Monday, April 22, 2013

Book Review: Voices From the Inside

I was recently contacted by author and foster parent, Maranda Russell, about reviewing her e-book From Both Sides: A Look into the World of Foster Care from Those who Know it Best.

The only thing I knew about this book before reading it was that 1) it is about foster care and 2) It is divided up into two sections: the first part is from the perspective of children in foster care and the second part is the perspective of foster parents.  

I think the idea of offering up two different perspectives to any issue or story- hence the title From Both Sides- adds a very beneficial aspect and oft-overlooked balance and I was especially eager to read case studies and interviews of children in foster care sharing their voices when they seldom have much of a say in their situation.  What I was not expecting as I started reading, however, was the genre of this book- it is made up entirely of prose poetry.  Needless to say, this is most definitely a book you can finish in one sitting.  What this short book (42 pages long) lacks in length it makes up for in emotional depth.

Russell is not afraid to confront truth as she straight-forwardly offers up this sobering statistic about children in foster care in "PTSD":

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

Did you know
that according to statistics,
foster kids
are diagnosed with
at twice the rate
of returning war

something to think about . . .
isn't it?
I would caution that Maranda has no problem telling things like they are and because of this at times I was left feeling very uncomfortable or even downright depressed after reading a few of the poems, such as "Gift Receipt":

Gift Receipt

I should come
with a gift receipt.

I was given first
to Mom and Dad,
but they gave me back.

Then I was given
to multiple foster families
who found that I clashed
with their home decor.

Finally I was adopted
and given a forever home . . .
that turned out
to be a very short

I'm like fruitcake,
the gift that no one
really wants.

However, isn't the purpose of writing [and poetry in particular] not just to express oneself but to stir up feelings in others?  In this aspect, Maranda Russell has done her job and done it well.   If these poems don't leave you feeling uncomfortable, moved to compassion, or even angered then you may want to feel if you have a pulse!

Common themes in many of the poems in the Being a Foster Kid section were frustration about the uncertainty and constant change of their situation, a sense of being in limbo or not belonging, or ambiguous feelings and divided loyalties between the child's foster family and their bio family as illustrated in "Guilt":


Sometimes I hate myself
for loving my foster family.
On my darker days
I admit to myself
that I might even
love my foster family
more than my real family.

What's worse
is when I go home
for visits
and sit in silence
because I have
nothing in common
with my own
flesh and blood

Because of some of the issues Voices From the Inside address I think this book would be a great therapeutic resource for children (particularly adolescents and pre-teens) in the foster care system who want to give a voice to their feelings of being caught in a complex system with so many different people to deal with.

 I also think Voices From the Inside would be of particular interest for those who have experience fostering, but I'll admit that if I would have read this book over ten years ago (pre-fostering)  it may have scared me off from fostering- especially the poems "Things Our Foster Children Have Broken or Ruined . . . " and "Things My Foster Kids Have Stolen" which describe some of the occupational hazards of fostering.   Keep in mind, however, that Russell and her husband foster primarily pre-teens and teens, and the interviews and inspiration for this book were from former foster youth or children currently in foster care at least nine years old and older.

On a personal note, after I read "Things Our Foster Children Have Broken or Ruined . . ." I felt a sense of relief that the worst damages to our home have been a torn wallpaper border and a cracked window which pale in comparison to the litany of things Russell listed in her poem.

I may have also been a little freaked out reading "Alphabet Soup" ten or even five years ago, but I actually found it quite humorous and clever.

Alphabet Soup

Some good old-fashioned RAD,
a touch of PTSD,
just a hint of OCD,
a generous helping of ADHD
and a pinch of ODD
to taste.

Add it all together
and what do you get?

Alphabet Soup . . .

and a kid
made entirely of labels.
Russell's collection of poems in From Both Sides is an honest look into fostering with no sugar-coating involved.  These poems will definitely make you feel something- even if it's not always sunshine and rainbows.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to read and review my little book Mary! I think you hit the nail on the head in your review and presented the work exactly how I hoped to portray it. I am glad you appreciated the honesty and the emotional depth of the book :)

Marty Walden said...

Thank you, Mary, for leaving a comment on my blog post Simple Gift Sunday. I so want to encourage other foster/adopt moms and families. Our journey has been beyond hard but there is true healing that comes, whether it's for our kids or for our broken lives. I totally understand about how hard it is to read of other's stories because some of them are tragic. I just know this journey God called us to and wants us to remain faithful to. Obedience to God is costly but the rewards are beyond are ability to hope and imagine.

Marty@Marty's Musings