McLain, a one-time English teacher and aspiring novelist, offers a real-life version of White Oleander that strikes as fiercely as its fictional counterpart-if not more so. With credibility and tension, she strings together shards of childhood memories to create a portrait as riveting as it is sad. The book opens in the early 1970s, as McLain and her two sisters, having been abandoned by their parents, struggle to survive the Fresno County, CA, foster care system. Readers are gently shuttled from the last time McLain saw her mother (until 16 years later) to the first time she was molested by a foster father, to the 11 tumultuous and sometimes torturous years she spent at her fourth and final home. With her sisters by her side (luckily, they were never separated), McLain learned the importance of blood family in the absence of a functional day-to-day one. Never self-pitying, she nurtures her story as she wanted to be nurtured. It is clear that McLain wants to understand what happened to her childhood and why; this book is the beginning of her answer. Recommended for all collections.-Rachel Collins, "Library Journal"
An unsentimental and thus telling memoir by the middle of three sisters who grew up in a series of foster homes in Fresno, California. Their father was already in prison for a bumbled robbery attempt when their mother went to a movie with a boyfriend and didn't come back. It was 1970: Paula was only four years old, Teresa was six, Penny three. Herein are Paula's memories of their years in foster care, moving with her sisters from family to family until their 1974 placement with Bub and Hilde at Lindbergh Acres, a rundown ranch where they lived for almost 11 years. Earlier foster families ranged from the bizarre to the abusive. The Spinozas had a seven-year-old son who ran through the house clad only in a makeshift superhero cape. Mrs. Clapp was addicted to purple, and Mr. Clapp made sexual overtures to Paula and perhaps to her sisters as well; they never talked about it. The Fredricksons bought them bicycles and had family meetings and seemed to actually love them, but sent them away after only a few months. At their last placement, Hilde set rules that no one could fathom, occasionally beat them, and sometimes hid their clothes, but Bub was fun-loving and affectionate, and they were provided with food, clothing, toys, and their own horses. Several chapters are devoted to the sisters' adolescence, no more or less tumultuous than most, although given an extra edge by Hilde's increasingly unstable behavior and the ever-present threat of being moved to yet another foster home. Throughout it all, the sisters remained together, an extraordinary achievement in the annals of foster care. They were living together and attending college when their mother finally resurfaced in 1986 to establish atentative relationship the author admits still baffles her today. Not a foster-care horror story exactly, but a thoughtful recalling of the emotional toll a life of uncertainty can take. Agent: Leigh Feldman/Darhanshoff & Verrill