Have You Found Her: A Memoir

Have You Found Her: A Memoir

4.2 17
by Janice Erlbaum
     
 

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And every week, there was the unspoken question, the one I didn’t know enough to ask myself : Have you found her yet? The one who reminds you of you?

Twenty years after she lived at a homeless shelter for teens, Janice Erlbaum went back to volunteer. Now thirty-four years old and a successful writer, she’d changed her life for the better; now

Overview

And every week, there was the unspoken question, the one I didn’t know enough to ask myself : Have you found her yet? The one who reminds you of you?

Twenty years after she lived at a homeless shelter for teens, Janice Erlbaum went back to volunteer. Now thirty-four years old and a successful writer, she’d changed her life for the better; now she wanted to help someone else–someone like the girl she’d once been.

Then she met Sam. A brilliant nineteen-year-old junkie savant, the product of a horrifically abusive home, Sam had been surviving alone on the streets since she was twelve and was now struggling for sobriety against the adverse health effects of long-term drug abuse.

Soon Janice found herself caring deeply for Sam, following her through detoxes and psych wards, halfway houses and hospitals, becoming ever more manically driven to save her from the sickness and sadness leftover from Sam’s terrible past. But just as Janice was on the verge of becoming the girl’s legal guardian, she made a shocking discovery: Sam was sicker than anyone knew, in ways nobody could have imagined.

Written with startling candor and immediacy, Have You Found Her is the story of one woman’s quest to save a girl’s life–and the hard truths she learns about herself along the way.

“A rich and compelling account . . . Ultimately this is a book about the narrator’s journey and the dangers that attend the urge within us all to believe we can save another soul. A terrific read.”
–Cammie McGovern, author of Eye Contact


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In winter 2004, 34-year-old Erlbaum (Girlbomb) volunteered at the shelter where she herself had lived as a teenager. Dubbed "The Bead Lady" by the residents, she hefted a large, rattling bag of beadworking supplies to the cafeteria once a week, hoping to reach out to a younger version of herself over jewelry-making sessions-to "believe in them and listen to them," as her volunteer-orientation videotape had instructed. When she met Samantha, a charismatic 19-year-old addict with an unyielding resilience in spite of a horrific childhood, Erlbaum knew she'd found a favorite. Though Sam had been on the streets since age 12, she was well read and quite gifted as a writer-a prodigy, it seemed. The two quickly developed a friendship, which deepened over the next several months as Erlbaum comforted Sam through health problems, abuse flashbacks and rehab, promising her a trip to Disney World if she stayed sober. Erlbaum was determined to save Sam and even offered to become her legal guardian. Erlbaum realized that, at times, details in Sam's backstory didn't add up (she was a skilled classical pianist), but these incongruities raised only the occasional, short-lived suspicion. Finally, Erlbaum realized Sam had been lying to her all along (she actually came from a sold middle-class suburb and hadn't had the childhood she described), snookering her out of her time, attention and affection for a year. Erlbaum's narrative begins promisingly, her savior fantasies and insecurities rendered with honesty and self-effacing good humor. However, her conclusions fall flat, missing opportunities to ponder larger issues at work in the story and opting instead for a mere cautionary tale.(Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

In her highly acclaimed Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir, Erlbaum detailed her experiences as a troubled adolescent who had spent more than a year in New York City's shelter system in the 1980s. In this follow-up memoir, she is now a confident and successful 34-year-old writer who's gotten her act together, complete with a committed romantic relationship. Wanting to give something back, she decides to volunteer at the same homeless shelter at which she herself had stayed 20 years earlier. There, she meets "Sam," a brilliant but troubled 19-year-old who reminds her of her earlier self. Despite admonitions from the professionals running the shelter, Erlbaum becomes more and more deeply involved in Sam's life. Just as she is about to become Sam's legal guardian, the story takes a sharp turn for the worse, revealing new and deeper problems of which no one had been aware. This compelling and fast-paced memoir reads like a novel while providing an inside look at American social problems. Recommended for public libraries and a possible purchase for academic libraries. [Visit the author online at girlbomb.com.-Ed.]
—Alison M. Lewis

