. And when the mother chooses the guy, Jan goes from heating soup to grabbing her backpack and walking out the door.

She manages to find a shelter, where she stays for several weeks. This is not a sugar-coated story. This is a story of other residents threatening her with knives. Racial tensions. The very young girl who slips away and later is spied at a Port Authority men's room, clearly prostituting herself. Jan bonds with some girls who disappear from her life. It's not a great place to be.

Her next step is a group home, which is slightly better. Except by now, Jan has discovered night clubs and cocaine and cigarettes and booze.

One element to the story that strikes me as so interesting, having never been a homeless teenager on the streets of New York, is how Erlbaum kept her act together. With very little structure in her home, when she had a home, and then living in a shelter, Erlbaum managed to go to high school. She maintained school friends. She was in the school play. She got into college. She eventually had a somewhat longterm and loving relationship with a guy.

But the lifestyle extracted a toll. She had sex with boys she didn't like, much less love. She had drug problems. Her friends were unsupportive. She lied, and she stole.

At times, the book feels like a cautionary tale, a relatively modern-day and truthful Go Ask Alice.

Other times, the book feels like an exploration of dumb luck. You steal from work, but skip going the day they make arrests?
Read more ›
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By luckydave on March 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Articulate, witty, and unassuming, Janice Erlbaum has presented her audience with a masterwork. She guides us through the roughest times of any young woman's life - namely, high school.

Of course, a memoir focusing only on the difficulties of, say, cheating one's way through Chemistry while starring in the Drama Club's Spring production, wouldn't capture us in the way that her "halfway homeless" memoir does. We're invited to tag along as young Janice finds herself alone in Manhattan after following through on an ultimatum given her mother. From a Catholic teen runaway shelter, to an Upper West Side group home, to a Lower East Side studio, Erlbaum illustrates the confusion, the adaptation, the pain and the humor through which she must wade in order to find the girl in the mirror who keeps reminding her that she is still fragile, somewhere behind all the bravery.

"Girlbomb" is a powerful read that will touch teens, mothers, those who've overcome their own personal struggles, and the rest of us, who just like to peer at the trauma and humor that forever mark the lives of the fiercely independent. With this, her first book, Erlbaum has triumphed as neatly in the publishing world as she did years ago in the New York City of the mid-eighties. And best of all, this memoir is verifiably true!
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Format: Hardcover
In her memoir, author Janice Erlbaum take the reader inside her halfway-homeless adolescence on the streets, shelters, squats, and apartments of 1980's New York City. She is candid, unapologetic, and speaks with nary a trace of self-pity. She first ended up in a shelter at age 15 when she carried out her ultimatum to her mom--if mom took back her abusive, manipulative, unemployed, baby-shaking husband, Janice was going to walk out. Janice's childhood to date consisted of a revolving door of boyfriends for mom, losers who would be kicked out and taken back again and again, shifting Janice's role from trusted confidante to sullen, rebellious child at each turn.

Janice, now an accomplished professional writer, relates her story from the perspective of a teenager. She worries about wearing the right clothes to night clubs. She is in a constant tug-of-war with her two best friends, and their relationship suffers all the petty jealousies and misunderstandings of young adulthood. She seeks escapes via alcohol and the hot street drugs of the mid eighties. Not surprisingly, she confuses sex and love, constantly looking for a protective male figure to latch on to.

One striking moment is Janice's identification with Preppie Murder victim Jennifer Levin. Janice reveals the side of the 1980's club kids that the headlines missed. She could identify with trying to fit into the scene, trying to snag the handsome, older scenester (who happens to be a murderer), and to having a moment of drug-fueled lust under a tree in the middle of the night. Janice's revelations make Jennifer Levin seem both less and angelic than the media would like, and far more human as a young girl driven by an overwhelming desire for acceptance and social status.

Janice Erlbaum has gripping subject material, but she is also an excellent storyteller. Don't miss out on learning about a halfway homeless young adulthood from this talented writer.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Satia Renee VINE VOICE on March 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There are moments when you want to just cry but then Erlbaum exposes herself in such a genuine manner, adding her inimitable touch of humor, that you find yourself laughing at the most bizarre circumstances. Which is much like life because sometimes you have to laugh or you are gonna cry--or worse. Thankfully Erlbaum didn't go for worse, learned how to laugh at herself, and dared to share her story with the world. It should be required reading for any young woman trying to make sense of herself, her world, and her life. Why? Well she won't find the answers to the life, universe, or anything . . . but she might find it okay to look at herself in the mirror and smile. Thank you, Janice, for sharing yourself.
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