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From the moment he was born, Andrew Bridge and his mother, Hope, shared a love so deep that it felt like nothing else mattered. Trapped in desperate poverty and confronted with unthinkable tragedies, all Andrew ever wanted was to be with his mom. But as her mental health steadily declined, and with no one else left to care for him, authorities arrived and tore Andrew from his screaming mother's arms. In that moment, the life he knew came crashing down around him. He was only seven years old. Hope was institutionalized, and Andrew was placed in what would be his devastating reality for the next eleven years—foster care. After surviving one of our country's most notorious children's facilities, Andrew was thrust into a savagely loveless foster family that refused to accept him as one of their own. Deprived of the nurturing he needed, Andrew clung to academics and the kindness of teachers. All the while, he refused to surrender the love he held for his mother in his heart. Ultimately, Andrew earned a scholarship to Wesleyan, went on to Harvard Law School, and became a Fulbright Scholar. Andrew has dedicated his life's work to helping children living in poverty and in the foster care system. He defied the staggering odds set against him, and here in this heart-wrenching, brutally honest, and inspirational memoir, he reveals who Hope's boy really is.
- ISBN-13: 9781401303228
- ISBN-10: 1401303226
- Publisher: Hyperion Books
- Publish Date: February 2008
- Page Count: 306
- Reading Level: Ages 18-UP
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 39.
- Review Date: 2007-10-29
- Reviewer: Staff
In this memoir of a decade spent in foster care, Bridge illuminates the horrors of a system that, in its clumsy attempts to save children, he argues, all too frequently condemns them to physical and emotional abuse. The child of a teenage mother who divorced her abusive husband soon after Bridge was born, he watched helplessly as his mother disintegrated under the impact of isolation and poverty. At the age of seven, Bridge was dragged away from his mother, literally, by police and warehoused in an enormous California juvenile facility patrolled by armed guards. The state eventually transferred him to a foster family dominated by an obese, bullying Estonian woman who had survived imprisonment in Dachau as a child. At 17, as he prepared to leave foster care for college and freedom, Bridge finally had a reunion with the mother he never stopped missing. In his narration of this unending nightmare, Bridge shows particular skill in portraying his isolation and the defenses he constructed to survive it. He also has a talent for grotesques, particularly that of the monstrous foster mother who revisited the misery of her upbringing on her foster children. Bridge’s obsessive focus on his loneliness and his two “mothers” is so intense that a more balanced picture of his life fails to emerge and his attachment to another foster child remains unexplained. Yet Bridge, a Harvard Law School graduate who has devoted his career to children’s rights, has provided remarkable insights into a dark corner of American society. (Feb.)
Shining light into dark corners
Charles Dickens would be appalled to learn that the dark corners of cruelty to defenseless children that his novels exposed back in the 19th century still lurk behind the glitz and glamour of the 21st. In Hope's Boy, a work of nonfiction, Andrew Bridge recounts his agonizing stay at "an immense, asylumlike facility" in Los Angeles where he is taken after being whisked away from his mother, frightened and alone, at age seven.
Bridge describes MacLaren Hall as a place "where otherwise ordinary activities . . . became grotesque events. . . . For bathing, after we stripped, staff marched us naked through MacLaren's corridors to its central showers and tubs, where boys of varying ages grabbed at one another as staff looked on and laughed. For discipline, being sent to a corner meant staying there for hours. Being told to go to your room was replaced with being locked in a basement." (Embroiled in lawsuits, MacLaren was finally shut down in 2003.)
Bridge's Dickensian saga continues when he is placed with a family that offers little guidance and no real affection. He remains there, largely forgotten, until he "ages out" of foster care at 18. That he is able to outlast his fears in "a silent race to sunlight," secure a scholarship to Wesleyan, graduate from Harvard Law School and become a champion of children still lost in the system, is nothing less than remarkable, but one success story does not a good system make. "As when I was a child," he observes, "foster care largely remains a world of young mothers and frightened children. Ask about their lives, and their grief fills the air. Mothers speak of wrenching loss, and children speak of unyielding loneliness."
Bridge writes with honesty and tenderness of his own mother, a woman whose mental decline forces their separation, but who nevertheless taught him "what was right and what was wrong, what was sane and what was crazy, what was love and what was not." He clings to her memory, to the hope of her return, and to the name he knows her bynot "Priscilla," as his case workers refer to her, but the name forever in his heart, "Hope."
Luckily for the 500,000 children in foster care today, Bridge has dedicated his adult life to changing the system. Barely out of law school, Bridge was sent to Eufala, Alabama, to investigate an adolescent center where isolation cells were used to punish children. "Children sat on a mud-covered concrete floor," he writes. "Begging to be released, they banged against the cinderblock walls, leaving behind hand and footprint smears, red from Alabama's clay soil." Files and depositions revealed that two boys, David Dolihite (15) and Eddie Weidinger (14), who had attempted suicide, had both been kept in one of these cells for more than a week. When Eddie found David hanging from his shoelaces, he tried to save him by chewing through the knot. David lived but was severely brain damaged. Both boys, Bridge finds, had come to the conclusion in their young lives that "no more hope was left to borrow from the future."
Bridge later became the CEO and general counsel of the Alliance for Children's Rights, and, following the disappearance and death of hundreds of foster children, he chaired a task force investigating the safety and well-being of children in Los Angeles County's care. In 2002, his continued efforts allowed more children to stay with their families and still qualify for federal child welfare assistance. Bridge is also a founding director of New Village, which opened in 2006 to help children in foster care and the delinquency system prepare for college or skilled employment.
Hope's boy made a success of his life, and now gives hope to others, helping them make a success of theirs. For a tale well told, and the courage and dignity to tell it without bitterness, for a message ultimately of hope, Dickens would be proud.
Linda Stankard writes from Piermont, New York, with hope in her heart.