Monday, July 03, 2006

erlbaum's girlbomb: a halfway homeless memoir

Janice Erlbaum’s childhood was not a pleasant one. Her mom’s string of abusive boyfriends and husbands had left her with no choice; after her mom kicked her last stepfather out, Erlbaum told her, “If you take him back, then I’m leaving.” When she was 15, Erlbaum left her Manhattan home after her mother once again reunited with her stepfather. After spending several weeks in a shelter, Erlbaum eventually ended up in a group home. Her journey didn’t end there – Erlbaum then embarked on a course of self-destruction, having casual, unprotected sex with a string of boys and abusing alcohol and drugs. Just over a year after she moved out, Erlbaum moved back in with her now-single mother, and the book’s title (a play on the author’s last name) begins to make more sense; life as a high school student clashes with the cocaine-fueled club scene of 1980s New York City. Her memoir illustrates the conflicting desires of adolescence – the desire to fit in, the desire to be loved, and the desire to be independent. Erlbaum’s writing is concise and engaging, but most of all, it’s honest. Erlbaum doesn’t try to excuse her behavior; rather, she analyzes why she turned down that self-destructive path, and what made her change her ways. Readers will find solace in the knowledge that, despite the lack of structure in her home life, Erlbaum still managed to pull it all together. She graduated high school, worked at an after school job, starred in a school play, and got into college, showing that, if you try hard enough, you can accomplish anything.

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