Book review: 'Home for Wayward Girls' about rising above abuse
"The Home for Wayward Girls" (Harper) by Marcia Bradley
There have been a number of recent accounts of young people, particularly young women, who were sent to schools for so-called "troubled" or "bad" kids. In 2022, Elizabeth Gilpin published "Stolen: A Memoir," about her experience in one of these schools that touted therapy for troubled teens. Paris Hilton is the most famous example. She revealed in a 2020 documentary and a recent memoir about how her parents, frustrated with her rebellious teenage behavior, sent her to multiple facilities that promised to straighten her out, places where she says she was abused mentally and physically.
"The Home for Wayward Girls" by debut novelist Marcia Bradley takes an inside-out approach to the concept by following a young woman named Loretta, who calls one of these facilities home because it's at the ranch where she lives with her parents, who also run it.
Loretta's mother and father, William, rule with a tyrannical approach, punishing girls for any behavior they deem as unacceptable. As a full-time resident, Loretta has a front-row seat to the various forms of torture and mind games. She also shares the others' fear of her abusive father. She tries to help where she can by teaching the girls coping skills to make it through or even escape.
Loretta reaches her breaking point one morning when she is assaulted by William. She devises a plan to leave and ends up in New York. The book jumps timelines between the past -- at the home -- and in present day, where Loretta is now a married social worker. She still carries the emotional scars from years of witnessing and experiencing abuse, but she's determined to help other young women from going through what she did.
A warning for readers, this book can be graphic as it describes violence that is disturbing and unsettling and can be triggering. It's also a hopeful story about a woman who experienced horrors in the one place that should have been her solace, at home. She somehow is able to not only leave but also rise above what happened and do good by helping others.