Barefoot Angel
by Pegi Handley
McNaughton Publishing

"To leave the past, I had to wipe the slate clean, even if it was with a handkerchief full of tears."

By the time she is eleven, Peggy Bearden has lost most of her hearing from repeated beatings by her drunken father, endured frequent sexual exploitation by his friends, and helped her promiscuous and neglectful mother drown more unwanted newborn babies than she can count. Yet the same child has never been hugged or kissed, had a birthday party, used eating utensils, or even seen a telephone. Proper grammar is a complete mystery to her, and she has never eaten a full meal without immediately vomiting. Then someone from her small town reports her parents for abandonment, and she and four of her siblings are ostensibly rescued. However, it doesn't feel like rescue when they are all sent to different foster homes, or when her foster mother (who also changes the spelling of her young charge’s first name) subjects her to six years' slave labor and emotional abuse. By the time she is well into middle age, the author has learned to avoid her pain through alcoholism, thievery, and work in the sex trade.

Handley recounts her experiences with all the rancor of a victim in the moment but also with the retrospective wisdom of a now healthy adult. This insight gives particular poignancy to her story of dealing with the death of her teenage son as a newly sober person. She discusses her conversion to Christianity straightforwardly but without condemning abuse survivors who do not share her faith. She also talks about the shortcomings of the welfare and foster care systems and their common failure to acknowledge the rights of the children they supposedly protect. She concludes with the message that recovery does not mean that traumatic memories disappear but that the recovered survivor controls them rather than being controlled by them.

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