Thursday, May 28, 2015

Review: Blackbird by Jennifer Lauck

I really don't remember where I heard about this book, but I wish I did, so I could thank them.  I Mooched this book, after putting it on my TBR list based on someone's recommendation.  I just got around to reading it, and now I can't wait to read Lauck's other books.

The book is a memoir, telling the story of a few years in Lauck's childhood.  Just a few years, but they are important and traumatic ones.  Lauck's life started out much like any other child's - mother, father, brother, and sister all live together happily in a little house.  Dad works and mom stays home with Jenny, while her brother B.J. is at school.  But Lauck's mother is not well.  She has a number of ailments, which cause her to be frequently hospitalized.  The family has to move from their happy home in Carson City to California, so Mom can be treated, and things begin to go downhill for Jenny quickly.  B.J., in a fit of rage, reveals that Jenny is actually adopted (although he is not).  Eventually, Lauck's mother succumbs to her illnesses.  Dad starts to see a woman named Deb, who doesn't like Jenny and only tolerates B.J.  She has three children of her own who treat Jenny horribly.  Dad and Deb marry and then Dad has a heart attack, leaving Jenny and B.J. (who now wants to be known as Bryan) to fend for themselves against the enemy.

Deb tries to keep the family together for a while, but then, seemingly inexplicably, Deb separates Jenny from the rest of them and sends her off to live in a commune, which I believe was operated by the weirdo cult church that Deb belonged to.  It was the late sixties and early seventies in California, so there were all kinds of interesting (and sometimes dangerous) groups in the area.  Anyway, Jenny lives int he commune for a while, with little adult supervision, except for the couple who run the kitchen and who show Jenny some of the only love she knew in her sad childhood after the death of her father.  She stops going to school.  She has some of her belongings stolen by a fellow commune dweller.  She is almost sexually assaulted by a man who helps her move her things back to Deb's house, once she is allowed back.  Finally, her aunt and uncle find her and bring her back to her real family to live.  It appeared that Deb had been hiding the whereabouts of the children from their grandparents and aunts and uncles, so she could keep the social security checks that were sent after their father's death.

So Jennifer Lauck grew up in a terrifying, loveless environment, not usually understanding much of what was going on around her.  And I mean, this book made me CRY.  I cried throughout almost the entire thing.  And yet, I could not put it down.  It was so powerful, so sad.  As bad as the stuff was that happened to Jenny, I still kept expecting something even worse - that thankfully never happened.  Lauck did a masterful job of depicting how frustrating the complicated world can be for a young child to whom things are never explained.  She also adroitly portrayed the loneliness and sadness of a kid who was orphaned and unloved by those around her.  It was absolutely heartwrenching, and I only kept hoping that things would turn around for her.

Highly recommended, especially for lovers of memoirs.  Five out of five Whatevers.  There are three follow-up books, which I didn't know about before I read this one, and I am going to seek them out as soon as possible.


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