About the Author
Caroline Webber worked in the newspaper and television industries for many years before leaving to take up a freelance career. Amongst many other activities, she wrote and directed for a well-known (non-professional) theatre company in Bristol. She was a co-founder & Editor of a paper campaigning for the rights of local communities which was fortunate in having many distinguished contributing columnists.
“On the contrary, this was one of the most entertaining afternoons they had seen so far and a perfect distraction from their own concerns,” Page Eleven.
The perfect sentence to sum up Surviving Childhood, which has some triggering content of violence, sexual assault, and foul language.
It’s a gorgeous looking book too.
Jilly James, our protagonist, is researching into the past of the abusive, and poverty stricken, childhood of the Grigg children, for a television documentary.The present day story of Jilly’s relationship with a not so very understanding boyfriend, as he refers to the Grigg children as “kids from the slums,” and questions, “does anybody really care about a historical case of abuse?” and the attitudes of those in the television industry, predominantly male, and with wandering hands. The parallels drawn between the wealthy childhood of Jilly James, and the traumatising childhood of the Grigg children, are strewn in the text, and become important later. In first reading Surviving Childhood Jilly’s story did feel like a constant, and sometimes a frustrating, interruption, but on my second reading the balance of the two stories in the past and present balance themselves out well.
Who are the Grigg children?
The three siblings are Grace, Gary, and Gail. Their parents do have more children, but only Gary would be the one to meet them, and actually help raise them in a still chaotic home, which is exactly what Grace did for Gary, and Gail. She raised them, as their seventeen year old mother worked as a prostitute, while their father was in and out of prison. The violence that the children witness between their parents will leave their mark on all three siblings.
The authorities intervening, there is a happy ending for the three, although we never find out what happened to the parents, or other siblings born to them. This book is a story of how Grace, and Gary survive their childhood. Gail, the baby, is thought to have escaped any long term damage. They both narrate, and have very different stories of being fostered. This story does tell how the social services did get it so wrong, and equally so right, in selecting foster parents for the pair. Grace remains the most cheerful of protagonists, she is always pushing against the rules, caring, and remarkably innocent. It is a delight to read about her adventures in her foster home that takes her to a village, and the home of a stern woman, and her husband, who is not the nice man he first appears to be. The countryside makes for a beautiful setting, and Grace thrives, although labelled as a difficult child, and seen as an outsider, because she is fostered. As these narrators are children, who aren’t all aware of the goings on of the adults, and connotations of what they say, gives this book an air of secrets best left unspoken.
The social commentary of Surviving Childhood, and its sweep of topics each with their own knock on effect, made this book something I wanted to keep picking up, reading passages, and thinking over the issues highlighted. Surviving Childhood is not an easy read, but an important one.