Just two hours ago, I had been heating up some lentil soup at my mom’s in Brooklyn, thinking I’d eat it and maybe read some Edith Wharton before bed. Now here I was at a runaway shelter, staring at a nun’s mustache and wondering where I was going to spend the rest of my adolescence.
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.
Erlbaum, a columnist for Bust, left her Manhattan home at 15 after her mother reunited with Erlbaum's abusive stepfather. Landing first in a shelter and then a group home, Erlbaum shattered by her mother's choice embarks on a treacherous course of self-destruction. Casual sex with a series of brutally uncaring boys coupled with daily drug and alcohol abuse become her antidote to the violence and racism in the child-welfare system housing her. Her isolation and loneliness threaten to swallow her whole. Yet when Erlbaum's mother invites her home (the dreaded stepfather gone for good), things don't improve. Erlbaum has more freedom, which allows more opportunity for trouble. At 17 she leaves again (this time to live with an older boyfriend), becomes addicted to the cocaine so plentiful in the 1980s New York club scene and nearly dies from an overdose. Through Erlbaum's adolescence, she often seems a willing victim. In her chaotic senior year of high school, she begins writing stories, attempting to put the life she's been living into perspective. Her memoir (comparable to Koren Zailckas's Smashed) reads like a neorealist novel. Sharp yet poignant, raw and vivid, it illumines the dirty underside of American girlhood and brings it to harrowing life.
This stunning, brave memoir follows Ms. Erlbaum's journey from her dysfunctional mother's home to the streets on NYC through shelters and treatment centers. Told with intelligent sarcasm, the spunky teenage Janice is someone we want to succeed and overcome her circumstances, without making us pity her. She doesn't always make the best choices, but eventually learns from her mistakes.
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This is a great read! Lots of surprises and 'you won't believe it til you read it' moments. I have not one, but two copies of this book now. I cherish the hardcover as much as I cherish having it on my iPad.