In the tradition of Frank McCourt and Angela’s Ashes, Donald Dempsey chronicles one boy’s ordeals with poverty, religion, and physical and mental abuse as he attempts to come of age with only his street smarts and sense of humor to guide him.
Twelve-year-old Donny is a real-life cross between Huckleberry Finn and Holden Caulfield. Donny is doing his best to navigate the world he shares with his cruel and neglectful mother, his mother’s abusive boyfriends, churchgoers who want to save Donny’s soul, and a best friend who wants Donny to go to work for a dangerous local thug doing petty theft and dealing drugs.
Donny does everything he can to take care of himself and his younger brothers, but with each new development, the present becomes more fraught with peril–and the future more uncertain.
In scene after vivid scene, Dempsey presents his inspiring true story with accomplished style. Dempsey’s discipline as a writer lends the real-life tale the feel of a fictional page-turner.” Kirkus Reviews
(Synopsis from WOW! Women on Writing)
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I am pleased to have been given the opportunity to participate in this book tour sponsored by WOW! Women on Writing by reading and reviewing Betty’s Child by Donald R. Dempsey. Additionally, the author and WOW! will be giving away a copy of Betty’s Child to one lucky commenter.
Many have used the conditions of their childhood — various types of abuses, constant moves, dependency on welfare, parents who don’t work, changing schools constantly — to explain the path their lives have taken. I have struggled to understand this victim mentality when there are ways to detour from what has been, to take mistakes we’ve seen in action and turn them around.
Donald Dempsey believed all his tormented, anguished days that he could do just that. Turn life around and approach the better way.
Victim to his mother, Betty’s, many vices — liquor, men, fraud, scamming the church, and more — Donny’s life was never an easy ride. Cast in the role of parent as the oldest of three boys, Donny sorted out how to make do at an early age without income, constant moves because the rent is long past due, and another new boyfriend who may or may not particularly like children, not to mention the dog. If that isn’t enough, Donny attempts to fit in at school every time a move comes along and tries to find a place with friends. And even that turns in the wrong direction.
Donny watches all this from a place I’m not sure I could find if I were in his circumstances. Early on he mentions that his room is the only organized and neat space in their living quarters, and Donny spends long hours in that room wishing. Wishing for something better, a new life. Attempting to understand the mother love that is expressed verbally and how Betty, as their mother, can neglect and torment her children by allowing them to go hungry, cold and mistreated by her male friends is a concept Donny wrestles with constantly. Even the pastor who tries to befriend Donny accuses him of lying about his mother when Donny’s courage pushes him to tell the pastor about his mother’s scamming the church. His room, where the door is kept closed and often locked, is his haven where Donny attempts to understand life, religion and his mother.
Evidently Dempsey was extremely mature in his early teens to assume the roles necessary to survive this nightmarish childhood. At times, I set this book aside because as a parent I couldn’t bear to read what this mother was doing to her children. Dempsey writes with raw and graphic honesty in gripping scenes that tore at the core of my heart. I found myself wanting to reach through the pages and rescue these boys, especially Donny.
Dempsey writes his story in a way that young Donny’s sometimes wry and engaging sense of humor makes it all just a bit more bearable to read. That Donny is the one I fell in love with — smart, funny, sometimes savvy beyond his years. I knew he could make it just because not all of Donny was wrapped up in fear. A light shines through that says I’m never going to live like this again, I will be a better parent, I want to be a better man than the ones who’ve come in and out like a swinging door.
Sometimes people take what life has dealt them and out of the detritus of what other people have caused, they build a new way, a new life that far exceeds perhaps even their own expectations. This is what I believe happened in Donald Dempsey’s life.
Recommendation: I highly recommend this memoir to those writing their own story as Dempsey’s writing style is evocative of the voice that so many of us struggle to develop when writing from our childhood stories. He has captured the essence of that 12-year old boy fighting to survive. Others who interact with abused and neglected children will also find this to be an eye onto the world of one boy who suffered more than any one life should have to experience.
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Meet the Author:
Don Dempsey experienced childhood abuse and neglect first hand, but went on to have a fulfilling family life as an adult and to own his own business. “If you’re lucky, you make it to adulthood in one piece,” says Don. “But there’s no guarantee the rest of your life is going to be any better. Abused kids are often plagued by fear and insecurity. They battle depression and have trouble with relationships. In the worst cases, abused children perpetuate the cycle.” But Don is living proof that you can overcome a childhood of abuse and neglect. “You start by letting go of as much of the guilt (yes, abused kids feel guilty) and as many of the bad memories as possible. At the same time, you hold on to the things that helped you survive. For me, it was the belief that you can make life better by working at it and earning it. It helps to have a sense of humor, too.”
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If you would like to enter for a chance to win a copy of Betty’s Child by Donald Dempsey, simply leave a comment at the bottom of this post.
If you are reading this anywhere other than my , such as on Facebook, in an email, or on Goodreads, please hop on over to my blog, Found Between the Covers. Only comments left on my blog will be entered into the giveaway.
The deadline for this contest is Monday, July 29, 2013, at noon. The winner will be chosen using Random.org and will be contacted privately via email as well as an announcement in a blog post here next week.