Last month, we looked at four stories too unbelievable not to be true, and I thought those would be the strangest stories I heard this year. That was before I heard about Marina Chapman, for whom being raised by monkeys is only the beginning of her troubles–and not even the most trying. She was also kidnapped, sold into sex slavery, and worked as a servant for the Colombia mafia. This is truly stranger than strange, and all the more impressive for the fact that Chapman herself is able to write about her ordeals.
Not nearly as sensational, but just as heartbreaking is Elizabeth Scarboro’s memoir of her relationship with her childhood sweetheart, who suffered from cystic fibrosis. She recounts her growing love for Stephen, early marriage, and plunge into the world of terminal illness with open-eyed unsentimentality. Once again, this is the kind of story which many would decry as phony Lifetime-movie fare if it weren’t real.
CHAPMAN, Marina & Lynn Barrett-Lee. The Girl with No Name: The Incredible True Story of a Child Raised by Monkeys. 336p. Pegasus. Apr. 2013. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9781605984742.
Adult/High School–Marina was kidnapped somewhere near Colombia when she was only five-years-old. This fantastic and heart-wrenching story would be too much to buy if it weren’t nonfiction. Evens so, it is hard to believe. Abandoned in the forest, she learned to survive by mimicking the troop of monkeys she discovered in a clearing. The monkeys at first tolerated, and then adopted her. She lived with them for something like five years before she was rescued, but her hardships had only begun. She was sold into a brothel as a slave servant where she was beaten and abused until she managed to escape before they could initiate her into the life of a prostitute. She spent time as a street kid where she learned to be tough and wily, and then thought she had improved her life by becoming a servant for a wealthy family, only to learn that she was in the house of Colombian mafia. The action, drama, and suspense are ongoing as this remarkable heroine moved through one treacherous scenario to the next until she finally found her way out into the light and a future that held promise. Students who flock to true stories of abuse like Dave Pelzer’s A Child Called It (Health Communications, 1995) will gravitate to this story and insist that all their friends read it, too.–Jake Pettit, American School Foundation, Mexico City, Mexico
SCARBORO, Elizabeth. My Foreign Cities. 288p. Norton. Apr. 2013. Tr $24.95. ISBN 978-0-87140-338-4. LC 2012042010.
Adult/High School–Stephen, Scarboro’s childhood sweetheart, was born with cystic fibrosis. People with the disease are missing a crucial enzyme without which mucus develops in the lungs and digestive system, ultimately making it impossible to breathe. Their life expectancy is 30 years. As teens they were friends, but slowly it became clear that not only were they best friends–they loved each other deeply. Scarboro married him at age 20. Her thoughtful memoir takes readers on the beautiful and painful journey of loving someone with a life-threatening illness: thorough the hospital visits, addiction to painkillers, a lung transplant, and the accompanying hope that he will live past the five-year mark, which is considered a success for transplant recipients. Scarboro was 27 when Stephen received the transplant and they began to live life as if they had a future. She was 29 when he died. “You imagine if your spouse dies you’d change everything,” She writes. “New city, new job…but the death makes these changes for you–you find yourself a foreigner in your own kitchen. You hate mayonnaise, and now the jar in your fridge appears as an artifact, knife marks still intact.” Teen readers will enjoy the romance–unsentimentally portrayed–of marrying a childhood sweetheart and the grit of sticking with him through breathing tubes and ventilators.–Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, CA