40 pages 1 hour read

Dave Pelzer

The Lost Boy

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 1997

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The Lost Boy is the sequel to Dave Pelzer’s first memoir, A Child Called “It,” which tells the story of how he was severely abused by his mother as a young child. In The Lost Boy, Pelzer recounts how he is finally removed from his parents’ custody and placed in foster care. After years of neglect and abuse, David struggles to adjust to his new living situations and the uncertainty that comes with the life of a foster child. In time, however, he finds a sense of home and family in foster care that he never had while he was living with his abusive mother.

When David is twelve years old, his teachers notify the police that he is being abused at home. The police inform his parents that he will not be coming home and place him in a temporary foster home with a woman whom all the children call “Aunt Mary.” David is soon assigned a social worker, Ms. Gold, who visits David at Aunt Mary’s house and interviews him about his mother’s abusive behavior. Although David becomes very attached to Ms. Gold, he panics when he learns that she is gathering evidence to build a case against his mother so that she cannot regain custody of him. Because he believes that his mother will get him back and punish him for telling the “family secret,” he decides to retract his statements about the abuse. At the trial, however, when the judge asks if he would rather become a ward of the court or return home with his mother, he tells the judge he would rather live with him. As a result, the judge rules that David should be made a permanent ward of the court.

David soon develops a strong bond with his new foster parents, Lilian and Rudy Catanze, but at school he struggles to fit in and often encounters prejudice against foster children. The traumatic memories of his mother’s abuse continue to haunt him, and he is upset by his father’s failure to visit him at his new home. In sixth grade, he befriends a kid named John, who encourages David’s stealing and manipulates him into serving as the “lookout” while John sets a school classroom on fire. When the fire gets out of control, John runs away and leaves David to take the blame. David is charged with arson and is sent to Hillcrest, the local juvenile hall, to await trial.

While at Hillcrest, David learns from Lilian that his mother is trying to prove that David was so “incorrigible” as a child that she was forced to use “unconventional” methods to discipline him. Lilian assures David that she and Rudy are fighting as hard as they can to keep David and prevent his mother from finding a way to justify her treatment of him. At the trial, the judge sentences David to 100 days of juvenile probation, since they cannot prove or disprove the charge of arson, and rules that David should be returned to foster care after serving his time.

After he returns from Hillcrest, David struggles to readjust to life at the Catanzes’ house and is soon removed to another foster home. Since there is no space in any of the local foster homes, David spends a week sleeping on Alice and Harold Turnbough’s couch before he goes to live with Joanne and Michael Nulls, a couple who want a foster child since they cannot have children of their own. When the Nullses divorce, David is sent to live with Vera and Jody Jones, who live very close to David’s mother. After the foster home is shut down when Jody is accused of statutory rape, David is sent back to live with the Turnboughs. Although he is only supposed to remain with Alice and Harold temporarily, they end up becoming his permanent foster parents, and he develops a close bond with them. Eventually, however, two new foster boys come to live with the Turnboughs, with whom David does not get along. He asks to be transferred to a new foster home and begins living with John and Linda Walsh, a young couple with three small children.

The Walshes move with David to a new neighborhood where he becomes friends with two other teenage boys, Dave Howard and Paul Brazell. He also develops a close bond with a neighbor, Michael Marsh, who recognizes that David is a misfit teenager who could benefit from a positive role model in his life. Michael and his wife, Sandra, allow David to spend a great deal of time at their home and offer him the guidance and support that he desperately needs. When the Walshes’ frequent quarrels turn violent, David asks to be removed from their home and returns to live with Alice and Harold, with whom he now knows he truly belongs.

During high school, David starts to work a variety of part-time jobs to prepare for when he turns eighteen and will no longer be able to remain in foster care. He also attempts to reestablish a bond with his father; when he finally connects with him, however, he realizes that his father’s alcoholism has escalated to the point that he is no longer capable to rebuilding his relationship with his son. Since he is still struggling to put aside his desire for answers about his past, David decides that he needs to get away from the area in which he grew up and resolves to join the Air Force. As he is leaving for his training and saying goodbye to the Turnboughs, he realizes that Alice and Harold have become his true family. In the Epilogue, David reveals that he had a successful career in the Air Force and now has the home and family that he so desperately longed for as a child.