Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Privilege of Youth

The Privilege of Youth is one of four autobiographies by Dave Pelzer. Mr. Pelzer chronicles his childhood, adolescence and young adulthood in these books. This particular book in the series is on a par with the others. According to Mr. Pelzer and to Richard, one of his four brothers, he, Dave, was subjected to horrific childhood abuse. His alcoholic, and probably severely disturbed, mother made Mr. Pelzer the focus of torture before, during and after her marriage to his father, also an alcoholic.
The subtitle of this book is A Teenager's Story of Longing for Acceptance and Friendship. It take the reader through a series of flashbacks to the author's teen years when he was struggling to understand normal life while moving from foster home to foster home, and while receiving frequent beatings from his schoolmates at every turn. The focus is on the happiest years of his life, which occurred in a small, California town, where - - for the first time - - he knew what is was like to have friends.
That Mr. Pelzer was in foster care is a matter of record. His home life had to have been excruciating for him to have been removed from his mother's care. In A Child Called 'It,'I recall feeling outrage when school teacher after school teacher saw blatant signs of abuse but ignored them. Finally, one teacher did the right thing and reported what she saw, beginning the process which resulted in Mr. Pelzer's survival. There were many times when Mr. Pelzer's mother could and should have been stopped if only someone had been willing to stand up and do the right thing. Outrage rises again and again through readings of these books as Mr. Pelzer becomes the abuse victim of most of his peers. Once again, someone had to see what was happening, but no one ever stopped his senseless beatings by his classmates.
I cannot explain my reaction to this book, but something about it, and about the other three books, strikes me as "off." It isn't the re-creations of teenage conversations that are written in a combination of current and 1970s slang. It isn't the way that Mr. Pelzer was thrashed and taken advantage of by his peers, nor was it the exceedingly bad decisions he made growing up. One would expect bad decisions from someone who had no concept of normal life, and one can overlook the writer's style of conveying conversations.
Still, it's what I believe the police call a "hinky" feeling that something is not what it seems. I understand that I am not the first person to question Mr. Pelzer's credibililty. On what grounds I do that I am not sure. But it feels as though there is something off-kilter in this story and in the others.
To be sure, the language of the books is simple, but that is not the problem. One could expect a tortured child to grow up with learning difficulties, and one could expect these books to be simple enough that other abused children could read them, and to profit by their reading. It's just a persistent feeling that this story is "true-ish," that is to say that is was based on true events, but embroidered, perhaps, and embellished for market value.
I do not recommend Mr. Pelzer's books to anyone who is squeamish or sensitive. But it would be interesting to learn if other readers have gotten the same feelings I got while reading these books.
(submitted by Moon Rani)

1 comment:

Carrie K said...

That book sounds too painful to read.

I had the same reaction to James Frey book back when it was the darling of the booksellers. It didn't ring true. I've got no problem with people embroidering their horror stories, but when other people fervently believe, it's a problem.