School Library Journal

Adult/High School -Twenty years after spending time in a New York City shelter, Erlbaum returned as a volunteer, bearing beads for crafts therapy and a desire to make a difference. Breaking the rule against playing favorites among residents, she found a kindred spirit in tragic, brilliant Sam. Erlbaum giddily forged a connection with the teen, discussing books and philosophy; feeling outrage at her tales of parental abuse, drugs, and life on the streets; and acting as an advocate to get Sam the help she needed. During Sam's multiple stays in the hospital for increasingly serious infections, Erlbaum encouraged her to focus on getting well and into rehab, spending hours next to hospital beds and on the phone, taking time away from work and her partner. An AIDS diagnosis intensified the strong feelings Erlbaum was developing for Sam and set the ball of discovery rolling as she realized that the girl, who had almost become an adopted daughter, was not what she seemed. Throughout, Erlbaum is honest about her own motives; she mocks her own selfish drive to be important. The chatty narrative, heartrending and funny, is full of dialogue reconstructed from journals; the writing is unobtrusively good and compulsively readable. Teens who enjoy gritty reality like James Frey's A Million Little Pieces (Doubleday, 2003) or the twisted humor of Augusten Burroughs's Running with Scissors (St. Martins, 2002) will race through this one and come back for Erlbaum's chronicle of her own unstable past, Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir (Villard, 2006).-Jenny Gasset, Orange County Public Library, CA

Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Riveting true story of a runaway and the devastating lies she tells. In her mid-30s, Erlbaum (Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir, 2006) was on the brink of happiness. Her boyfriend had just moved in, and her career as a writer was burgeoning. But she had never entirely dealt with the trauma of her past. To properly exorcise her childhood demons, she started volunteering at the New York City shelter that helped save her life when she was a teenage runaway. There she met 19-year-old Samantha Dunleavy, "a tall, rangy white girl with a shaggy mop of brown hair" who told stories about traveling the country with her meth-cooking father and junkie mother, who forced her daughter to hustle when money was tight. Sam had amazing talents: She wrote metered poetry, made casual references to astrophysics and could hold intelligent conversations about books and philosophers. Erlbaum fell in love with this "junkie savant." Despite all the rules-"No favorites. And no buying them stuff," the counselors warned-she served as Sam's coolheaded mentor, steady through desperate phone calls and late-night pleas. Erlbaum was there by Sam's side when the accident-prone girl wound up in the hospital: a broken wrist, then sepsis, then the psych ward, rehab, pneumonia, meningitis and a slew of subsequent medical problems. Soon, the force of Sam's neediness began to overwhelm Erlbaum's life; even her wedding plans were shadowed by the specter of her young friend's life-threatening ailments. Desperate to find Sam appropriate medical help, the author uncovered a jaw-dropping secret that turned everything preceding its discovery into one giant question mark. What started out as a memoir becomes a disturbing, fascinatingdetective story. Erlbaum treats her troubled subject with humanity, sensitivity and care, making this an intensely rich reading experience. Agent: Alice Martell/Martell Agency

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780345504593
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/12/2008
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
244,456
File size:
593 KB

Read an Excerpt

Have You Found Her A Memoir


By Janice Erlbaum Villard Copyright © 2008 Janice Erlbaum
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780812974577

Chapter One
How I Became the Bead Lady

It’s a Wednesday evening in late May, and
I’m at the shelter for my weekly workshop, which is officially listed on
the calendar as “Jewelry Making with Janice.” This has been my
shtick for the past two and a half years—every Wednesday evening, I
come uptown to the shelter, and I sit around for a few hours with the
girls of the Older Females Unit making beaded bracelets and necklaces
and earrings. I am known, colloquially, as “Bead Lady,” as in,
“Bead Lady, you got more alphabet beads this week? ’Cause last
week you was runnin’ outa vowels.”

