A Life Without Consequences

A Life Without Consequences

3.5 2
by Stephen Elliott

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Paul is a ward of the court continually moved through the Chicago juvenile system. Paul tries to succeed in schools where children aren’t taught to read. He tries to get straight in homes where drug abuse and violence are the norm and find affection in families where the children are constantly being moved and the guardians are paid six dollars an hour to look…  See more details below


Paul is a ward of the court continually moved through the Chicago juvenile system. Paul tries to succeed in schools where children aren’t taught to read. He tries to get straight in homes where drug abuse and violence are the norm and find affection in families where the children are constantly being moved and the guardians are paid six dollars an hour to look after kids they have no stake in or relation to.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Based on the author's harrowing experiences, this first novel is a journey into homelessness, youthful angst, drugs and hopelessness in Chicago. Paul, 14, runs away from home and is quickly picked up by the police after slashing his wrists. Placed in the adolescent unit of a mental institution and deeply depressed, he reviews his life, seeking solace from the motley crew of his fellow inmates. All are equally rootless and confused. French Fry is horribly disfigured following an attempt to burn himself to death; Mike swallowed pills; Jay set fire to a church. Escaping with Tanya, another inmate, Paul commences a twisted life on the streets, interrupted by a short, terrifying stint at the infamous Robert Taylor Homes housing project. Although Elliott keeps the scenes strong and succinct, he frequently pushes the pace so hard that the reader is unable digest what has come before. His ability to capture the fragile sensibility of troubled youth is uncanny, however, and his descriptions of life on the streets are crookedly lyrical. Paul tries to retain his humanity despite being placed in a series of ineffective group homes, and though constantly struggling to adjust to the outside world and become a "normal" human being, he is restless, unable to stay in one place; he eventually hits bottom during a stint in a mental hospital. Finally landing in yet another Chicago group home, he makes a last push toward sanity and stability. The bittersweet conclusion doesn't quite satisfy, but this is an impressive debut, a promising work of fiction and an eloquent expression of life as few people are unlucky enough to know it. (Oct. 15) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This debut novel offers the author's recollections of the squalor he experienced as a ward of the state who had to traverse the bureaucracy of Chicago's group homes. The narrator, Paul, runs away from an abusive father and is picked up off the streets and placed in a group home. Many of those he meets bounce from institutions to the streets and have turned to drugs, prostitution, and violence to elude the hopelessness of their lives. Paul escapes from one home with a girl named Tanya, and they live on the streets running from adults who "molest you, fondle you, cheat you out of everything you have." Eventually, they are incarcerated and returned to the perilous cycle that inevitably leads to prison or an early death. Paul finally faces his own fears and is able to transfer to a public school, where he gains the self-esteem needed to take a step out of this cycle. The narrative and heartrending characters give a tragic firsthand picture of the growing dilemma of abandoned children in this country. Recommended for all collections. David A. Beron , Univ. of New Hampshire, Durham Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-With gritty, unrelenting realism, Elliott offers a semiautobiographical tale of a runaway who must navigate his way through Chicago's juvenile services system. Paul escapes from his abusive father and is picked up by the police and placed in a psychiatric ward where he is confronted with the first of many adults who prey upon youth. The teen is shuffled in and out of many places before settling into a group home where he begins to assume some sense of normalcy by attending a "real world" high school. There he battles against depression and struggles to make a life for himself outside of the institutionalized settings that have shaped his life. While some young people will find it hard to read about the harsh reality of drugs, prostitution, homelessness, and violence that this teen is confronted with, others will find it compelling and be able to relate to many of his hardships. This is a novel that will leave readers rooting for Paul and hoping that he will succeed.-Julie Dasso, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A slim and bleak coming-of-age debut, set during the 1980s among orphans in Chicago. Elliott deliberately lures the reader into interpreting the novel autobiographically by including an Author's Note that succinctly summarizes the contents. Elliott, like narrator Paul, "left home at the age of thirteen and after a year sleeping on the roof of a convenience store on Chicago's Northside, was made a ward of the court and channeled through various large and small group homes and institutional learning facilities." Paul's narrative begins in an apartment building's hallway as he lies barely conscious and with slashed wrists; it ends about three years and a handful of group homes later as he resolves to make a new life in California. In between, there isn't much structure, another reason for the book's resembling autobiography: It moves from one episode to the next, eschewing conflicts that might offer dramatic shape while collecting mournful impressions of other lost teenagers Paul encounters along the way. The loose storyline and Chicago setting remind one of an Augie March with less richness of detail or variety of character. A few of Paul's friends provide genuine interest, most engagingly Tanya (she burned her house down with her parents in it), with whom Paul runs away and settles, albeit briefly, in a suburban toolshed. While the two are separated early on, their relationship becomes the closest thing to a central plot event, though even it never quite comes to a head. Still, it would be difficult to read this narrative without being occasionally-and genuinely-moved by Paul's abandonment and desperation. The refractory tone overall is captured by the epigraph: "Names have not beenchanged to protect the innocent. There are no innocent." As fiction, it's desultory; as memoir, though fascinating and sad, it makes the reader wish for the shaping of a novel.

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MacAdam/Cage Publishing, Incorporated
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Read an Excerpt

Nancy squints when she smiles. She has thick legs, a short body, a big ass. On the outside she's just another woman in a long skirt. In here she's more.
I stare at her legs when she talks, daydreaming about getting between them, about sliding up between her feet, her knees, until I crawl inside of her completely and go to sleep.
"You have a twitch," she says. I look up. "Right over your nose."
"Sometimes I'm nervous."
"I read your file."
"You must have a lot of time on your hands."
Nancy smiles. I play with the frays on my jeans, hunch my back, touch my knees. I can be like an ogre.
"Your father used to beat you."
"You could say that."
"How often?"
"A few times. It could have been worse. Mostly it was verbal." I look up, she's squinting. Fuck. It's like talking to an absence. "He shaved my head a couple of times. Handcuffed me to a pipe."
Nancy nods. I look at her feet; she's wearing blue nylons. Papers and books stack the wall behind her and next to us a big window with not much to see. Nancy squints. "Do you think you're looking for a mother figure? Someone to replace your mother?"
"My mother didn't do anything but sit on the couch and die for five years. I don't want to replace that." A silence hangs over us for a few minutes. I play with my fingers, stare at my folded hands. Her floor is the same as every floor in the hospital. A calendar hangs over her desk with a picture of a dove with its wings spread. A Bible sits by the window, the same cracked Bible that was in the car.
"You're very intelligent for your age." I shrug my shoulders, think to myself: I'm smarter than you. "You talk like an adult."
"I write poetry," I blurt out. Damn. I look at her ankles, then up to her shoulders.
"Look at me," she says. Her eyes shine, she squints. "I'd like to read your poetry." I shrug my shoulders. Her ankles. Time's up. We stand, shake hands. "We'll talk next week." Her hands her soft.

Meet the Author

Stephen Elliott grew up a ward of the court in various institutions and group homes in Chicago. He earned his Bachelors degree at the University of Illinois and a Masters degree from Northwestern University. He has worked as a stripper, a cabdriver, a bartender, and a law school admissions consultant.

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Life Without Consequences 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
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