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VINE VOICEon March 17, 2006
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? You leave home, become "halfway homeless," but manage to score a leading role in the school play and get into college? You leave your friends, and by minutes you miss the guy having the mishap that leaves him in a coma?

Sometimes the book seems to rise above the specific matter of Erlbaum, New York City and homeless youths. I personally felt the book echo in my soul. The issues of sexuality, of confusion, of friendships, parent-child relationships, of high school reputations and repercussions could have been my issues in the suburban Midwest in the same era.

I kept having this sense of deep memories being shaken loose. I used to get fed up, wanted to run away, get out, go to New York and try things on my own. In Girlbomb, I see what I would have been up against.

I didn't know whether I would have been friends with young Janice, or been terribly afraid of her.

She wasn't always the sweetest and nicest girl, the true-blue friend or the ideal daughter. It's an honest book, one that neither apologizes nor brags about the facts.

Let's not forget this: When we read a book where the subject is so compelling, it's very easy to overlook the writing. When we talk about this book, we tend to discuss the story, the social implications, the woman who is now Janice Erlbaum.

We rarely talk about the actual prose. And to me, this is a sign that the writing is perfection. The writing doesn't stand in the way of Erlbaum's story, doesn't lend a false air or a sense of melodrama. It's vivid, concise, humorous, conversational. It's not showy or overwrought.

This is a book I highly recommend. If you have teen-age daughters, you might read it and consider whether they ought to read it, too.

I'm not just saying this because she's my friend. This is truly one of the best memoirs I've ever read.
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on March 14, 2006
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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on September 12, 2006
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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VINE VOICEon March 12, 2006
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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on March 20, 2006
When a writer can compel you to read on with seeming ease, when you can recognize something of yourself in each of her characters, when dialogue rings true every time, when the writing is clear and insightful, you know you're dealing with a genuine talent. Every page of this memoir of living on the streets of New York City in the 1980s rings true, and rings powerfully due to the forthrightness of Erlbaum in telling the details of her story, and her directness in expressing it.

If I were all thumbs, I'd give it 10 thumbs up!
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on July 23, 2006
Girlbomb is an amazing book, and I highly recommend it. The fact that it is a memoir by Janice Erlbaum is great because it really gives you a hands on perspective of the main character. As a female, I was able to relate to Elrbaum on so many levels. Yes she was going through a great deal, but at the core she was a teenage girl, experiencing life as we all do. Not to downplay anything she went through, because honestly I don't know how I would have been in her situation, but as I said she is easy to relate to. Reading this book, I went through an array of emotions...from anger, to happiness, to vulnerability, to love, to name it, you'll find it in Girlbomb. When I realized the book was coming to a close I was sad because I wanted to read more!!! Again, I gove this a million thumbs up. I was lucky enough to meet Janice Elrbaum and she is as real as her book, she is an amazing author, and I look forward to reading anything else she may come out with. So go and put this in your shopping cart, you won't regret it!!!
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on April 26, 2006
I read Girlbomb in one sitting this weekend. It was amazingly familiar in that way that relatable stories can be. For me, every description of every street corner was as close as my own memory and it was, at times, uncomfortably, familiar. Reading Janice Erlbaum's recollections and descriptions called to mind the smells, sounds, and heat of New York in that time; small, cramped, under serviced apartments, Cuban salsa music blasting up from streets below. I spent those same 80s living and working in the neighborhoods of the book, spending all of my lunch hours in Washington Square Park and all of my evenings at CBGBs, the Pyramid, or a little Russian coffee shop that I can not recall the name of just now. Janice Erlbaum captures it all perfectly. And on top of that, on top of the completely mesmerizing stories of her struggling teen self, she highlights the sad, dead end, and sometimes hopeless existence of the teen runaway, even if she hasn't run that far. The fear of homelessness and the wrenching realization that one small girl is totally and completely on her own before she's built the coping skills to navigate the harshness of life is palpable and fear-inducing. The helplessness of teens with nowhere else to go, no one else to turn to and no real, long-lasting systems in place to help them is as much a problem in Erlbaum's book as it continues to be today. If everyone who reads this book, donates a dollar to Covenant House or a similar shelter in their own towns and cities, perhaps we can help eradicate the plight of the exploited teens across the country or, at least, create for them a little comfort in a cruel world.
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on October 14, 2013
I had high hopes for this book, maybe too high. I wish I could give it 2 1/2 stars, because the first half wasn't that bad, besides it not being written very well. By itself I would have given it a three. The second half, was very unbelievable- I know it's supposed to be a true story- and it could well be- but the way it was written, the gaps in plot, with a lot of missing feeling, made it hard for me to believe. I feel there was a lot left out that needed to be included.
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on June 19, 2006
WOw! what can I say about this book? that has not already been discussed.

An honest, down to earth memoir about a girl who looked at her life in a realistic and selfless way. No pity party going on here. The writing style is direct and to the point and there is no gratuitous scenes just to make this book "better".

I don't know if I would have survived this world, but I am so glad that the author did and that she wrote her story.

Buy It.!!!
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on March 16, 2006 conjunction with this memoir, and I don't think you can state that enough about Erlbaum's inaugural effort. A product of an unsafe home in Brookyn, Erlbaum boke away from domestic strife as a 15-year-old and ran headlong into the clutches of institutional homelessness. The book 'Girlbomb' begins with her escape, and the author takes us on a New York odyssey of bad sex, drugs, petit larceny, violence... all the 'good stuff' anyone could want from a memoir about street life. Erlbaum's language is crisp, her pacing is swift, and she had a gift for deft characterization. A very high recommendation, especially if you're looking to wash the taste of Frey/Leroy out of your mouth.
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