All of the volunteers here have a shtick. Some teach ballet, some
lead prayer circles; theater groups come in to do presentations about
conflict resolution. Out-of-town church choirs give concerts. The Junior
League, a group of young professional women committed to volunteerism,
sends representatives once a week to lead workshops
about things like prenatal health and budgeting. One guy comes in
and supervises pickup basketball games in the gym. There’s a guy
named Carl who’s been volunteering on the Older Females Unit for
the past fifteen years—a white guy, mousy,quiet, and kind. I have no
idea what his shtick is, but the girls seem to like him.
They don’t like everybody. I guess when I started, I thought the
girls would be so grateful for any kind of sympathy or attention that
they’d fall all over the volunteers, but I’ve seen them turn their backs
on a lot of people, watched them size up a bunch of white women in
high-heeled shoes, out to do their annual Good Deed for the Poor
Little Black Girls, and seen them “put it on frost,” as they say, ice up
like snowmen. Because the girls at the shelter do not want your charity.
They did not ask you to come stare at them with your pity, like
they’re some fucked-up zebras at the zoo. They know you have some
reason of your own for coming, whether it’s to burn off your bourgeois
guilt, spread the word of Jesus, or pad your résumé—you’ve got
your shtick, and then you’ve got your angle. What are you doing here,
the girls want to know. Slumming?
They’ll still ask me that, directly or indirectly, the new ones who
haven’t met me before—and there are always new ones, every week.
Every Wednesday evening, I’m missing a few girls from the weeks
before (“Where’s Angela? Where’s Zuzu? Where’s Grenada?”), and
there’s a fresh crop of intakes, girls who watch me warily as I dump
my bead supplies on the table in the lounge.
“What’s this?” they ask, skeptical.
“We’re going to make jewelry. You want to make some?”
Invariably: “Is it free?”
“Yeah, it’s free. You can make earrings, or a necklace, or a
bracelet.”
“What about all three?”
That’s when I know I’ve got them. “You can make all three,” I tell
them, smiling. “If you’ve got the patience, I’ve got the time.”
“All right then.” And the chairs scrape back, and I’ll have a table
full of girls sitting with me, just like that, asking for a string “big
enough for my man’s wrist” or “small enough for my baby.”
And soon enough, if it’s an all- or mostly new crowd, between
talking about popular music and cell phone plans and whether or not
you can tell the sex of a baby-to-be by the changing breadth and flatness
of the mother’s nose, the subject will eventually come up: “Miss,
Bead Lady, why you come here like this?”
As it has tonight. Tonight’s asker is a butch girl of about nineteen,
wearing an oversized hockey jersey in black and red, extra-large baggy
jeans belted around the upper thighs, do-rag over her braids, and
cork-sized fake diamond studs in each ear. She is making a blackand-
red bracelet, Blood colors. I always try to dissuade the girls from
making gang beads, to no avail. The bracelet has alphabet beads that
spell rip pookie.
I concentrate on daubing a finished knot with glue. The glue
won’t keep the cheap elastic from snapping, ultimately, but it will
forestall its demise. “Well,” I say, without looking up. “I used to live
here when I was a kid.”
“For real?” asks the butch girl, eyebrows high. “You lived here?”
“Huh,” murmurs someone else. Another girl at the end of the
table elbows her neighbor, Are you listening to this?
I keep my eyes on the knot, blow on the glue. “Yep. When I was
fifteen, I got sick of living with my mother’s husband, so I left home,
and I came here. I was in the minors’ wing for about two months,
then they helped me get into a group home, and I lived there for
about a year.”
“I hate my mother’s husband, too,” offers the girl to my left, the
one with the tattoo of a bleeding rose on her left boob. She hands me
an earring in need of a hook.
“Fuck all of them,” agrees the butch in the hockey jersey, and
turns her attention back to me. “So, wait—so things was messed up at
home, and you came here, and then they hooked you up, and then
things got better? Things is good with you now?”
I bend the hook with my pliers, smiling to myself. Succinctly, yes.
“Things are very good with me now. And I’m really grateful to this
