A couple weeks ago I was at the local library looking for some “light” reads to add to my pile of books I was currently reading. In the matter of 30 minutes or so though, that changed. My mind was consumed with what was happening back in my home city: cops shooting innocent black men, friends protesting for change, town hall forums, people seeking and calling for solutions, for change. I knew I needed to start doing more, and one first small step could start right where I stood in a building filled with books. I made a commitment then to always, indefinitely, have at least one book in my “currently reading” stack written by and/or about people of color or other marginalized populations. This is the opposite of “light” reads. I call it self-education. I call it doing what is necessary. That day I checked out five books that fit this genre, and the first one I delved into was No House to Call My Home: Love, Family, and Other Transgressions by Ryan Berg (who, as a bonus, I later found out lives in Minneapolis).
No House to Call My Home is a collection of stories about LGBTQ teenagers of color living in two group foster homes in New York City. The author worked directly with these youth as both a resident counselor and later a caseworker, and he tells the stories from his perspective. As a white gay male, accepted by his family, he necessarily begins with an introduction that shows his humbleness, his compassion, his intentions, and gives very important background on LGBTQ, foster care, and racial justice. While told from his point of view, these are not his stories, but the youths’ stories.
Each chapter tells one or two of the teenagers’ stories, their history, their struggles, day to day life, and Berg also throws in lots of important statistics as well as his own struggles and hopes and interactions with the kids. The stories intertwine and follow a loose timeline, giving the book a satisfying flow and creating a “whole story” rather than just a collection. While the stories are engaging and well-written so that they pull you in, they are also heartbreaking, and sometimes graphic (trigger warning for sexual abuse, drug abuse, physical abuse, language, etc). However, they are told with such compassion and empathy that you can’t help but feel like you know Bella, Benny, Rodrigo, etc. Just like Berg, you root for them even though you know the statistics are not in their favor and the cards are stacked against them. Even though you know the ending may not be happy.
It is hard to read this book while reminding yourself that these are all true, contemporary stories. To realize that in a world where we have legalized same-sex marriage, we continue to fail our LGBTQ youth. The world for these teens is a world I was not consciously aware of, and I appreciate that this book clued me in even just a little bit. Berg points out the flaws in the foster care system and gives ideas for how it could be improved. He introduces the reader to concepts of privilege, to a world that makes it impossible for some people to succeed. He paints a bleak picture of a bureaucratic and failed system, but also offers hope for change through community. As emotional as the stories were to read, I loved every moment of this book. I couldn’t put it down. It made me feel, and I learned a lot from its pages. I would recommend this book to everyone–it’s a quick read, and well worth the time; I think it gives important insight that everyone could learn from–a widening of compassion and worldview.
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If you’ve read this book, or plan to read it, let me know.
If you think you’d like to make a similar commitment to widening your reading diversity, maybe one per month, maybe every other book, whatever you think would work for you, let me know–I’d love to hear that others are taking action. Check out this list for ideas of books to start with.