Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Child Called It - Dave Pelzer

Summary:  A Child Called "It" is the unforgettable story of a child whose courage and unyielding determination enabled him to survive extreme life-threatening odds.

As a child, Dave was brutally beaten and starved by his emotionally unstable, alcoholic mother: a mother who played tortuous games--games that left him, Dave nearly dead. With only his willpower to survive, Dave learned how to play his Mother's sinister games in order to survive because she no longer considered Dave a son but a slave, and no longer a boy but an "It."

Although A Child Called "It" contains situations of mistreatment Dave suffered, it is a real life story of the indomitable human spirit. This gripping account is told through the eyes of a child--who will pay any price in order to succeed.

The first part of a trilogy series*, A Child Called "It" is currently translated in nearly forty languages and has been read by millions throughout the world. As stated by Jack Canfield, co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, Dave is the living example that all of us have the capability to better ourselves no matter what the odds.

One's life is forever changed after living through the eyes of A Child Called "It."  (Summary from official Dave Pelzer website and image from

My Review:  Working in a low SES (poverty) school, I don't know how you can avoid this book.  It seems to be the one book that draws every struggling child in.  I read this book in one swallow.  One very painful gulp.  It took me an entire evening, crying the entire way through, to inhale the horrible details.  Disturbing doesn't begin to describe Dave's experience.  I wish I could say the situation is so outlandish it couldn't be true, but I've seen this type of abuse.  I've seen the half-starved distrust in the eyes of a child, one who doesn't know whether you're friend or foe, or whether today is the end.  I can't imagine trying to read this over a longer period of time.  It's too awful.  I had to rip it off like a bandaid and move on.  (There are people who are contradicting his story--I'll let you research that yourselves.)

What's fascinating is the intense will to survive.  So much of an abused child's life is trying to figure out the current game they are playing: what are the rules now? what are the next steps of their abuser? when is the next meal? when will they actually be able to rest?  So many of us live lives where this kind of non-stop-vigilance is unfathomable, so much so that it would take reading a book like this to fully wrap our heads around it.  I needed it, that's for sure.  I read this before starting my full-time teaching job in a poverty ridden school, and I've never regreted it.  It raised my awareness for the true motives my students might have for some of their actions (pushing the limits constantly, acting out, lying, stealing, sneaking around, having no friends, etc.), actions I couldn't understand from my own experience.  It also gave me greater empathy for my students.  Instead of making snap judgements, one thing I learned was to sit back and watch to make sure that what I saw was what was really happening.

I realize this is on the Banned Book list.  It was challenged regularly at the school I taught at by involved and loving parents.  But, these are the parents of children who don't see this dark side of our society.  I don't believe this book is appropriate for all.  I do think it needs to be something you seriously consider before your child reads it.  That said, sometimes these are the only books that will connect to struggling readers from abusive home lives.  If this validates their lives, how can that be bad?  If this instills in them the love of reading because it is authentic and real, again, how can that be bad?  Just like a certain parenting style is 'right' for you and another is 'right' for another person, doesn't mean either are wrong (think Attachment Parenting vs. Instinctive Parenting).  To me, it is the case with this book.  Additionally, it is incredibly informative for anyone wanting to understand child abuse.

For the sensitive reader:  Parents, please read ahead of time.  Violence towards children, depictions of neglect and profanity.  Definitely disturbing. 

Rating: 4 Stars

Sum it up:  A memoir of an abusive childhood.

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