Thursday, April 14, 2016

Garbage Bag Suitcase Book Review and GIVEAWAY

I recently finished reading a memoir sadly yet appropriately titled Garbage Bag Suitcase  written by a woman who suffered a childhood of neglect and abuse because of her parent's drug addiction and alcoholism.

Of her early childhood memories Shenandoah Chefalo recounts,

"Already I was wishing myself out of being raised by my parents. When they were home, I spent most of my time locked in my room, hiding, talking to imaginary and stuffed friends.  I daydreamed about becoming an orphan, and being taken away to live with a real family." (p. 27)

Not only did I want to take young Shenandoah under my wing and into my own home as I read about what she experienced as a child, but I also felt compelled to show some extra compassion and affection to my own children while reading her memoir.

Eventually Shenandoah got her wish of living with a family who offered her the safety, security, and calmness she was not able to experience with her own family.  As a young teenager Shenandoah spent a summer with her mother's older sister and a cousin close to her age in their California home.  Of the normalcy and routine of her new home environment, Shenandoah noted:

"In their house, schedules ran like they did on the TV shows that I watched and had longed to be a part of, like Happy Days and The Brady Bunch.  There was a dinner with a set dinnertime, and a standard bedtime with lights out.  Conversations included things like, "How was your day?" and "What did you do today?"  

These things, the questions, which absolutely irritated Michelle [her cousin] and made her feel like her mom was being overprotective and overbearing, made me swoon with delight.  Somebody who cared about what I was thinking and doing?  Someone who was thoughtful enough to put food on the table for me every day?  Sign me up!" (p.59)

Unfortunately, living with her cousin and aunt only offered a temporary refuge.  Shenandoah had returned "home" from her trip to California with essentially no home to go to and no parents to care for her as her mother had {once again} abandoned her.   Staying with her birth father or step dad were not options either.  After a short stay with her grandmother, Shenandoah entered the foster system when she was 13 years old- by her own choice nonetheless!

Shenandoah first lived with another aunt who was a foster parent before eventually moving into another foster home an hour away in a small and unfamiliar farming community because her aunt thought that home and family would be a better fit for her niece.  As with the many other moves Shenandoah was forced to make in her life, she was accompanied, once again, by her garbage bag suitcase and her stuffed animal and best friend, Love Bunny.

I wish I could tell you that Shenandoah was welcomed into a loving home by a wonderful family but that was not the case.  In fact, her foster family is the exact type of family that gives other foster families (the rest of us!) a bad name.  She recounts her next move this way:

"I assumed that families or couples who were taking in foster kids would be top-notch.  Surely someone who had gone through vigorous training, underwent state background checks, and had a caseworker checking in on them regularly would be the greatest parents of all.

     What I hadn't realized or taken into account was that the system is broken,  There are hundreds of thousands of kids in care, and very few options on where to place or even house them.  Caseworkers change monthly, sometimes more frequently.  I lost count of the number of caseworkers I had after receiving three different ones in the span of two months.  Just when I thought I could trust one to share what was really happening in my life, a new one would take over.  My fear of abandonment amplified with each change.  Because the family who was chosen for me had three children of their own, and other foster kids, it was clear that I was not there for them to dote on me like the long-lost daughter they had always wanted.

I had one purpose I soon discovered, and that was to help pay the bills.  I had become a paycheck."  (p.74-75)

Evidently there are foster families that take children into their homes just for the money.  Sad, but true.  When Shenandoah got a job at a grocery store her paycheck didn't go to herself but to her foster family to cover "expenses".  That fact alone speaks VOLUMES about the character of her foster family.

I think it is essential as part of the screening processes for foster families prior to becoming licensed to require proof (by paycheck stub or tax return) that a family can support themselves without having to rely on any public assistance or from using monthly reimbursements meant to cover the costs of caring for their foster children. 

I was heartbroken for Shenandoah when she was hospitalized following a very serious car accident and she was left to recover in the hospital for three weeks pretty much by herself since her foster family didn't bother to stay with her.  To make matters worse, during her recovery in the hospital she received a card from her estranged birth mother reading, "This could have turned out much better if you'd had died!"

WHAT?! That alone tells you all you need to know about what kind of care (or rather, lack of care) Shenandoah received in her youth. 

As though I weren't disgusted enough with Shenandoah's second foster family I was furious to read about how they continued to ask her for money even AFTER she left their care and was trying to support herself in college through working and student loans.  This leads me to some good news:

Shenandoah aged out of the foster care system and I don't know about you, but when I hear the term "aging out" dismal statistics come to my mind, including high rates of homelessness and incarceration.  Although Shenandoah aged out of the system she beat the odds- not only did she go on to college but she became part of the 1% of foster children who actually graduate from college! Today she is a successful businesswoman and Life Coach who volunteers with many organizations. Shenandoah is also married and has a daughter.

To learn more about Shenandoah Chefalo Click HERE.

Shenandoah has shared her story not only to inspire others who have been through or find themselves in a similar experience- but she has the desire to create an open and honest discussion about what it's like to be a child in the foster care system.  Not only does she address the challenges and disruptions that youth in foster care face but in the second half of her memoir she presents possible solutions.   (That is another topic worthy of a separate blog post!)

I would love for a copy of Garbage Bag Suitcase to get into the hands of a social worker or foster parent.  Better yet, I would love to get a copy into the hands of a youth in foster care!  For that reason, I am sponsoring a Giveaway for a free copy of this book which will be mailed directly to the winner from the publisher.


-Entries limited to the U.S.
-To enter, simply leave a comment on this post with your name (your first name will suffice)

BONUS ENTRY:  SHARE about this giveaway on social media and comment where or how you shared

A random winner will be selected by RANDOM.ORG.  I will contact you and get your mailing info for your FREE COPY of Shenandoah's memoir, Garbage Bag Suitcase.

This GIVEAWAY has OFFICIALLY STARTED and will end April 22, 2016 at midnight MST.


  1. Looks like an awesome book..... Bet it ends up in my bookcase even if I don't win.... :)

  2. I started the support group in our county. For our cover on the facebook page there is a picture of a garbage bag and it says "This should never be a child's suitcase". Would have to win a copy to share with the support group.
    Thank you!

  3. If I don't win it, I'll buy it. Thanks for the review!

  4. As I was reading through your review, I stopped, went all the way to the kitchen, wrote the book on my reading list, and then came back to finish the blog post.
    As a foster Mom, I am fascinated by these books on foster care and adoption because they teach me what to do (and unfortunately, sometimes what NOT to do!).


  5. I don't want to win a copy! But I wanted to post a note to Thank you for reviewing my book! It is my goal to help give and educate the general public as well as those working in the system what it is like from my point of view. I'm also on a mission to change outcome for the too many children caught in the system and not sure what to do. I believe that through connection and collaboration we CAN change the statistics!!

  6. Sounds like a great read!! My husband and I are just becoming foster parents, so I think this book would be beneficial. Thank you for the review and giveaway! Congrats to the lucky winner in advance!

  7. I'd love to win a copy and read this book - I'll probably buy it if I don't win. I'm a current foster mom and adopted my first 2 foster kids. We will be looking to take in additional kids in the next couple months. - Tina