Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"The Girl's Guide to Homelessness" by Brianna Karp

"If you saw me walking down the street, you wouldn't assume I live in a parking lot. I am just like you, except without the convenience of a permanent address." Brianna Karp entered the workforce at age ten, supporting her mother and sister throughout her teen years in Southern California. Although her young life was scarred by violence and abuse, Karp stayed focused on her dream of a steady job and a home of her own. By age twenty-two her dream became reality. Karp loved her job as an executive assistant and signed the lease on a tiny cottage near the beach.

And then the Great Recession hit. Karp, like millions of others, lost her job. In the six months between the day she was laid off and the day she was forced out onto the street, Karp scrambled for temp work and filed hundreds of job applications, only to find all doors closed. When she inherited a thirty-foot travel trailer after her father's suicide, Karp parked it in a Walmart parking lot and began to blog about her search for work and a way back.

Karp began her journey as a homeless person terrified and ashamed. Fear turned to awe as she connected with other homeless people whose remarkable stories inspired her to become an activist for the homeless community.

Deeply compassionate and darkly funny, this unforgettable memoir celebrates the courage and creativity of lives society would otherwise stigmatize.

OK, full disclosure first. The version I was trying to read was an Advanced Uncorrected Proof. So perhaps some of the problems I had with this were fixed before the final, official version. But I sort of doubt it. And yes, if you read all that carefully enough, you'll know the second thing I'm going to say...

I couldn't finish this.

This is upsetting to me on several levels, the main one being that while helping choose selections for my library system, I saw the professional reviews on this title and said we had to get it. Even got a copy for my little branch as well. Now I wonder if it was the best way to spend some of our very limited materials budget. The reviews were very positive, the blurb sounded extremely interesting, and the subject matter couldn't have been more timely.

So what's the problem? I wish I knew. I made it to the fourth chapter and just couldn't get any further. It took me a good month or more to read even that much, and that should really tell you all you need to know right there, shouldn't it? That fourth chapter opens with her talking about losing her job, figuring out how much she would be getting from unemployment, and trying to reconcile how she was going to pay her rent ($1500/month), feed herself, her hungry dog (a Neapolitan Mastiff), and - wait for it! - her horse. Yep, a horse. That was the moment I realized I just didn't care about this girl, not the way I should have. It's one thing if you're struggling to make ends meet and you lose your job and everything falls to sh*t almost immediately because you have no savings to speak of. It's entirely different when you're that young (23), you've come from a hard-scrabble life (don't forget, she's been working since age 10), you've suffered physical and mental abuse (so you know you should have an emergency plan, right?) and you go out and start spending money on beach apartments, very large dogs, and something that often should just remain a young girl's dream.

The pages before the final straw weren't much better. The narrative was all over the map, which didn't help. The author would start to tell something about her life, jump back to her childhood, go back to the present, go to a different part of her childhood, etc. Very disjointed, often with no clear sign that we were about to time-travel. The abuse is horrible, but she sounds very nonchalant about it, which really, really bothered me. If my mother had treated me the way her mother did, I don't think I could remain detached while I described it. We won't even talk about her father. Maybe that's what therapy does, but it just didn't work for me as a reader.

And I had a hard time believing that much of what she said happened to her in those first 23 years happened the way she said it did. Now, before anyone decides to blast me and say I'm being one of those awful reviewers that's slamming the author, let me clarify: I am not saying this author lied - not about anything. What I am saying is that the way it comes across on the written page, it sounds embellished. That's just my personal opinion, and it's a big part of why I couldn't finish this book. I kept finding myself reading something and saying "Really? REALLY? No one noticed this 12-yr-old driving herself to work? No one on the freeway noticed her mother bashing her face into the steering wheel when she almost side-swiped another car?" I mean, this is a young girl, and these are recent events, so I just hard a very difficult time believing that no one would pick up a cell phone and report anything like this. People seem eager to rat out others behaving badly, especially where children are involved, or so it seems.

Maybe someday down the road I'll pick up the version that was published, the version that sits in my very own library branch. Perhaps some of the issues I had with this work will have been addressed between the AUP and that version. If anyone out there has read the "official" version, please feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you thought. I really would like to know if this is just me reacting to this AUP.


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