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