Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Runaway Girl: Escaping Life on the Streets, One Helping Hand at a Time by Carissa Phelps and Larkin Warren — 320 pgs

Carissa Phelps was one of eleven children living with her mother and stepfather. Her stepfather, an outwardly violent and abusive man, was particularly vicious to his stepchildren, causing Carissa to run away at age twelve. When the police brought her back, she would run away again and again, until the moment she seriously hit the streets and was was picked up by a pimp. Though Carissa got free of the first pimp, she landed in with a new one, named Icey, who took every shred of her innocence in perverted and degrading acts of abuse and rape. When she was finally able to break free of him, her spirit had been so broken that she actually wondered if leaving him behind was the right thing to do. At least he seemed to care about her, she thought. Carissa moved through group homes and the juvenile justice system, always running when she came up against a rule or person who threatened to get too close to her damaged heart. Her parents surrendered her to the system because she was a “runner” and they refused to believe that she had the potential to become anything else. Landing in juvenile detention for six months, Carissa met the man who would become a father figure and teacher who saw the potential behind the mask of indifference and defiance. With the help of the staff and teachers, Carissa managed to leave the system behind and to realize potential that few ever accomplish. But she never forgot the streets nor the children like her who had their childhoods stolen away. Realizing that her life would never be complete without being able to one day give those kids the help they needed, Carissa embarked on a path that worked to free children from exploitation, and along the way she began to heal herself. This is a story of one girl’s terrible history of abuse, and the people who helped her turn her life around, one miniature movement at a time.

It was hard to read this book and not become angry. Angry at the system, the parents that hadn’t protected their child, and angry at those men who saw a small pre-pubescent girl and used her for their own gain. As I read, I fought down the frightening inclination of seeing this girl as my daughter, or any of the young girls whom I know and love. Parental irresponsibility in these cases isn’t uncommon, but I loathed her parents. How could someone see their daughter in this situation and never lift a finger unless it was to call the authorities to take her away. It was reprehensible. Carissa reveals that she hasn’t yet learned how to forgive her parents, especially her mother, who throughout the book seemed almost robotically unemotional. Her parents’ negligence and incompetence put this very young girl in the path of some seriously bad people, and for that, I believe that forgiveness is not an option.

Carissa admits early on that she was gambling with her life and freedom, looking for a good time and someone to love her. The fact that she was only twelve when she began running away prevented her from realizing the potential dangers that lurked around every corner. It was amazing to me how many men (and women) were eager to exploit this young girl, and this made me very, very afraid, having a daughter who’s just on the cusp of womanhood. The likelihood of Carissa getting out of these situations was very slim, but when help came, she didn’t want it. Help came with strings attached, and often the rules were simply too hard for her to follow. So, she would run again and again, looking for the affection and attention that she never experienced at home.

When Carissa ended up in a locked facility, she came to the attention of a man who knew that she was special and not cut out for life on the streets. She had promise and potential, and by giving her encouragement and advice, Carissa came to trust him, and by some miracle, she also let others in. She had a great mind, and coupled with a sense of pervasive and deeply personal integrity, she took a higher path and started reconstructing her life into something that she could not only be proud of, but that could be of assistance to other children in the same situation.

This book was blunt and brutal at times, and could easily shock the senses of the average reader. But please don’t let that stop you from reading it, because Carissa’s story is one of hope and regeneration, and proves that even the most meager of lives can become a model of wisdom, encouragement and care. If ever there was a book to show you how a life can be turned around, this is that book. Sad and haunting, yes, but uplifting and courageous as well. This is a story you will never forget.



If you would like the chance to experience Carissa’s story for yourself, please enter my giveaway for a copy of this inspiring and deeply personal book. Two winners will be chosen at random. Giveaway is open to U.S. residents only.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

19 comments:

Sandy Nawrot said...

What an incredible story! I don't blame her one bit for not being able to forgive her mother. This girl had nobody to turn to, nobody to protect her! I am so impressed that she was able to extract herself from the cycle she was caught up in, and do something positive.

Brooke said...

Carissa sounds like a truly inspiring person and I honestly can't imagine how she survived such harsh situations. I know this book must be mucho hard to read, but so worth it in the end.

Jennifer @ Mrs Q Book Addict said...

This one sounds like a very difficult read but worth the time.

Mary (Bookfan) said...

Wow, great review of what sounds like a difficult read. How she made it out is amazing. Thanks for telling us about it.

Audra said...

I totally couldn't read this -- even knowing there's a 'happy' ending, just what she experienced freaks me out -- I know I shouldn't put my head in the sand, but I am -- eeek, gah, *shudder*! Lovely review today.

Alison's Book Marks said...

Oh wow. This sounds like a BRUTAL story. I often have little faith in humanity, but it took only one person out of the many that disrespected, abused and used this poor girl, to give her the encouragement to turn her life around. Amazing. There are good people in the world, it's just a shame that her own parents were among them. I think that made all the difference, so no need to worry about your own daughter - she's got a good one! :)

Alison's Book Marks said...

I meant to say "...it's just a shame that her own parent's WEREN'T among them." Big mistake there, sorry!

Harvee Lau said...

Just finished And When She Was Good, about a runaway girl who makes it in life, but at a price. Nice review!

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Jenny said...

I have this but haven't read it yet. Sounds like I need to get to it soon. I got it partly because I wondered if it would be considered inspirational to people who are similar situations or are dealing with the aftermath of similar situations so maybe I could recommend it to clients?

Suko said...

Wonderful, sensitive review! Although difficult to read, this books sounds both touching and inspiring.

bermudaonion said...

Wow, what a story. I think it would make me angry as well. I've recently read that it's actually quite healthy not to forgive too quickly. Too bad there aren't more people in the system like the man who helped Carissa.

Ti said...

I heard about this one, but I shied away from it only because it reminds me of my own childhood. I was saved from having to endure prostitution and some of the other horrors she mentioned, but that's because two very unlikely guardian angels took me under their wings.

After reading your review though, I want to read it now.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Oh, my goodness. I don't know if I could read this one because I find I get wicked angry when children are abused or other types of horrific acts occur on people. I cannot stand it. This, this is the stuff that keeps me up late at night and I worry about all the kids in the world. What an incredible story, Carissa clearly is a hero, no question about it.

Lisa said...

Sounds like an incredibly difficult book to read but I think getting angry may be just what is needed.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I have to hand it to you for reading so many difficult books I just couldn't take! But it's great to find out about these things nonetheless from your reviews!

Darlene said...

This does sound like a difficult read. These kinds of stories would make me angry as it did you but I still don't mind reading them - only once in a while though.

Jenners said...

I'm sure it is impossible to read this book without feeling angry and sad and emotional. She is beyond lucky that she was able to get her life back and do something of value and substance. I'm sure she was just inches away from losing all of it. It is stuff like this that makes you think that some people shouldn't be parents.

Vasilly said...

What a sad story. I can imagine your anger at the adults and the system which should have helped the author. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book with us.

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