place for helping me get to a place where I can say that.”
She leans back, nods. “So that’s how come you came back.”
I return the hooked earring to the girl with the bloody-rose tattoo,
and she holds it up to her ear, flips her head back and forth like America’s
Next Top Model, emits a little squeal of pleasure. “Pretty much,”
I say.
“That’s crazy,” decrees a girl at the end of the table, pale and
haughty, with traces of a Spanish accent. “No offense, miss, but when
I get outa here, I am never coming back. Never.”
“That’s understandable,” I tell her. “I didn’t come back for almost
twenty years.”
“So what made you decide to come back, then?” asks the butch
girl.
Well, okay. This is a question I’ve asked myself over and over, ever
since I walked through that door again—What made me decide to
come back here, goddamn it? I’d successfully managed to avoid this
place for nineteen years, though I never left New York, never lived
farther than a subway ride away. After purposely staying away for so
long, why did I decide to return to the scene of the crime? Why
couldn’t I just leave well enough alone?
Two and a half years later, I still don’t know the answer. Survivor’s
guilt, I could say, or, because I want to help make a difference. But really,
it was something more selfish than that, something I still can’t
name.
I cut another bracelet length of elastic string, triple-knotting the
end.
“Well, you know how it is,” I tell her, smiling. “I missed the company.”
I’m interested in volunteering here because I’m a former resident of the
shelter, and I want to give something back to the place that helped save
my life.
That’s what I wrote on my application almost two and a half years
ago, back in the winter of 2004, when I was all fresh and dewy-eyed. It
had been nineteen years since I’d been inside the building, since the
day I’d left the shelter for the group home, my donated bag full of donated
clothes, a skull and crossbones drawn in eyeliner on my temple,
ready to impress my new roommates with my hard-core stories about
stabbings and lesbians and twelve-year-old hoes. See you, wouldn’t
want to be you. Anymore.
Then there I was again, age thirty-four, in my pinstriped pants
and my good-enough shoes, sitting around the conference table in
the volunteer department with my paperwork in front of me, sneaking
looks at the other prospective candidates: a young white girl with
her hair in braids, looking to earn college credit; a woman in her forties,
also going for college credit; and a bald, muscular guy with a big
tense grin. When the volunteer coordinator asked him why he was interested
in volunteering, he grinned so hard he almost broke a sweat.
“I love kids!” he exclaimed. “I’ve been a foster parent, and I’m
really . . . I love kids. Wanna help ’em out.” Grin, grin.
Creep, I decided, for no good reason. Child molester. It was something
about the muscles; I could picture him shirtless, screaming at
his foster kids while he made them do push-ups. He grinned at me,
and I smiled back weakly.
The volunteer coordinator put on a videotape about the shelter.
“Our crisis center serves two to three thousand kids every year,” said
the narrator. “Without us, they have few alternatives besides the
streets.” One black-and-white photo of a sober-faced kid dissolved
into another: kids leaning against walls, kids lying curled up on the
sidewalk. Then the happy kids, the shelter kids, in color, with smiles
and graduation robes. The music swelled. “With your help,” the narrator
urged, “we can make a difference in their lives. We can give
them more than just food and shelter—we can give them hope.”
Had this place given me hope? I tried to remember. I remembered
the food: white bread, cereal, and milk in the morning; bologna sandwiches
for lunch; meat loaf and mashed potatoes out of the box for dinner.
SpaghettiOs, canned vegetables, vanilla pudding. Never enough
of any of it. I remembered the narrow metal bed frame, and the
scratchy industrial sheets, and the bathroom I shared with six other
girls; I remembered the paneled drop ceiling over my bed. I remembered
the three dollars a week they gave us for spending money, and
how every Friday night the counselors would open up the supply cabinet
and hand out douches, one for every girl.
I remembered the douches. I didn’t know if I remembered the
hope.
I frowned, trying to concentrate, but it was distracting, being back
