Betty's Child
by Donald R. Dempsey
Dream of Things

"Kids who grow up with rotten parents are often plagued by fear and insecurity. They lack confidence and self-esteem…but if you make it to adulthood and there is still a spark of life left in your soul, you might have a chance."

Growing up as Betty's child was about as bad as it gets, according to Dempsey. This is a harrowing child's tale of chaos, coldness, and contempt from the person who brought him into her dishonest and distorted dystopia, using him as a pawn in her life game. Donny and his younger brothers figured out early that their mother wanted nothing more than to move from man to man, from scam to scam. To her, the kids were like battered furniture that hasn't yet been thrown to the curb because there may be some use for it somewhere or sometime. Donny learned to steal by necessity—"It was what we did." He bravely tried to cover for his slatternly mother and act as a surrogate parent for his brothers. As often as Betty brought strange men into the temporary places they called home—men who might treat her children kindly or abuse them—she might also not come home at all. Donny, in his early teens, began to understand that the family moved around a lot because Betty was fleeing "aggressive warrants."

Despite the exceedingly dark events that creep and crawl through every page of this "almost didn't come of age" saga, the author skillfully imbues the memoir with a fair share of humorously bizarre moments and a vivid, cinematic quality. It's childhood at its nightmare worst, but the book holds together because Donny held together, became a grown-up and a parent, and wrote this book with cathartic determination. There were few signs of hope in Donny's childhood, yet he has managed to weave this tough tangle into an engrossing tale with a big moral message about the damage that can be done to children if there is no one to care.

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