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Have You Found Her: A Memoir by Janice…
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Have You Found Her: A Memoir (2008)

by Janice Erlbaum

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Most interesting memoir: This is Janice Erlbaum's second memoir. Her first book told the story of her own teen years - years in which she was a runaway and a shelter resident who successfully transitioned out of that life. In Have You Found Her, Erlbaum writes about her experiences twenty years later as a volunteer at that same shelter. Because she was a writer at the time, she carefully documented in a journal what she did, what people said, and her feelings as she kept a weekly commitment as the "Bead Lady" who helped the girls make jewelry on Wednesday evenings.

As a volunteer, Erlbaum went through training which emphasized not having favorites among the residents, not giving gifts and certainly not giving out telephone numbers or personal information. She became obsessed with being at the shelter, looking for "the one that reminds you of you." While there she meets a homeless junkie, Samantha (Sam). Sam becomes Erlbaum's special friend at the shelter and Erlbaum is moved to try to help this girl get on her feet. Sam develops several illnesses and is hospitalized, sent to drug rehab, re-hospitalized and becomes more of a burden than Erlbaum had bargained for. Yet she cares very much for Sam until a peculiarity in Sam's diagnosis begins to affect her feelings.

Janice Erlbaum relates this piece of her life with the flair of an excellent novelist. I found myself forgetting that this wasn't a story that would have a reasonable resolution. When Erlbaum begins to investigate Sam's illnesses and then search for her birth family, the book read like a mystery thriller- and I could hardly put it down.

I enjoyed the book very much and am quite impressed with Erlbaum's ability to tell her own tale with such aplomb.

Armchair Interviews says: Good book group discussion questions are at the back of the book.
1 vote lonepalm | Feb 5, 2014 |
Janice Erlbaum tells her story, and the story of a homeless girl named Sam, in this twisted and brilliant memoir.
I admit I was hesitant to read this when my friend first lent me her copy. She said she could not tell me what it was about, as it would spoil the story, and she was right. There is no way to describe this book that would do it justice.
The story is almost too good to be true, and it is so engaging that it will linger in your mind long after you finish the final page.
It is a quick, fascinating read, and I cannot say more without spoiling it. ( )
1 vote nlsings | Aug 30, 2012 |
The reading guide mentions that someone suggested the title for this book to be Sucker: A Love Story. That makes sense. The author did a great job explaining the appeal of being codependent in an unequal relationship.

Favorite lines:

"But I'd loved her. Or I'd loved the way she made me feel about myself. I'd loved the person I was when I was with her--competent, maternal, adult--but had I ever really loved her? How could I? I didn't know anything about her. And once I did, I didn't love her at all."

On being the "bead lady" at the shelter: "I should have cured homelessness already. Instead, I had decorated it."

"Stillness--that's what it felt like, that first week she was gone. An electric, living stillness, the feeling of stasis rubbing against change. The hum you hear when you meditate, the loudness of nothing...I felt empty. It didn't feel so bad." ( )
  librarianarpita | Aug 21, 2012 |
I was kinda freaked out a little in the beginning of this book as the author seemed so overly obsessed with the runaway girl she is trying to help, it felt like an unnatural attraction. As the story proceeds, she addresses this though and put me more at ease. It wasn't to hard to figure out what was really going on in the story, but she did an excellent job of threading it along. Very good book. It made me want to read her other book so another one found to go on the wish list. ( )
  justablondemoment | Feb 23, 2010 |
Reviewed by coollibrarianchick for TeensReadToo.com

I just finished a book, after running back to the beach because it was mistakenly left there, that I am going to pass on to everyone looking for a good book to read. HAVE YOU FOUND HER by Janice Erlbaum was a gut-wrenching, pull-at-your-heart strings, can't-put-it-down memoir. It actually reads like a novel, a suspenseful one at that, full of plot twists and turns. I finished it in two days. The little blurb I read about it in my local library's Bookpage didn't do the book justice.

Janice Erlbaum one day decided to volunteer at a homeless shelter for teens in NYC. Very noble of her, don't you think? Volunteering at this one homeless shelter was more than just an act of graciousness for her. Twenty years ago, she lived at that shelter for a time. She wanted to do something for these kids, show that you can change your situation and become successful. Janice definitely changed her life for the better. Now she is a successful author, living in a nice apartment with her husband (or domestic partner, as she calls him) and three cats.

At first, the volunteering doesn't go very well. Her nervousness shows and the kids are gravitating to her for help. Janice is just not sure if she can do it. She soon realizes she has to have a shtick if she wants their attention and find a younger version of herself to help. So one day, she brings a bag full of beads for a craft-making jewelry session. It does the trick and she is forever known as the Bead Lady.

One of the rules of the place is "Don't choose favorites." That rule goes completely out the window when Janice meets Samantha. Samantha is a brilliant junkie who has been on her own since she was twelve. She is incredibly lovable and also incredibly damaged. Samantha says a lot of things throughout the time Janice comes to know her that should be questioned. At any rate, Janice ends up falling for Sam - not a romantic love like she has for Bill, but in a deeply caring, friendship/parental way. She wants to save Sam from the streets, and this leads Janice and Sam through hospitals and halfway houses and rehabs.

The one thing Janice never suspected was how sick Sam really was.......

The book was like a roller coaster ride for me. When Sam was up, in good health, on the right track, you cheered -- but when she was down, sick, so weak that you though she would die at any second, you couldn't help but get sad and emotional. You start to wonder if you can really save another person's soul.

I just wonder where Sam is now..... ( )
  GeniusJen | Oct 11, 2009 |
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Epigraph
Ooh, baby, baby, it's a wild world....
I'll always remember you like a child, girl.
--Cat Stevens
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For B, of course
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There's a redheaded girl panhandling on my corner, sitting on the sidewalk behind a cardboard sign.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812974573, Paperback)

And every week, there was the unspoken question, the one I didn’t know enough to ask myself : Have you found her yet? The one who reminds you of you?

Twenty years after she lived at a homeless shelter for teens, Janice Erlbaum went back to volunteer. Now thirty-four years old and a successful writer, she’d changed her life for the better; now she wanted to help someone else–someone like the girl she’d once been.

Then she met Sam. A brilliant nineteen-year-old junkie savant, the product of a horrifically abusive home, Sam had been surviving alone on the streets since she was twelve and was now struggling for sobriety against the adverse health effects of long-term drug abuse.

Soon Janice found herself caring deeply for Sam, following her through detoxes and psych wards, halfway houses and hospitals, becoming ever more manically driven to save her from the sickness and sadness leftover from Sam’s terrible past. But just as Janice was on the verge of becoming the girl’s legal guardian, she made a shocking discovery: Sam was sicker than anyone knew, in ways nobody could have imagined.

Written with startling candor and immediacy, Have You Found Her is the story of one woman’s quest to save a girl’s life–and the hard truths she learns about herself along the way.

“A rich and compelling account . . . Ultimately this is a book about the narrator’s journey and the dangers that attend the urge within us all to believe we can save another soul. A terrific read.”
–Cammie McGovern, author of Eye Contact

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:42 -0400)

Describes the author's return to the New York City youth shelter in which she had lived as a teenage runaway, this time as a volunteer, and her relationship with Sam, a bright, sensitive, but troubled teenager from the Midwest.

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