Steve Pemberton

A Chance in the World

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A Chance in the World Summary

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Published in 2012, A Chance in the World details the way its author, Steve Pemberton, overcame the terrible abuse he suffered at the hands of a horrific foster family to then become a successful executive, family man, and author. Subtitled An Orphan Boy, a Mysterious Past, and How He Found a Place Called Home, the memoir chronicles Pemberton’s determination to prove himself capable and intelligent as a way to defy the emotional and psychological abuse of his foster mother and father—and as a way to escape the torture-like conditions he endured.

Pemberton reveals that he originally wrote this memoir privately to explain to his own four children what his childhood was like in a way that would be both truthful and unflinching, but also allow the audience some breathing room. When he was done writing, Pemberton realized that the manuscript might help other children who were in similar circumstances, and he decided to publish the autobiography and become an activist and motivational speaker for kids and teens.

Steve Pemberton became an orphan at age two. His mother was an alcoholic who couldn’t take care of her four children, and his father was a prize fighter who was murdered and whose corpse was later set on fire by one of his enemies. The siblings were split up, and Steve was shuffled from home to home because the case workers couldn’t figure out whether the mixed-race boy should be taken care of by a black or white family. Finally, he was placed with the Robinson family in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he stayed for the next eleven years.

The house was a horror show. Steve faced physical torture and lived under unspeakable oppression. He wasn’t allowed to make eye contact with his foster parents or speak unless spoken to under threat of punishment, and his illiterate foster father would beat Steve for reading in his presence. Steve was beaten severely enough to bleed on the floor, and then was ordered to clean that blood up on hands and knees. His hands were burned over the hot stove; he was whipped; and he was forced to sleep in the cold outdoors in the family’s doghouse.

Steve’s only escapes were books and school. He was a bright, curious child, who realized early on in life that his only hope of escaping the nightmare he was trapped in was through education. He made a commitment to earn the best grades and impress his teachers at every opportunity.

He remembers a few bright spots in his childhood, people he calls “lighthouses,” whose light happened to shine on him and who offered him relief that they often didn’t even know they were giving. Most important was a neighbor named Mrs. Levin, who noticed Steve reading a book on the sidewalk, and then made it a point to bring a box of books to his foster house, insisting that Steve be given the books even though his foster mother immediately tried to deny that he would want them. There was also a construction crew that let him tag along for a few weeks, and a mailman who had friendly advice.

Almost as important were the teachers who helped him apply to Boston College and get a full scholarship to that school once he was accepted, even when the Robinsons refused to do anything to help with the process, and who eventually freed him from the foster care system when he was sixteen. After Steve worked up the courage to tell someone what his home life was like, a teacher named John Sykes took him into his house for a year, teaching Steve fatherly lessons about character and perseverance, and showing him what normal family life could be like.

At Boston College, Steve excelled in his studies and tried to figure out who he was as a person. After he graduated, he dedicated himself to finding out who his biological parents and family were. After learning that both his biological mother and father were dead, Steve reached out to other surviving family members. Some immediately accepted him as a relative, while others were lukewarm. One half-sister rejected him outright because she found out that he was half-black.

At the same time, Steve’s career flourished. He worked in Boston College’s admissions office, helping to find diamonds in the rough like he himself had been. He then became chief diversity officer of Walgreens, and now works for Globoforce as a human resources executive in charge of designing software to recognize and reward employees.

Steve decided to create the family he never had. He met and married his wife, Tonya, and they went on to have four children. The success of his book has inspired the family to start a foundation that helps young people in need, and Pemberton travels the country giving speeches to kids in foster care. He writes that his life has taken away the anger and nightmares his childhood left him with—and that his happiness is a way of defying his abusive foster family.