[Book Review] A Child Called ‘It’ by Dave Pelzer

A twitter debate on Stockholm Syndrome first introduced me to this book. Stockholm syndrome is delicious fodder for twitteratis, and especially those who wish to deride people in toxic [romantic] relationships, or the [Kenyan] electorate herd that keeps voting the same unworthy politicians into public office. As far as popular usage goes, those two scenarios pretty much covers everything, you have to respect the scope of our collective imagination.

According to Wikipedia, Stockholm syndrome is a condition where strong emotional ties develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.

One of the responses I received on my position that Stockholm Syndrome is hokum cited A Child Called ‘It’ [as below], and you know me-I follow through. A few weeks later I bought the book.

A Child Called ‘It’ is as depressing as it sounds. It is a chronicling of a true story of the child abuse David received from his mother growing up. And to call it child abuse is massive understatement. For over 7 years, Dave’s mother singled him out from his 4 siblings, and beat him up, secluded him from family gatherings and meals, leaving him to eat out of the trashcan if he was so lucky. He would then have to clean after his siblings in an empty stomach, only to retire on a cold basement floor, again only if he was lucky. When he wasn’t so lucky, his mother would force him to immerse himself in a tub full of cold water for hours, until he was weak and crinkly.

Over time the ‘punishments’ escalated to chemical burns, stabbing, being thrown out in the cold during the winter season etc. Naturally, this taunting spilled over to his life at school, where kids made fun of him for his smelly clothes, beat him up and refused to play with him.

This routine went on from an age of 5 years old, to his rescue by Social Services at the age of 12.

Everything about this book is beyond belief, and so upon finishing it my first reaction was to nose around on the internet looking for the story.

Full disclosure: There are a lot of claims that Dave may have been very loose with the facts and blown the reality to the fantastic. There are also claims that he may have bought a truckload of copies of his own book to move it up the bestsellers list. As I write this, I am very aware he could be a massive piece of trash for these reasons, but I wish to stay open minded and give the homeboy benefit of doubt. Abusers are so powerful because people often and without sufficient evidence disbelieve victims. That being said, fact or fiction, this was hands down the most disturbing thing I have ever subjected my senses to. I kept pausing my reading because I felt nauseated, and I am black.

But I want to be very real in this review; This book for all the sadness and horror is extremely poorly written and poorly edited, and right off the bat one can tell Dave is not a writer. Some people may argue that was because it was a book narrated from a child’s perspective, but I have read books narrated by children-Allah is not Obliged, Born on a Tuesday etc, and it’s possible to have a child narrator narrate a book well, even with the limited writing styles and devices available to child characters. However, being a story based on a lived experience I was tolerant, and I really put effort into finishing it, something I otherwise wouldn’t have done.

Rating: 3/5 stars

PS: I also finished Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind by Yuval Noah Harari some two weeks ago [even before Ebola]. It’s a complex book to review, and I’ll post the review as soon as I have been able to edit it.

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