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A CHILD CALLED "IT"
By DAVE PELZER (Health Communications, Inc.; 1995)

You nineties nostalgia buffs may remember this book, which received a fair amount of media coverage back in ‘95. A memoir of child abuse, it was published by the same folk who gave us those sickly-sweet CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL books. This would certainly explain A CHILD CALLED “IT”’S cover art, which goes out of its way to highlight the story’s uplifting and “inspirational” elements, complete with a picture of young boy’s smiling face held by an invisible cloud-hand.

     I’ll confess that cover art put me off reading this book back in the day. Yet after finally getting around to perusing A CHILD CALLED “IT” I’ll have to say that it could actually have used a bit more uplift, as the grisly story related in these pages is far from inspirational. The only really inspirational portion, in fact, is a scant six page epilogue in which author Dave Pelzer claims to have put his childhood horrors behind him and grown into a productive adult (a process described, presumably, in Pelzer’s follow-up volumes THE LOST BOY and A MAN CALLED DAVE, neither of which I’ve read).

     A lifelong California resident, Dave Pelzer was subjected to truly horrific victimization by his alcoholic mother from ages 4 to 12. His is apparently the third-worst case of child abuse in California history (as of 1995 at least), and the details of that abuse, as recorded in this book, are plenty shocking.

     Beatings, it seems, were the least of young Dave Pelzer’s concerns, although he was dealt plenty of them. More worrying were the various mental tortures his mother devised, such as referring to him as “It,” making him shout “I hate myself!” over and over, locking him in an ammonia-filled bathroom and forcing his siblings to partake in the ugliness. His bed was a basement army cot and dinner consisted of leftovers from the trash--and at one point regurgitated vomit. This led to Dave stealing food from his schoolmates, which combined with the filthy clothes he was forced to wear made him an outcast and frequent target of bullies, and induced a simmering anger. Luckily Dave was removed from his mother’s custody before that anger came to boil by some courageous teachers, who risked their jobs to help him in an age (the early 1970s) when child abuse was a largely undiscussed topic.

     This book is impacting without question, relating a truly awful story with an absence of padding and stylistic quirks. Again, however, I’m not quite sure it’s the feel-good story it’s been made out to be, as I found it ugly and depressing. That’s appropriate, I suppose, given the subject matter, upon which A CHILD CALLED “IT” succeeds in shedding light--quite a bit, in fact, in an account that makes most fictional horror stories seem trite and inconsequential by comparison.

     

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