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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Growing Up Scared, August 20, 2003
By 
This review is from: Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses: A Memoir (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. She simply takes you there and lets you see for yourself how things are. The third placement, also brief, is the most heartbreaking. These people want children, delight in their new girls, and yet suddenly, mysteriously, it's over and the sisters find themselves with their fourth family in three years.
"If we felt any hope that this new situation would be different, then it was the stowaway version, small and pinching as pea gravel in a shoe." The Lindberghs make no secret of their reason for taking in three foster girls. Their daughter, Tina, is an only child and wants siblings. It's that simple. Bub Lindbergh is a big bear of a man, "easy to love," who teaches the girls to ride and gets each of them a pony, while his wife, Hilde, a German immigrant, is prickly and unpredictable. She spoils her "real" daughter and delights in telling perfect strangers the sad history of her foster daughters.
McLain's anger comes through in shock waves of description - hilarious bizarre incidents perpetrated by blotchy, oversize, cartoon character Lindberghs. Interspersed with moments of tenderness, even joy. McLain (her first book of poems, "Less of Her" was published in 1999) is a visual, visceral writer unafraid to mix brutal honesty and laughter. She and her sisters are not easy children and never lose sight of the fact that, unlike other children, they can be cast off at any time, their worldly possessions lumped in a trash bag in the back of the social worker's car. It's a scary way for a child to live.
McLain's memoir is many things: a gut-wrenching portrayal of growing up insecure and longing for love, a celebration of sibling solidarity, a catharsis and a satisfying revenge on people who once had the power, and will recognize themselves as they read. Funny, bleak, angry and winsome, McLain's debut is beautifully written and compulsively readable.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars American foster care nightmare with a bittersweet ending, October 25, 2004
This review is from: Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses: A Memoir (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
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving, compelling, happy and sad., March 7, 2003
By 
Linda Perlstein (Star Tannery, Va.) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses: A Memoir (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
5.0 out of 5 stars couldn't put it down, December 13, 2005
By 
LovingLife "Teya" (Santa Barbara, California) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses: A Memoir (Hardcover)
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
4.0 out of 5 stars Growing up in other people's homes, March 27, 2009
This review is from: Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses: A Memoir (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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars witty, poignant, poetic, March 26, 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses: A Memoir (Hardcover)
This woman got through her grinding childhood with something!
She sure can write!
Like Family is at once witty and poetic, and it rings true at many levels. Some of the descriptions are heart-wrenching in their honesty and vulnerability.
This book ought to be read by anyone who works with children in danger or in bureaucratic systems, for its ability to convey the recurring states of complete confusion and powerlessness that haunt these children.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Are You My Mother?, March 17, 2004
This review is from: Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses: A Memoir (Hardcover)
In this highly descriptive and compelling memoir, Paula McLain shares with us her unstable, inconsistent, yet memorable childhood as a foster child growing up with her two sisters. She also shares her heartbreaking disappointments and adult perspective. I breathed a sigh of relief when I finished the book, knowing that Paula and her sisters reached adulthood and made better lives for themselves than their biological parents.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars eloquent, wise, absorbing--and tough, April 27, 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses: A Memoir (Hardcover)
Like Family is a beautifully written story of a childhood shorn of the protections and comforts that family ought to offer. McLain's finely rendered prose captures her experience vividly and paints rather than explains the hard, fragmented life she and her sisters were forced to lead in the California foster care system after her father left them and then her mother went to the movies and never came back. It reminds us how the idiotic passions and tragic weaknesses of adults can cause a train wreck of a childhood--and how a brilliant young girl with a sense of humor and a resiliant spirit can nonetheless survive, hold onto her sisters, and write a magnificent book. I read it without stopping, gobbling it down like stolen chocolate cake, and then turned around and read the whole book again,just for the joy of the language. Even though it is a hard-edged story, and sometimes I even wept a little, McLain is really very funny, too. And the soundtrack for the movie is going to be great. This book is destined to be a classic.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrible Story Wonderfully Written, December 27, 2004
By 
This review is from: Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses: A Memoir (Hardcover)
What sad, sad childhoods the three sisters in Like Family had. This compelling tale may break your heart or inspire you to become a GOOD foster parent; what it won't do is leave you unmoved. Read this beautifully written book and weep.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses, February 28, 2005
A Kid's Review
This review is from: Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses: A Memoir (Hardcover)
Paula McLain's Like Family is a riveting story of three girls' lives as they move from one house to another in the Fresno, California foster care system. Many altering factors lead to the girls' entry in the foster system, including the imprisonment of their father, the abandonment by their mom, and the incapability of their grandma to take care of them for long. The girls deal with many different obstacles in their foster homes including strict rules, sexual exploitation, and deprivation of water! The life-altering events are written in extremely descriptive and graphic detail that capture the reader's attention and don't let go. I'm not normally a reader of non-fiction novels; I generally find more interest in fiction books. However, as soon as I opened this book to the first page, I discovered that even non-fiction books could be entertaining and enjoyable. I couldn't put the book down, from start to finish. It was a dramatic, funny, emotional book that I would recommend to any girl or woman (Guys wouldn't like it much, I'm sure!).
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Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses: A Memoir
Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses: A Memoir by Paula McLain (Hardcover - Mar. 2003)
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