The book begins with the rescue basically, of this young boy named Dave Pelzer. During an examination by the school nurse Dave said he ran into a door, the nurse reminds him that he said that the week previous. Dave then changes his story saying he was playing baseball and got hit by the bat accidentally. This leads to the nurse examining Dave further, having him take off the torn clothing and revealing the scar on his stomach from where his mother had stabbed him. Dave is brought to the teacher’s lounge and a police officer asks him to tell of his mother and the abuse and he hesitantly did so.
The chapter then ends with the police officer taking Dave to the police station and while going down the highway the officer tells him he is free and his mother will never hurt him again. The second chapter jumps you into the time before the abuse had started. He had great parents and they are were happy living in a home in Daly City. Dave tells of how his mother mad him feel safe and loved and how she would go all out for Christmas, getting a huge tree and baking cookies, along with driving the kids around the neighborhood to see the lights and drinking egg nog while sitting around the fire.
The next chapter is when the abuse begins, with Dave as a small child and becoming mischievous. His mother’s entire behavior changes and the abuse is only directed towards him. That year during the holidays his mother told him she had gotten a letter from Santa Claus saying that Dave had been a bad boy this year and would receive no gifts at Christmas. That year he only got two gifts, from other relatives.
Chapter four has Dave returning to school in September and he is shunned by his classmates for having smelly clothes. He also is called a food thief for taking food from the other kids because is mother had been starving him. Dave begins stealing from the local gas station at lunchtime and eventually is caught and his mother is notified. She then begins beating him again, even though she knew good and well that he was stealing due to her mistreatment. His mother then begins making him vomit into the toilet at night and forcing him to put the undigested food into a bowl so that his father can see when he gets home. This is when Dave begins to hate his father as well as his mother because he is doing nothing to end the abuse.
A new school year begins and Dave’s mother has now begun refusing Dave dinner and he if he’s lucky enough he is given leftover cereal portions for breakfast. On weekends she refuses to feed him at all. He continues to steal food from classmates and is ag caught. By this time his mother has sunk even lower and only calls him the boy. He’s not allowed to eat with the family, or even play with his brothers. He is continually performing chores dulled out to him by his horrible mother. Dave’s father tries to sneak food to him, but is unsuccessful in doing so, aside from the slice of bread every now and then.
The parents begin to fight over this issue and Dave knows his father will not win the argument, because in their home his mother is the one in charge. The father begins spending less and less time at home, resulting in Dave getting even more beatings from his mother because she is blaming him for the issues in her marriage. That summer the family goes on a vacation and it seems as if Dave and his mother are getting along better until one day he is playing with his brothers and she scolds him for being too loud and is not allowed to go with them to the slide.
Dave’s mother punishes him even further by taking a dirty diaper and smearing it in his face, trying to get him to eat it. When he refuses she hits him and then the abuse stops long enough for her to tend to the baby and then she rubs another dirty diaper into Dave’s face and tells him again to eat it. Just in time, the family returns and the abuse stops with his mother throwing a washcloth at him to clean himself up and then forces him to sit in the corner for the remainder of the night. The next chapter has Dave’s father coming home even less, but when he does he helps Dave to wash the dishes.
When his mother scolds his father saying the boy should not be helped, Dave’s father becomes rarely seen at home. Dave is starved for ten days and his mother ensures he cannot steal any food and there are no scraps, forcing him to have nothing but water. He becomes so weak on the sixth day and can hardly get out of his cot. One night Dave is given a plate of cold leftovers and is told he has only two minutes to eat it, but before he even begins to eat she snatches the plate from him and throws it down the garbage disposal.
The tenth day he is once again given a plate of cold leftovers and this time successfully eats all of the food in the time limit she gives him. Dave is sent to the bathroom where his mother then proceeds to fill a bucket with ammonia and Clorox and closes the door. Soon after being in the room Dave begins to have a reaction to the fumes and begins vigorously coughing before pushing the bucket as far away as possible and breathes air from the heating vent. After being in the room for half an hour his mother opens the door and Dave proceeds to cough up blood for the next hour.
Dave is sent out to mow lawns and comes home with a bag of food. His mother, convinced he is lying about the food not being stolen, beats him and then proceeds to make Dave sit outside on rocks while she takes the other children to the zoo. When they return home Dave is forced to take a cold bath and his mother forces his head under the water and then leaves him sitting in the tub for hours before ordering him to get out and put his clothes on without drying off. Then he is put back outside and is forced to sit in the backyard in his soaking wet clothes.
The day following, a social worker comes to the house and talks to Dave’s mother for an hour and then calls Dave in the room. She asks if he has a happy home life and he says yes. She then asks if his mother has ever beaten him and he responds no, except for when he is being bad and needs to be punished. Once the social worker leaves she hits him several times because he “gave the wrong answers” and sends him to the garage. The last chapter of the book has Dave developing affection for his little brother Kevin and getting the temporary relief of playing with the baby when his mother is away.
Dave is allowed to eat dinner with the family now, but his mother and father argue the whole time. A few days after Christmas, Dave’s parents separate for good. With his father gone now Dave knows he has no hope left. He believes his mother is going to kill him soon. To say this book was heart wrenching to me would be an understatement. I had always been told this book was incredible and I never read it because it just didn’t seem like my type of book, but this course gave me the opportunity to read this book and really reflect on it.
I suppose there are many different ways that I could use this book in both my personal and professional life. All of the different things going on in this book really helped me to notice some of the signs that children who suffer from abuse and neglect will often show. Children coming to school in smelly clothes, having random bruises appearing each week, looks of malnourishment, change of bruise stories, etc. are all tell-tale signs that maybe there’s a bigger issue going on in the home than meets the eye.
I have a passion for Social Work and working with children and adults who have been affected by alcohol and substance abuse is where I want to spend most of my time, so this book really hit me in my emotions and pulled at my heart strings. This book has opened up my eyes to see the cruelty that we face in this world and that nobody is safe, not even a small child. If nothing else, this book at least has made me want to be nicer to children and to make sure I can identify signs of abuse and neglect in children.
This book makes me so much more excited to be a helper after reading it because I’m going to strive to get victims of this severe abuse out of the home and into a safe area. Also, this book makes me appreciate how fortunate I was to have a good childhood and to have loving parents who weren’t abusive in a verbal or physical way. This book also gives me the perfect example to use on how not to parent a child. After reading this book, I’ve also tried to lend a helping hand to both friends and strangers alike. It’s helped me to understand that everyone has problems that we don’t know about.