in the building again after all that time, the same building I’d dreaded
and dreamed of for years after I left. That smell—cinder blocks and
construction paper, the ragged, musty, wall-to-wall carpeting, the
heat coming through radiators thick with cracked paint—it hit me
like an old song. Right. The night I came here was windy, it was November;
I was fifteen years old. I walked through those doors downstairs,
went into that office I passed earlier, and talked to my very first
nun, who said, “You can stay here, for now, and we’ll find you a place
to live.”
There was another nun on the videotape now, saying, “Your first
responsibility with these young people is to listen. First and foremost,
you have to listen to them, and you have to take what they say seriously.
And they may not always be telling the truth—in many cases,
they won’t be; they don’t know how. But even if you don’t believe the
facts of what they’re saying, you still have to believe in them, and believe
that you will eventually get the facts. Believe in them, and listen
to them, and keep listening, and eventually they will tell you the
truth, and they will tell you how to help them, and how to teach them
to help themselves.”
Listen, I wrote in my notebook, and underlined it. That’s what the
first nun did for me, the night I came here. She listened to me, and
she believed me.
Now I remembered the hope.
All the remembering was starting to overwhelm me; I was getting
dizzy from it, from the heat in the close room, crowded with extra dimensions
of time and space. It was nineteen years ago; it was today.
It was in that stairwell right over there, three floors down, those girls
wanted my eyeliner and I gave it to them. It was thick in here, the air
swollen and static, and I knew from experience that the windows
didn’t open. The Ghost of Janice Past was squirming on my lap.
What are we doing here? she wanted to know. And when are we getting
a smoke?
“These young people are suffering,” the nun on the tape continued.
“Suffering from abuse, addiction, poverty, neglect . . .” I twisted
in my chair, tugged the waistband of my pants, slipped my feet out of
my shoes under the table and curled my toes. I could feel the bald
guy grinning from two seats away. “Heightened risk of gang violence,
prostitution, disease . . .” Oh god. Okay! We get it, all right? We’re
here! We’re here, and we’re going to stop all that bad stuff from happening,
so let’s quit talking about it and get to work.
Finally, the tape was over, and the volunteer coordinator switched
on the lights. “Are there any questions?” she asked.
I slumped in my chair, wrung out. The grinning bald guy raised
his hand and asked my question for me. “When can we start?”
I was still flustered when I got back to my apartment that night, pacing
the living room with my three cats in tow, their tails crooked with
curiosity. I couldn’t stop thinking about the kids I’d seen: the young
girl waiting for the elevator with me, carrying her days-old baby,
smaller than a loaf of bread; the two roughnecks on the corner, with
their supersized jeans and their plasticized sneakers shaped like
steam irons—I was three feet away from them when I realized they
weren’t boys. The girl with the pink yarn in her braids, waiting downstairs
in front of the intake office, singing softly to herself, that song
from The Little Mermaid.
I want to be where the people are . . .
Ever since a few weeks ago, when I’d made up my mind to go
back and volunteer, I’d been impatient to start making a difference,
to start digging through that pile of needy kids and helping them, one
by one, until they were all good and helped, and I could relax again,
knowing they were all right. Volunteering felt like something urgent
I’d left undone, something I’d been putting off for years—like the
nightmares I had sometimes, where I’d left the cats neglected and
unfed for a week and was racing home to see if they were still alive.
Now that I’d laid eyes on these kids, I was even more anxious to get
back there to the shelter, to help, to listen and believe, as the nun on
the videotape had said.
I plucked a half-smoked joint out of the ashtray and lit it, swallowing
a deep drag and holding it in my lungs. Such an old habit, my pot
smoking—the only vestige of my drug-addled adolescence. I’d quit
all my other teenage habits long ago—cocaine, ecstasy, acid, thumb
sucking—but now, in my thirties, I continued to smoke pot daily.
