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Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses, a Memoir Paperback – May 5, 2004

11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"What makes LIKE FAMILY so remarkable are not the peculiar circumstances of Paula McLain's childhood but the depth of understanding that she brings to those circumstances, and the beautiful prose in which she renders that understanding. Seldom have I seen so vividly evoked the need to belong to some, any, kind of family and the painful negotiations that time brings to even our closest intimacies." (Library Journal Margot Livesey, author of Eva Moves the Furniture 2003-01-00)

"Ms. McLain's close observation of the sisters' perils jumps with life and wry merriment. They take their pleasures and their sorrows as they arrive; even their times of desolation are narrated in language that conveys a kind of ragged glory-the tattered flag of their kinship still waves!" (Paula Fox, author of Borrowed Finery)

About the Author

After leaving California in 1987, Paula McLain spent the next decade in personal and professional vagabondage. She has worked in auto plants and hospitals and has been a cocktail waitress, a Christmas tree salesperson, a pizza maker, and an English teacher. In 1996, she received her MFA from the University of Michigan. Since then she has been in residence at Bread Loaf, Yaddo and The MacDowell Colony. At work on a novel, she lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books (May 5, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316909092
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316909099
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,627,769 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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 lives with her family in Cleveland.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Patricia Charpentier on September 9, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
McLain writes a honest portrayal of her life as she grew up in the foster care system, but her book goes far beyond that one topic. It is also a book on coming of age, sisterly love and finding bits of joy in unlikely places. McClain is a master of fresh writing. On page after page, I highlighted lines and descriptions that were so beautifully written: They filled the furniture like rising dough, She was as quiet as a book on a lap,...emitted a postlaugh sigh that was a half leaking bicycle tire. I've been helping people write their life stories for fourteen years, (Eating an Elephant: Write Your Life One Bite at a Time) and I will certainly use this book as an example of how to tell a difficult story in a rich and vibrant way.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Tammy Herrin on January 1, 2015
Format: Paperback
I loved this book! This is real life, this isn't a soap opera. You're talking about a girl who spent most of her childhood being shuffled from one house to the next. Of course she is detached from the story, but it's a defense mechanism. Those readers don't understand the attachment issues foster kids have, especially the ones that age out of the system, may not be able to relate to the main character.

As a reader, I myself felt detached from the story. While I am usually very emotional when reading, I only cried once during the book. However, then I got to the end. I closed the book, and I cried. I cried realizing that she will never be able to just "get over" all the terrible things she went through. I cried knowing that she will never find closure because her past is still very much her present. I cried knowing that even if she ever asked her mom all those questions that were left unanswered, it wouldn't make a difference. There's no answer her mom could give her to make the scars go away. Nothing she could say that would make her childhood any less traumatic.

It's stories like this that have led my husband and I to start our lives as foster parents. No child should ever go through life feeling like they don't belong to anyone, or feeling unloved. Regardless if we have a child in our house for a month, a year, or forever, we will love them as our own. Giving a child that sense of peace and security when their whole world has been turned upside down can make all the difference. I only wish there were more foster parents out there who were doing it for the right reasons.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By JAScribbles on January 19, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Many times memoirs take on a heavy, philosophical tone. They are so insightful that we lose the fresh, honest conveying memories. The story may be about a young child, but the writing is too mature or preachy - not in this book. Paula's young voice, fears, and dreams came through in a simple, childlike voice. The little things mattered - bedspreads, a tone of voice, hugs or lack of. The littlest of things matter most to children. For some, they mean everything - life, love, who they are.

This is a sad story that is told in honest and simple terms. It is powerful without being wordy. It's a touching tale about one girl trying to find a place to belong.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By SuperReader on September 1, 2013
Format: Paperback
In this memoir, the author just tells her story like it was, without a lot of deep thought, until the end.

This is one of those books where no part of it just drags on and on. She tells a story and then moves on to another.

It always breaks my heart to read about mothers who throw their children to the wolves, which is what this author's mother did. And her father, and other family members. As much as I almost hate to admit it, I was glad to see that Paula didn't just forgive her mother as easily as her sisters seemed to. Some people don't deserve that. Her mother is one of them.

I cried at the end (while at work!) reading the parts of the book where the author talks about not knowing when her Granny died, or being able to find her house. I even cried when she talked about her foster mother, who was mean to her, dying.

Overall, I really enjoyed writing this book. I rarely judge memoirs harshly because they contain the author's story to tell. No one else's.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Liz on March 22, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Enjoyed the author's insights into the foster care system that were handled with sensitivity and humor. Was happy to know the ' rest of story'. Reading about --- not only how the sisters lives have progressed --- but also the mother's side of the event.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By S Gustafson on July 14, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Memoir is a hard genre to write, and this one does not capture my interest as a reader. Perhaps the writer did not have enough distance from the events, or the writer just couldn't say the hard things that needed to be said because of a fear of hurting family members still alive? The memoir just falls flat.
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