Monday, December 28, 2015

Book Review: No House To Call My Home by Ryan Berg

No House to Call My Home: Love, Family, and Other TransgressionsBlurb:

Underemployed and directionless, Ryan Berg took a job in a group home for disowned and homeless LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) teenagers. His job was to help these teens discover their self worth, get them back on their feet, earn high school degrees, and find jobs. But he had no idea how difficult it would be, and the complexities that were involved with coaxing them away from dangerous sex work and cycles of drug and alcohol abuse, and helping them heal from years of abandonment and abuse.

In No House to Call My Home, Ryan Berg tells profoundly moving, intimate, and raw stories from the frontlines of LGBTQ homelessness and foster care. In the United States, 43% of homeless youth were forced out by their parents because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Berg faced young people who have battled extreme poverty, experienced unbalanced opportunities, structural racism, and homophobia. He found himself ill-equipped to help, in part because they are working within a system that paints in broad strokes, focused on warehousing young people, rather than helping them build healthy relationships with adults that could lead to a successful life once they age out of foster care.

By digging deep and asking the hard questions, and by haltingly opening himself up to his charges, Berg gained their trust. Focusing on a handful of memorable characters and their entourage, he illustrates the key issues and recurring patterns in the suffering, psychology and recovery of these neglected teens.

No House to Call My Home will provoke readers into thinking in new ways about how we define privilege, identity, love and family. Because beyond the tears and abuse, the bluster and bravado, what emerges here is a love song to that irrepressible life force of youth: hope.

My rating:

I received this book for free from the author's publicist after being alerted to its existence by Heidi Cullinan. Thank you, Tom, for sending it, and thank you, Heidi for bringing it to my attention.

It's heartbreaking to read about these kids, thrown away by the people who were supposed to love them and protect them, trying to find their place in life, and failing miserably, despite the efforts of the social workers who give so much of themselves to help them.

It's heartbreaking to know that this is real life, that this sort of thing happens every day in every city and state in this country, and there aren't enough resources to save them all.

It's heartbreaking to know that LGBTQ kids have little hope and little chance of making it, simply because of who they are and whom they love. Abused, neglected, thrown into the streets, they resort to drugs to numb themselves against the pain and anger, sex for hire to buy the drugs, lashing out at the very people who are trying to help them. Some of them are HIV+, and their chances are even more bleak. Antiretroviral drugs aren't cheap and must be taken regularly to work - an option these kids don't often have.

In this memoir, Ryan Berg paints a bleak picture of real life for these kids in the New York foster care system, chronicling his experience as a residential counselor in two different group homes for LGBTQ teens, most of whom are POC. He tries to help them prepare for life after the group home, when they age out of the system, but realizes quickly after starting in that position that the adversity these kids face is nearly insurmountable, for various reasons.

The author, with sensitivity and much heart, tells the stories of the young people he tries to help, and calls out the serious lack of resources, of funding, of programs that work. He doesn't shy away from telling it as it is in all its ugliness. There are many moments where his frustration shines through, deservedly so, when a kid takes one step forward, and two steps back, when red tape and rules prevent him from doing the one thing that might help.

Overall, the book is full of heartache and despair. While there are some success stories in it, a large number of kids never make the transition to successful adults, and instead sink deeper into addiction, and continue on the downward spiral of prostitution and drugs, eventually ending up as another statistic, another young life destroyed before reaching its potential.

Mr. Berg lists a variety of agencies, charities, and crisis hotlines as available resources at the end of the book. There is much work to be done, and much money is needed to help these marginalized children all over this country of ours.

My thanks to the author's publicist for providing my copy of this book for review.

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