Self-medicating, I told myself, against the leftover anxieties of a tumultuous
youth; after what I’d been through as a kid, I figured I was
entitled to smoke as much as I wanted. Besides, everyone said I was
the most productive pothead they’d ever met—I could get up in the
morning, run a few miles on the treadmill, then smoke half a joint
before going to my editorial job; with a few drops of Visine in my
eyes, it seemed that nobody was ever the wiser.
I paced as I smoked, thinking maybe I’d call my boyfriend, Bill;
he should have been home from work by then. I took another long hit
off the joint, put it back in the ashtray, and dialed his apartment in
Queens.
“Our hero returneth,” answered Bill, his chair squeaking in the
background as he put his feet up on his desk. “So? How did it go?”
I could hear him smiling at me over the phone, could feel it all
the way from Queens. Bill and I had been together for two years already,
after meeting online, and I still couldn’t believe my luck in
finding him, this smart, funny, nerdy, handsome guy who adored
me, whom I adored. I pictured him—his warm hazel eyes behind
his squared-off glasses, his broad shoulders, his long runner’s
legs propped up on his desk next to a stack of comic books and
Macworlds—and I wished we’d made plans for him to come over
that night.
“Okay,” I said. “I mean, good. They said my application looked really
good, and my recommendations were strong. So now I just have
to pass the criminal-background check, and then they can place me
on a unit.”
“Excellent,” he said, sounding very satisfied. “That’s great, Shmoo.”
I flopped down on the sofa, disarmed as always by Bill’s support.
Even after two years, it was still hard to get used to the idea that I had
a partner I could lean on and trust, someone who responded to my
plans and ideas with “That’s great, Shmoo,” instead of “Well, the
only problem with that is . . . ,” like the voice inside my head, like
every jerk boyfriend I’d ever had.
“I’m so proud of you,” continued Bill. “You feel good about it,
right?”
“Yeah, I feel good. I feel . . .” Tired. I felt tired all of a sudden, like
I’d run out of adrenaline, like it was three in the morning instead of
nine-thirty at night. “I just . . . I don’t know what I’m supposed to do
for these kids. I don’t know what the hell I think I’m doing. I’m not a
social worker, I’m just some person off the street.”
Bill cut right through this, authoritative. “Babe, you’re more than
just some person off the street. You lived there. Nobody’s going to understand
these kids better than you. And they’ll train you, right? I
mean, once you’re placed on a unit”—he threw a little extra relish on
“on a unit,” like I was going to work at Oz Maximum Security Prison,
and I was buoyed for a second by his vicarious excitement—“I’m sure
they’ll give you instructions, tell you how the whole system works.
You’ll be—”
“I wish you were here,” I said abruptly. “I love you and I miss you
and I wish you were here.”
He paused, restarted carefully. “I wish I was there too, Shmoo.”
All I had to do, I knew, was ask Bill to move in with me, and he
could be there every night. I didn’t know why I was balking. He was
ready to give up his lease in Queens; he was sick of schlepping his
overnight bag to work every other day, of trying not to let the milk in
his fridge go bad, of missing the three cats he and I had adopted together
on nights he spent alone. Two years—that was more than
enough time to decide whether or not you wanted to move in with
somebody, especially in New York, where rent usually dictates the
course of a relationship, and it’s not like I didn’t have enough room;
I had more than enough. I just had to ask him, already.
“Anyway,” I demurred, “I won’t know more until I hear from this
woman Nadine, she’s the head of Older Females. And it might take
her a while; they’re really busy over there.”
“I’m sure they are busy,” said Bill, and yawned. The desk chair
squeaked again; his feet landed back on the floor. “Listen, I’m going
to eat something, maybe throw on the hockey game—you want to
call me back before you go to sleep?”
The nightly before-bed phone call—another amazing feature of
the Bill and Janice deal. I was crazy for not asking him to move in. I
rose from the couch, and the cat on my lap made an exasperated
noise. Me and my wanderlust.
“Yeah, okay,” I told him. “I love you, Shmoo.”

