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Welfare Brat: A Memoir by Mary Childers
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Welfare Brat: A Memoir

by Mary Childers

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This is a real bootstrap story that keeps you turning pages wondering how in the hell a woman who grew up in this way could possibly have lived to write a book about it. But Mary Childers did just that, and she tells her story in a compelling, plain spoken manner that keeps you turning the pages. I read the book in just a few sittings over a couple of days. It's that good, honest.

I know there should be no comparison, but while reading Childers's story I kept thinking of another memoir - Anne Roiphe's 1185 PARK AVENUE. While Childers grew up in truly abject poverty, part of a sprawling fatherless family of several children dependent on welfare, Roiphe grew up in a posh Park Avenue apartment, a child of wealth and privilege. The connection here is emotional misery, for Anne Roiphe's childhood was a cold and loveless thing in a home where her parents fought constantly and viciously, and she longed to escape. So did Childers, but for very different reasons, obviously. Still, misery and bottomed-out self-esteem are classless, I suppose.

Mary Childers is a very good writer. She has much to be proud of, but I think I admire her most for the way she came to understand her mother, rather than simly hating her. Her hard-won higher education - as well as that early school of hard knocks - actually taught her something about life. She had to learn how to cope with all kinds of people and all sorts of situations. Maybe that's how she ended up as a special ombudsman for conflict resolution in higher education. I'll bet she's good at it too. ( )
  TimBazzett | Apr 11, 2011 |
Growing up in my own version of rural poverty, I was anxious to compare Mary Childer's childhood to my own. We are, within a few years, close to the same age, so I concluded that our stories might be similar. I couldn't have been more off the mark. The urban setting changes everything. Growing up poor in New York is definitely not comparable to growing up poor in rural Texas!

With that out of the way, I can honestly say I would rather live my version of being poor. The gnawing fear that Mary grew up with--fear of gangs, fear of men out to do her harm, fear that they would become homeless at any time---that fear was something she lived with every day. It made her strong, but it took away her childhood.

I couldn't help but feel sad for Mary and her family when, at the end of the month, when the food stamps were spent and all of the government cheese and peanut butter was eaten, they often went hungry. Mary really resented her mother for buying any non-essentials, like hair color and beer. I don't blame her. Mary's mother would take odd jobs, off the books, but wouldn't work full time because she would lose all of her benefits and she knew welfare would be there for her, while a job would not even pay for housing, much less food.

One of the problems came from having too many babies with men who didn't care about the kids they made. No child support was mentioned in the memoir, and I suppose in the 60s and 70s it wasn't like it is now, where a man is hunted down and made to pay child support.

There are a couple shocking passages, but for the most part this is a story about a mother who has made too many bad decisions and how she and her children suffer because of those decisions. Even so, Mary, by the end of the book, gets over her anger at her mother and graciously admits that her mother did the best she could with the limited resources available to her. ( )
  lildrafire | Aug 30, 2010 |
A great success story and a page-turner for sure. But the writing is very cliched - she tries a little too hard with flowery language (and fails) instead of focusing on the content. ( )
  superunknown | Mar 23, 2006 |
The author grows up in a stereotypical welfare family in the '60s. Her mother doesn't seem to have much interest in working, she and her siblings have various fathers they've never known, and there's never enough money for anything. The story is sometimes sad, sometimes funny, sometimes inspirational. The only thing I didn't really like was that the last section about the causes of poverty seemed tacked on. ( )
  ursula | Oct 5, 2005 |
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