Saturday, May 10, 2014

Etched in Sand - Regina Calcaterra

Title: Etched in Sand: A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island
Author: Regina Calcaterra
Publisher: William Morrow Books, 2013 (Paperback)
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Adult; Nonfiction
Started: May 7, 2014
Finished: May 9, 2014


In this story of perseverance in the face of adversity, Regina Calcaterra recounts her childhood in foster care and on the streets - and how she and her savvy crew of homeless siblings managed to survive years of homelessness, abandonment, and abuse.

Regina Calcaterra's emotionally powerful memoir reveals how she endured a series of foster homes and intermittent homelessness in the shadow of the Hamptons, and how she rose above her past while fighting to keep her brother and three sisters together.

Beautifully written and heartbreakingly honest, Etched in Sand is an unforgettable reminder that regardless of social status, the American Dream is still within for those who have the desire and the determination to succeed.

I'm a sucker for punishment, I find myself attracted to books with subject matter most people avoid like the plague. This novel is incredibly hard to read, especially now that I'm a mother, but if you can get past the repulsion you'll find an incredible story of perseverance from an incredible woman.

The book opens with 13-year-old Regina and her siblings (Camille 16, Norman 12, Rosie 7) moving abruptly to a new home in the summer of 1980 on Long Island, New York. Their older sister Cherie has already found a way to escape by getting married and having a baby, leaving the four younger siblings to fend for themselves when their mother Cookie abandons them for 6 weeks almost as soon as they move in. When their mother returns and beats Regina to the point where her teachers cannot ignore it, social workers plead with her and Camille to tell the truth and claim emancipation from their mother, promising that it will allow them to remove the younger siblings from Cookie's care as well. Regina recounts her childhood from age four onward: the abuse, the neglect, the foster homes, the instability. When Cookie runs off with Norman and Rosie to Idaho, Regina and Camille can only move forward in their new foster home and try to plan for when they age out of the system. The novel goes through Regina's struggle to come to terms with her past while trying to get through school, college, and her career; while at the same time trying to intervene for her younger siblings still in her mother's care.

This book is at the same time disturbing and inspiring. The treatment that Regina and her siblings endure at the hands of their mentally unstable, neglectful mother is nothing short of horrific, to the point where you wonder how a mother can do such things to her children (then you remind yourself that it happens more often than we like to think about), and how freaking resilient some children actually are.

The publisher pens this as a testament to the idea that the American Dream is still in reach for people, look at Regina and what she went through, and she's incredibly successful. While that is a lovely thought, and the author did rise above circumstances most of us can't even fathom, I have issues with saying, "oh anyone can do it now,"because I don't think that is true. I work with children that will never rise above their circumstances for several reasons, one of which is that they are never strongly told that school is a way out for them. Regina loved to read and school was her escape, plus she was quite bright and teachers reinforced this trait in her. She had the drive and took advantage of scholarships and grants to attend college and things took off from there. Very few kids actually have the personality and willpower to do all this when they come from an under-privileged background, and most of the time it stems from the idea they get that school isn't important. Once kids have this planted in their head, usually from parents and surroundings, there's nothing teachers can do or say to undo it; that child will either struggle on infinitely or eventually wake up and realize they need to work hard to graduate high school/post-secondary/trade/apprenticeship if they want more. Plus there's mental health issues thrown into the mix that just complicate things even more, so I affirm that it's not so easily put-together as stories like this make it seem.

Incredible book about a woman who rose above her horrific upbringing to find personal success as a lawyer as well as being in service to help others.

Thoughts on the cover:
I love how the cover model is positioned on the beach where we can't see her face. The whole thing just screams 'perfect cover.'

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