A Child Called “It” by David J. Pelzer

7 Aug

Bibliographic Information

A Child Called “It” written by David J. Pelzer, HCI, 1995, ISBN: 978-155-874-3663

Plot Summary

As the back cover states, A Child Called “It” is the story of “one of the most severe child abuse cases in California history.”  Dave Pelzer can’t understand why his mother doesn’t like him.  She lavishes attention on his other brothers, creating arts and crafts projects and being den mother to their Cub Scouts troop.  Her psychotic rages are reserved solely for Dave, who she accuses of being a liar and a thief.  In her alcoholic rages, she yells at him and beats him.  As Dave grows older, his mother’s torture becomes more sadistic and includes starvation, poisoning, and in one dramatic episode stabbing.  She turns his brothers against him with her brainwashing so none of them intervene to help him.  Even his father, hoping to keep his unstable wife calm and happy, never comes to Dave’s assistance but only cautions him not to make his mother upset.  There is nothing Dave can do to make his mother happy, so he must do the only thing he can: survive.

Critical Evaluation

A Child Called “It” is a horrific book of one mother’s descent into madness.  Dave’s mother, Catherine Roerva begins the story as a devoted mother, but soon begins to show signs of delusion and schizophrenia as she directs all her psychotic rage against an innocent little boy.  The instances of torture are hard to read and only get worse as the novel progresses.  The reader sees clearly that the mother is mad, which makes the inaction by the father the more heinous crime in the story.  It’s hard to imagine any  sane parent standing by while their child is starved and beaten on a regular basis like this.

While the description of abuse is incredible to read, the story is really about the boy’s determination to live.  Dave is not just a victim of his mother’s rage; he is a survivor whose courage and intelligence help him cope and overcome his horrific life at home.  He has some adults at school who help him, but Dave is largely on his own.  His ability to overcome such extreme hardship is a testimony to his resilience.

While the book chronicles his story of abuse in graphic detail, it leaves his story of healing to a sequel, which may disappoint some readers.  I would have appreciated an Afterword that summarized what happened to Dave and members of his family.  This information is provided in the subsequent books of this memoir series: The Lost Boy, The Privilege of Youth and A Man Named Dave.

Reader’s Annotation

Dave Peltzer survived one of the worst cases of child abuse in California history.  His story is one of pain but also one of triumph.  Readers will be horrified by the crimes committed against him and amazed at his courage and resilience.

Information about the author

From the author’s page on Wikipedia, we learn that “David James (Dave) Pelzer (born December 29, 1960 in San Francisco, California) is an American author, best known for his 1995 memoir of childhood abuse, A Child Called “It”. Pelzer is the son of a San Francisco fireman, Stephen Joseph Pelzer (1923–1980), who was of Austrian descent, and Catherine Roerva Christen Pelzer (1929–1992). He is now living in a different state with his second wife and kids.”



Curriculum Ties

English, Psychology

Booktalking Ideas

Why doesn’t the father intervene and help Dave?

Is the school at fault for not intervening sooner in Dave’s case?

What characteristics help Dave survive his incredible ordeal?

Reading Level / Interest Age

Grade 9 and up

Challenge Issues

The book goes into some detail about the sadistic abuse Dave suffered at the hands of his mother.  The story may upset some younger readers.  The memoir emphasizes his courage and survival and that is what lingers with most readers.

Why did I include this title?

This is one of the more popular checkouts in the library.  Even though the book was first published in 1995, students continue to be fascinated by Dave’s story.  I had never read the memoir until this year and was both horrified and amazed by it.


2 Responses to “A Child Called “It” by David J. Pelzer”

  1. Peter Parkorr August 9, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

    I read this a few years ago too and it’s a story you won’t stop thinking about for a long time. It is written well and comes across as a genuine retelling of the facts without added melodrama, but I wasn’t interested in the sequels at the time. Actually I forgot this was American and thought it was a British story!

    I would say it definitely has disturbing content – if it was a movie it wouldn’t be less than an 18 rating. Isn’t there a really brief author bio that serves as a vague stand-in for an afterword though?

  2. palebunny May 22, 2013 at 9:11 pm #

    I read this book probably in 1989, and I have never stopped thinking about it. I even remember I gave it to a friend of mine I was visiting out of town after I read it, because I bought it at the Airport bookstore and read the entire book waiting for the plane and on the flight from Memphis to Minneapolis, breaking only to board the flight.

    Just heartbreaking. It also points to a problem many don’t think exists – preferential abuse. The abuser doesn’t harm all their children, just one or two. In this case, I’m guessing in others as well, at least one of his siblings engages or at least taunts David and laughs at his abuse. Child abuse doesn’t make any sense, but preferential abuse defies logic so much people often won’t believe the abused child since the other kids are not abused. As I recall, after he was saved from that home he saw his little brother on the street outside the elementary school and it was clear had become the target of the abuse in David’s absence.

    One thing that has always bothered me is the fact that the police said it was the worst case of child abuse they had ever seen (at the time, I guess) and yet the other children WERE NOT REMOVED from the home! Why?

    Yes, I was very disappointed in the sequel, desperately wanting to know what happened to his family, but still very encouraged and happy to read about his life experiences afterwards.

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