Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Garbage Bag Suitcase

Garbage Bag Suitcase
by Shenandoah Chefalo

Genre: Memoir, Non-fiction

Synopsis: Garbage Bag Suitcase is the true story of Shenandoah Chefalo's wholly dysfunctional journey through a childhood with neglectful, drug-and alcohol addicted parents.  She endured numerous moves in the middle of the night with just minutes to pack, multiple changes in schools, hunger, cruelty, and loneliness.

Finally at the age of 13, Shen had had enough.  After being abandoned by her mother for months at her grandmother's retirement community, she asked to be put into foster care.  Surely she would fare better at a stable home than living with her mother?  It turns out that it was not the storybook ending she had hoped for.  With foster parents more interested in the income received by housing a foster child, Shen was once again neglected emotionally.  The money she earned working at the local grocery store was taken by her foster parents to "cover her expenses."  When a car accident lands her in the hospital with grave injuries and no one came to visit her during her three-week stay, she realizes she is truly all alone in the world.

Overcoming her many adversities, Shen became part of the 3% of all foster care children who get into college, and the 1% who graduate.  She became a successful businesswoman, got married, and had a daughter.  Despite her numerous achievements in life though, she still suffers from the long-term effects of neglect, and the coping skills that she adapted in her childhood are not always productive in her adult life.

Garbage Bag Suitcase is not only the inspiring and hair-raising story of one woman's journey to overcome her desolate childhood, but it also presents grass-root solutions on how to revamp the broken foster care system.

Review:  I appreciated reading this memoir about the author's neglected childhood experiences and subsequent adulthood.  The author was pretty matter of fact about the events in her early life and the effects of the neglect later in her life.  I've read other memoirs about children in foster care and children who had parents who neglected them but none of them included such a frank discussion of how this impacted their later life including their relationships-both love and friendship, money sense, etc.  I found that part of the book very intriguing as well as her suggestions on how to improve foster care.

What I was missing from the book was the emotions.  I prefer memoirs that tug at my heart and really make me feel for the author and this book did not do that for me because the writing was so straightforward and seemed that just the facts were included.  Chefalo's story (the events of her life) in itself causes me to feel angry that no one helped her before the age of 13 when she asked to be placed in foster care but it wasn't the writing style that made me feel these emotions.  I feel that perhaps the purpose of the writing was to open readers' eyes to the flaws in the system, the effects of neglect, and what we can do about the system.  To me, that makes this book a little more narrative non-fiction and less of a memoir.  I did feel a call to continue my inner dialogue about being a foster parent after reading this book which to me makes this book successful.

I was provided a copy of the book by the author in return for my honest review.  Thank you so much for the book!

Rating: 3.5 stars

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