3 out of 4 stars
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Childhood can be a time of trauma, confusion and insecurity in the best of circumstances. The risks are greatly magnified for children subjected to the vicissitudes of the foster care system.
In Finding Paris: A Memoir of Hope, author Paris Broker recounts her life’s experiences after she was abandoned in a field at the age of two. After bouncing between an orphanage and abusive foster carers, one day she finds herself being sent to a new family. With their immaculate home headed by a Pastor, the Huxtons couldn’t be better respected in their town. But what lurks behind the pristine façade? Why does Paris’ dad make a point of singling her out for special attention and why does her mother always have an iced tea at her elbow?
Paris is summarily informed that her name is now Sally and is assigned more chores than her siblings. As well as identity, the book explores the shortcomings of the foster care system, exploitation, child abuse, survival and the strength of the human spirit. A key theme is the contrast between the front the Huxtons present to the public and the reality of the secrets they hide.
I liked the way Paris’ reflections on her experiences and personal development shaped the book. The courage she finds to stand up to the father who cultivates such a perfect image in society’s eyes is inspiring. She tracks her journey from the abuse endured by Little Sally to her attempts to find her birth mother to her discovery of Paris the woman. The narrative is smooth and coherent.
In addition to that, the style is transparent, so that this book is an easy read. If anything, it was a little too simplistic for my taste, especially when the author repeated information that had been stated a short time previously. She drove the point about appearances versus reality home a little hard at times – the reader can work it out.
She does credit the reader with intelligence when she recounts what Little Sally went through at the Pastor’s hands. She doesn’t describe anything graphically but shows delicacy in leaving the details to the imagination. Normally, I’d include a warning that those who don’t like to read about child abuse might want to avoid this book. That doesn’t necessarily apply here given Paris’ sensitive approach. Some readers might find the impunity enjoyed by the Pastor distressing, however, as well as various other things that are imposed on Paris.
Paris is clearly very forgiving, which is admirable. Indeed, while the Pastor’s hypocrisy reflected a sinister side of religion, she is a fine example of what a Christian can be. The book featured many well-chosen quotes from the Bible. I’m not religious and these were new to me; I appreciated that learning opportunity. Paris made the best of her religious background as well as everything else she went through.
Even if you don’t like memoirs or don’t normally read them, I’d recommend that you try this. It doesn’t descend into rambling as memoirs can - the focus on the author’s growing strength is sustained throughout. However, if you prefer fantasy or fiction over real life stories every time, then this is not for you.
Unfortunately, the editing left something to be desired. Words were omitted and in some cases spelled correctly but in the wrong context. In the most unfortunate example, what appeared on the page was presumably the opposite of what was intended: “Your mom didn’t something right with you.”
Weighing up the book’s strengths and weaknesses, I rate it 3 out of 4 stars. It is an inspiring tale and as mentioned, could even appeal to those who don’t normally go in for memoirs. As I say, there is no need to worry about anything graphic, though many of Paris’ experiences and not least the sheer unfairness of it all can be alarming. Overall, however, this book’s message of hope is strong.
Finding Paris: A Memoir of Hope
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