Monday, January 19, 2009

Review: Girlbomb by Janice Erlbaum

At fifteen, sick of her mom’s spineless reactions to abusive men–and afraid of her stepfather’s unpredictable behavior–Janice Erlbaum walked out of her family’s apartment and never returned. What followed that fateful decision is the heart of this amazing, fascinating, and disturbing memoir.

From her first frightening night at a shelter, trying to sleep in a large room filled with yelling girls, Janice knew she was in over her head. She was beaten up, shaken down, and nearly stabbed by a pregnant girl. But it was still better than living at home. Just like that, she was halfway homeless, always one step away from being sent “upstate to Lockdown.”

As Janice slipped further into street life, she nevertheless continued to attend high school, harbor crushes, even play the lead in the spring production of Guys and Dolls. She also roamed the streets, clubs, bars, and parks of New York City with her two best girlfriends, on the prowl for hard drugs and boys on skateboards. Together they scored coke at Danceteria, smoked angel dust in East Village squats, commiserated over their crazy mothers, and slept with one another’s boyfriends on a regular basis.

Janice Erlbaum paints a wry, mesmerizing portrait of being underprivileged, underage, and underdressed in the 1980s, bouncing from shelters to group homes, from tenement squats to legendary nightclubs. A moving and tremendously entertaining ride through the seediest parts of New York City, Girlbomb provides an unflinching look at street life, survival sex, female friendships, and first loves.

This book came highly recommended by other memoir lovers at PaperBack Swap. It had been in my bookshelf for a while before I finally picked it up, and I was glad I did.

Erlbaum was brutally honest in her descriptions of the shelters, group homes and the people she encountered in them. Her descriptions of the drugs she did and the nightclubs she frequented made me cringe at times. Through it all, I almost forgot how young she was. The fact that she was able to take care of herself and still make it though school is a testament to her strength.

I enjoyed the first two thirds of the book more than I did the ending. The last quarter of the book seemed to focus more on Erlbaum's choice of boyfriend more than anything else. As she was still young and on her own, I know this was a big deal, but it didn't have quite the same appeal to me as the first part of the book did. Still, this was a very well written memoir and I will definitely read her second book, Have You Found Her. 3.5 stars

Order Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir


Laina said...

This looks good, it's definitely going on my to-read list. :)

Hey, would you like to do a link exchange?

Literary Feline said...

This sounds like an interesting memoir. I'll have to look into it. Thanks for the great review, Melissa!

Satia said...

You'll definitely like Have You Found Her although it is a very different story. But it's interesting to see what things in her life have and have not changed. It's funny because I'm reading another memoir I'm Perfect, You're Doomed and I was curious so I skipped to the back and read the acknowledgments and after the author thanks her editor and agent the very next name is Janice Erlbaum. I practically fell out of my chair. Or off my couch, as the case may be.

Vasilly said...

What a great review! I'm adding it to my PBS wish list.