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Join us for a discussion of 'To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care' by Cris Beam. This selection was made after a particularly interesting conversation on American foster care at our discussion of Richard Ford's 'Canada'. We haven't had a non-fiction meetup in some time - hope you can join us (and that you enjoy it!)
From the NYT review: Beam begins her book with a ray of hope in the form of a sprawling house on DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn, near the Roosevelt housing projects. (Beam focuses much of her narrative on foster families in New York City.) We meet Bruce and Allyson Green, who live with 10 children — most foster teenagers — in what Beam calls “a well-oiled machine.” Many of them had been “roaming the streets until 4 in the morning” before being placed with the Greens, and now they’re faced with curfews, responsibilities, expectations and love. But there’s also tension and conflict, especially when a new foster teenager comes in, “wearing the hard face of rebellion and the ineffable scent of freedom and the streets that the other kids used to know.”
Among the 400,000 foster children in America, teenagers are the hardest to place with families. Nearly half live in institutions or group homes, and their prospects don’t improve once they “age out” of the system. Nearly one-third of foster boys will go to jail before they reach age 19; foster girls are more than twice as likely to get pregnant as nonfostered teenagers; and many foster kids eventually end up homeless. On the whole, foster children are twice as likely as war veterans to develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
“To the End of June” is a triumph of narrative reporting and storytelling, as well as a thorough and nuanced analysis of an American institution deeply in need of reform. It would have been hard enough to write a book focusing on just one theme, but Beam, a foster parent herself, strives for both humanity and context. Except for an occasional structural problem — there are so many characters, I sometimes lost track of whom she was writing about — she succeeds.
Beam’s book is most gripping when she hangs out with foster children themselves. Just as she did in “Transparent,” her excellent book about transgender teenagers in Los Angeles, Beam writes about social outcasts without stereotyping them. She gives them a much-needed voice and does what too many adults in the foster-care system can’t, or won’t: she advocates for them.
Still, no amount of reporting or advocating is likely to save many of the foster children Beam writes about in “To the End of June.” The Greens, the foster parents who seem like a beacon of light at the beginning of the book, can provide only so much hope in a system that no one — “not the kids, not the foster or biological parents, not the social workers, the administrators, the politicians, the policy experts” — thinks is working. By the end of the book, things are falling apart in their Brooklyn home. Kids have run away; scheduled adoptions have been canceled. And the Greens, like so many foster parents before them, aren’t sure how much more they can take.
“I used to think I could save any child who walked through my door,” Bruce Green says. “But I can’t.”
Link to full review: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/25/books/review/cris-beams-to-the-end-of-june.html
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