Daughter of a mentally disturbed Puerto Rican mother, raised in a series of foster homes in chilly Vermont, Lopez grew up rootless and confused about her identity and her future. By the time she was a year old, she had experienced two foster placements; at three, she was on her fourth. The fifth foster family, the Wensleys, provided a home for the next 11 years. Although she had been separated early on from her older brother, Lopez's younger sister, Diana, stuck with her from home to home, in line with generally accepted social service practice: Keep siblings together, if possible. They anchored each other through a long period of adjustment; Diana settled in at the Wensleys while Charlotte never stopped feeling dislocated. She yearned to be adopted. The Wensleys, willing at first, grew reluctant. "Adopting two impoverished kids was a huge financial commitment," Lopez writes, "which they feared they would not be able to afford." Charlotte, by then a teenager, began clashing so frequently with her foster family that she moved to a group home. She began her quest to be Miss Teen USA, winning the title in 1992. It gave her a unique opportunity to become a spokeswoman for foster children. She was also reunited with her brother and adopted, at the age of 17, by a Vermont couple. The book's final chapter has suggestions for the professionals, which boil down to: Listen to the children; they know what's missing in their lives and where it hurts.
Written in plain and simple prose (with the help of Dworkin, coauthor of The Ms. Guide to Women's Health), this is a story of a foster child who made goodand is seizing the opportunity to become an eloquent spokeswoman for all those children who have shared her predicament.