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Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses: A Memoir Hardcover – March 1, 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown; 1 edition (March 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316597422
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316597425
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,242,197 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The teenage years are trying for many, but they're downright hellish for those abandoned by their parents and shuffled from foster home to foster home. Such is the painfully obvious message of McLain's memoir. Sparing no harsh details, McLain recounts the 15-year span during the 1970s and early '80s when she and her sisters endured all sorts of hardships at the hand of so-called parents, even including sexual and physical abuse. The girls never felt accepted by or connected to anyone, and these identity conflicts only amplified their normal teenage insecurities. McLain has won recognition for her poetry from the NEA and with a grant from the Academy of American Poets for her first book, Less of Her. She displays her poetic inclinations with florid descriptions of every person and place she encountered and concrete illustrations of her feelings. Recalling the first uncomfortable moment upon entering the first strange house as an eight-year-old, she writes, "the distance between the door and the couch seemed vast and unnavigable, like the distance between Baretta and dinner, evening and morning, tomorrow and next week. We sat down." Although McLain's constant embellishments and fixation on superfluous character development detract from a consistent narrative thread, this is a brave account, evidently cathartic for the author and occasionally difficult for the reader.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

A real-life White Oleander: McLain's 14 years in foster care.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Paula McLain was born in Fresno, California in 1965. After being abandoned by both parents, she and her two sisters became wards of the California Court System, moving in and out of various foster homes for the next fourteen years. When she aged out of the system, she supported herself by working as a nurses aid in a convalescent hospital, a pizza delivery girl, an auto-plant worker, a cocktail waitress--before discovering she could (and very much wanted to) write. She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996. Since then, she has received fellowships from the corporation of Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Ucross Foundation, the Ohio Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her first book of poetry, Less of Her, was published in 1999 from New Issues Press and won a publication grant from the Greenwall Fund of the Academy of American Poets. She's also the author of a second collection of poetry, Stumble, Gorgeous, a memoir, Like Family: Growing Up In Other People's Houses, and the novel, A Ticket to Ride. Her most recent book is The Paris Wife, a fictional account of Ernest Hemingway's first marriage and upstart years in 1920's Paris, as told from the point of view of his wife, Hadley. She teaches in the MFA Program in Poetry at New England College, and lives with her family in Cleveland.

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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Read this beautifully written book and weep.
Belinda Dickman
Ms. McLain takes full responsibility as an adult to have her own life work, even with the vestiges of her childhood forever present.
LovingLife
McLain's fluid prose captures the reader with its immediacy; its sense of urgency and its intimacy.
Lynn Harnett

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on August 20, 2003
Format: Hardcover
A couple of months after their feckless, volatile father lands in jail, Mom drops the three girls off at Granny's one evening and doesn't come back for 16 years. Paula, age 4, and her sisters, Teresa, 6, and Penny, 3, prove too much for the old lady and enter into a long and rocky relationship with the Fresno, CA, foster care system.
Paula McLain's harrowing memoir of growing up among strangers who may or may not become family teems with complex, shifting emotions. Chief among them, especially in the early years, is fear, and the yearning to belong to a family, any family. But that was not to be. Not quite anyway. McLain's fluid prose captures the reader with its immediacy; its sense of urgency and its intimacy. This is a page-turner with real orphan children to root for.
It never seems to occur to the girls, as it does to the reader, that they could be separated. But they never are, which is the saving grace of stability that runs through their Dickensian childhood. Their first brief placement ends with a charge of thievery, but their second is a mystery. The Clapps are wealthy and their children are grown. Mrs. Clapp has no humor and no affection. Her rules and routines are rigid and she is fanatically house proud.
One rainy day after school, the girls slosh through puddles to the car. "Just as we got to the Cadillac, the sky started to drop hail like frozen BBs. Mrs. Clapp sat behind the wheel in her lavender rabbit-fur coat, her dry fingers toying with the door lock as though it were a chess piece, deciding whether she would let us into the car. We'd ruin it, we would."
So what does she want with three little girls? This is not McLain's question; it's the reader's, and McLain never comes out with the horrifying answer, either.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kristin J. Johnson VINE VOICE on October 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Poet Paula McLain's memoir of growing up among foster families because of her ex-con unreliable father, and a mother who took off for the movies for sixteen years, is an American tragedy with a bittersweet ending.

McLain's characters, the people she meets during her harrowing journey through a foster-care system increasingly gone mad, are both abusive and pitiable, criminally unfit to be their own children's parents, and yet as adrift as Paula and her two sisters, Penny and Teresa. McLain's prose is a long-overdue love letter to her wry, spunky, strong personality, the children and families rebelliously proud of their differences in mainstream America, the love coming from real parenting such as McLain's father's ex-wife Donna, McLain's churchgoing Granny, and the kindly Fredericksons, a foster family for the McLain girls, the forgotten Americana of the 1960's and 1970's, the heartbreak of teenage girls looking for love in sexual embraces, and most of all, the unbreakable bond between McLain and her sisters, Penny and Teresa, who are as fascinating as she is.

Even McLain's absent mother, who returns miraculously out of the blue, as often happens in real life, gets sympathetic treatment. A brilliant, complex memoir.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Linda Perlstein on March 7, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Paula McLain has a way with words. And a way with sentences, paragraphs, ideas and pictures. She tells the story of her and her sisters' foster childhood with fantastic descriptions, but at the same time there is a surprising matter-of-factness that parallels what, sadly enough, a child feels as she lives through these kinds of experiences. A lovely, touching book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By LovingLife on December 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Paula McLain's account of her childhood is compelling reading. I am deeply concerned with the dismal state of the foster care system and the impact of it on our community's children. I have also been a foster parent. Ms. McLain's writing is powerful and personal, a beautiful and touching memoir allowing the rest of us to experience the abysmal consequences of parenting taken too lightly (by biological parents or misguided fosters or officials entrusted with responsibility). The reader does not have to have a specific interest in this topic to be moved and gain value and insight. Ms. McLain takes full responsibility as an adult to have her own life work, even with the vestiges of her childhood forever present. No whining here, which makes it all the more powerful. A quick read, highly recommended.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Joanna Mechlinski VINE VOICE on March 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Having entered the foster system at age 4 with her two small sisters, Paula McLain spent the next 14 years bouncing from family to family -- never quite fitting in, or feeling like she was "home."

With Teresa, a year and a half older, and Penny, not quite a year younger, Paula suffered emotional, physical and sexual abuse in the various houses she stayed throughout the '70s and '80s. She also struggled to understand precisely why her biological parents had given her and her sisters up -- her father, in between jail stints and remarriages, would mysteriously resurface time to time; although her mother would vanish for nearly 16 years after dropping the girls at their grandmother's to go on a date. Similarly, Paula wondered, why would strangers want the girls -- they weren't perfect. Could they possibly hope to one day find parents who would really love them? Or were people just taking them for the money?

McLain utilizes a strong mix of evocative language, combined with plain language -- unlike others in her position might, she conveys no self-pity, only a statement of facts. Her story is like that of countless other foster children, yet unique and gripping.
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