This is copy of a review posted at librarything.com for an Early Reviewer edition of this book, which will be published February 12, 2008. You can pre-order this book by clicking the image on the left or on the title link below. I urge you to do so.
Have You Found Her: A Memoir is a true account of Erlbaum's nearly two years of experiences with Samantha, a girl in the New York City homeless shelter for which Erlbaum volunteered. These two became close friends with Erlbaum attempting to be Samantha's mentor while she also tried to discover something about herself. The book reads like a novel, as the cover says: I could not stop reading it. Erlbaum and Samantha became part of my daytime thoughts.
If I was not reading the book, I worried about Samantha and Erlbaum. It actually felt to me that I could enter their world, and keep an eye on them, simply by opening the book. I was not a "fly on the wall" observing the action: I was a part of the cityscape that they traveled in. I walked with them on the streets and sat with them in lounges. I smelled the institutional smells that they smelled. I had the advantage over a fly of knowing them so well that I could observe them, read their thoughts and empathize with their actions. Would Erlbaum become burned out, like I did when I worked in inner city schools? Would the story end in death and without hope as my experience did?
The title, Have You Found Her, is so apt: when you live and work with children such as Samantha, you spend your life wondering where they are and if they are safe. Usually they are in the wrong places, and are not safe. I became disappointed in one person after another in this book, yet each time my disappointment would resolve into understanding as Erlbaum unraveled Samantha's mysteries.
Erlbaum uses the literary devices we have come to rely on in mystery novels. There is foreshadowing (how often while reading this book did I stop and say, "I should have realized this would happen"?) and she dropped subtle clues to Samantha's problems. She also is an honest observer of her own motives and doubts. These observations helped me unravel a bit of my own life of teaching kids in the city. I say "a bit" because I still don't have, and never will have, the experiences all wrapped up neatly into a package of "lessons learned." It was too complex a time in my life. Erlbaum seems to have achieved peace with her conclusions about her experiences. She found herself right where she had been all along: inside.
This is simply one of the most powerful books I have read in quite awhile. I hope that it is as successful as it should be so that it reaches a huge audience. I need to read Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir to learn more about Erlbaum's adolescence and what led her to Have You Found Her.
Erlbaum's blog is at Girlbomb. Her husband, Bill, has a blog at American Caesar Salad.
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