Friday, October 23, 2009

The Tiger's Child (memoir)

The Tiger's Child by Torey Hayden: This book is the sequel to One Child. In One Child, the author recounts her experience with a severely disturbed six-year-old girl, spanning a period of five months as a special education teacher. One Child ends in such a way as to leave the reader hopeful of a happy ending for the little girl, Sheila.

The Tiger's Child dispels that hope of a happy ending for Sheila. The first several chapters of The Tiger's Child summarize One Child, although I would recommend reading One Child in its entirety before reading The Tiger's Child.

One Child was extremely compelling and hard to put down, but at the same time, very difficult to digest with the telling of the horrific abuse this little girl suffered. Abandoned at age four - literally pushed out of a car on a highway in the middle of the night - by her teenaged mother, Sheila is placed in the care of her alcoholic, drug addict father where she is mostly neglected, often beaten and occasionally sexually abused, living in extreme poverty without such basics as running water or electricity (right here in the good old U S of A!). At age six, Shiela is placed in Ms. Hayden's special education classroom as a temporary measure until an opening at the state hospital (mental institution) is available for the child after she perpetrates a horrible act of abuse on another child. During the five months Ms. Hayden has Sheila in her class, however, she manages to connect with the little girl and draw her out of her rage and pain. The book ends with the end of the school year, with Ms. Hayden moving on to work towards her doctorate and Sheila being advanced a grade as a result of her apparent genius-level IQ.

The Tiger's Child picks up seven years later. During that seven years, Sheila and Ms. Hayden have all but lost touch. When Ms. Hayden locates Sheila, she is a sullen teenager living with her father who is still up to the same old tricks - booze, drugs, running from debtors, and repeated stints in prison and detox. The author discovers that Sheila has spent much of the past seven years being bounced from foster home to foster home, and it comes to light that her father pimped her out for sexual favors to his drug dealers when she was a small child to pay for his drug habit. Ms. Hayden reestablishes a relationship with Sheila, only now it is a personal rather than professional relationship.

Like One Child, I found this book hard to put down, and maybe even more disturbing than One Child. I found myself angry at the author much of the time, because I think she could have done so much more for Sheila. She chose to reenter Sheila's life on a personal level, and yet continued to be instrumental in sending her back to her father time and time again, even knowing the horrific things her father had subjected her to. It seemed to me that she only made a half-assed committment to Sheila, assuring her unconditional love and friendship, but never really doing anything to rescue this child. That bothered me A LOT.

Even after reading this book, I find myself extremely hungry for more about Sheila, but a Google search indicates that "Sheila" was a psuedonym, and I've been unable to find any information about what happened to her after the end of this book, except for a short blurb on Torey Hayden's website.

I'm going to offer this book up for grabs to my book club, as we are scheduled to discuss One Child next week. I do recommend both books though.

1 comment:

  1. You are right. After I read this book I can not stop to think about Sheila. I want to know anything about her.Actually I really want to meet her.
    This is the best true story that I ever read.
    I want thank to Torey Hayden and Sheila for this best story.
    Especially to Sheila, thanks... you had teach us to be fighter..