Continues...

Excerpted from Have You Found Her by Janice Erlbaum Copyright © 2008 by Janice Erlbaum. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Janice Erlbaum is the author of Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir and Have You Found Her, which was named one of the New York Public Library's 25 Books to Remember. A former columnist for BUST magazine, she lives in New York City with her partner Bill Scurry. You can find her at www.girlbomb.com


From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Have You Found Her 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
I just finished a book, after running back to the beach because it was mistakenly left there, that I am going to pass on to everyone looking for a good book to read. HAVE YOU FOUND HER by Janice Erlbaum was a gut-wrenching, pull-at-your-heart strings, can't-put-it-down memoir. It actually reads like a novel, a suspenseful one at that, full of plot twists and turns. I finished it in two days. The little blurb I read about it in my local library's Bookpage didn't do the book justice.

Janice Erlbaum one day decided to volunteer at a homeless shelter for teens in NYC. Very noble of her, don't you think? Volunteering at this one homeless shelter was more than just an act of graciousness for her. Twenty years ago, she lived at that shelter for a time. She wanted to do something for these kids, show that you can change your situation and become successful. Janice definitely changed her life for the better. Now she is a successful author, living in a nice apartment with her husband (or domestic partner, as she calls him) and three cats.

At first, the volunteering doesn't go very well. Her nervousness shows and the kids are gravitating to her for help. Janice is just not sure if she can do it. She soon realizes she has to have a shtick if she wants their attention and find a younger version of herself to help. So one day, she brings a bag full of beads for a craft-making jewelry session. It does the trick and she is forever known as the Bead Lady.

One of the rules of the place is "Don't choose favorites." That rule goes completely out the window when Janice meets Samantha. Samantha is a brilliant junkie who has been on her own since she was twelve. She is incredibly lovable and also incredibly damaged. Samantha says a lot of things throughout the time Janice comes to know her that should be questioned. At any rate, Janice ends up falling for Sam - not a romantic love like she has for Bill, but in a deeply caring, friendship/parental way. She wants to save Sam from the streets, and this leads Janice and Sam through hospitals and halfway houses and rehabs.

The one thing Janice never suspected was how sick Sam really was.......

The book was like a roller coaster ride for me. When Sam was up, in good health, on the right track, you cheered -- but when she was down, sick, so weak that you though she would die at any second, you couldn't help but get sad and emotional. You start to wonder if you can really save another person's soul.

I just wonder where Sam is now.....
Guest More than 1 year ago
I haven't read Girlbomb but I thought this memoir was magnificent. It detailed a homeless teen's mental health travails and how the author, once sheltered herself, emerged from her own traumas and her young friend's similar, albeit deceptive, journey. A great read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read Girlbomb last month and I just finished this book. I knew I would enjoy it because I loved the authors writing style in Girlbomb. It's hard for my to write a review and not give away too much of the story but I will say this book takes you on an emotional roller coaster. I think it gives a good lesson to tread carefully, I'm all for making well meaning people aware of what lurks in the world.
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harstan More than 1 year ago
Twenty years ago, as a young teen, Janice Erlbaum lived for a while in a homeless shelter for teens (see A HALFWAY HOMELESS MEMOIR and GIRLBOMB, not reviewed by me). Overcoming the dope and returning home now in her thirties, she felt a deep need to give back what was given to her by that New York shelter: her life. Thus she volunteered her time where she would bring her bag of beads and related paraphernalia to teach those who remind her of her fourteen years old Janice how to make jewelry. There she meets nineteen years old junkie Samantha Dunleavy, who told her she traveled the country with her meth chef dad and junkie mom, and sold her body as needed. Janice became like a big sister to the intelligent ¿junkie savant¿ and was always there when Sam needed her especially when her protégé had accidents. However over time Janice begins to realize Sam¿s saga was filled with incongruities as a twelve-years-old runaway from a drug traveling show should not be a trained classical pianist. Janice finally makes some inquiries into her beloved ¿ward¿ learning a shocking past. --- This is a terrific memoir that focuses deep on a savior being saved from her obsession by an apparent schemer. Ms. Erlbaum provides a combination cautionary saga with a bit of real life sleuthing, but in many ways Samantha and the ¿Redhead¿ at the beginning of Ms. Erlbaum¿s adventure steal the show. Although well written and gut wrenching, the overarching issue of what society should do with runaway teens and tweens is never deeply explored still Ms. Erlbaum makes a strong case that volunteering is good for the soul, but walk cautiously before you give away your heart as the author confesses when she was the runaway lying was her norm while an alternate title considered for HAVE YOU FOUND HER? sums that up: ¿Sucker: A Love Story¿. --- Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Im back! Srry, wifi was messes up."
Guest More than 1 year ago
Girlbomb was wonderful but this new title from the author is a bomb! Boring and of little interest to anyone except maybe the author herself!