Synopses & Reviews
And every week, there was the unspoken question, the one I didnt know enough to ask myself : Have you found her yet? The one who reminds you of you?
Twenty years after she lived at a homeless shelter for teens, Janice Erlbaum went back to volunteer. Now thirty-four years old and a successful writer, shed changed her life for the better; now she wanted to help someone else-someone like the girl shed once been.
Then she met Sam. A brilliant nineteen-year-old junkie savant, the product of a horrifically abusive home, Sam had been surviving alone on the streets since she was twelve and was now struggling for sobriety against the adverse health effects of long-term drug abuse.
Soon Janice found herself caring deeply for Sam, following her through detoxes and psych wards, halfway houses and hospitals, becoming ever more manically driven to save her from the sickness and sadness leftover from Sams terrible past. But just as Janice was on the verge of becoming the girls legal guardian, she made a shocking discovery: Sam was sicker than anyone knew, in ways nobody could have imagined.
Written with startling candor and immediacy, Have You Found Her is the story of one womans quest to save a girls life-and the hard truths she learns about herself along the way.
“A rich and compelling account . . . Ultimately this is a book about the narrators journey and the dangers that attend the urge within us all to believe we can save another soul. A terrific read.”
-Cammie McGovern, author of Eye Contact
"In winter 2004, 34-year-old Erlbaum (Girlbomb) volunteered at the shelter where she herself had lived as a teenager. Dubbed 'The Bead Lady' by the residents, she hefted a large, rattling bag of beadworking supplies to the cafeteria once a week, hoping to reach out to a younger version of herself over jewelry-making sessions to 'believe in them and listen to them,' as her volunteer-orientation videotape had instructed. When she met Samantha, a charismatic 19-year-old addict with an unyielding resilience in spite of a horrific childhood, Erlbaum knew she'd found a favorite. Though Sam had been on the streets since age 12, she was well read and quite gifted as a writer a prodigy, it seemed. The two quickly developed a friendship, which deepened over the next several months as Erlbaum comforted Sam through health problems, abuse flashbacks and rehab, promising her a trip to Disney World if she stayed sober. Erlbaum was determined to save Sam and even offered to become her legal guardian. Erlbaum realized that, at times, details in Sam's backstory didn't add up (she was a skilled classical pianist), but these incongruities raised only the occasional, short-lived suspicion. Finally, Erlbaum realized Sam had been lying to her all along (she actually came from a sold middle-class suburb and hadn't had the childhood she described), snookering her out of her time, attention and affection for a year. Erlbaum's narrative begins promisingly, her savior fantasies and insecurities rendered with honesty and self-effacing good humor. However, her conclusions fall flat, missing opportunities to ponder larger issues at work in the story and opting instead for a mere cautionary tale." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Twenty years after she lived at a homeless shelter for teens, Erlbaum went back to volunteer. There she met Sam, a 19-year-old junkie savant whod been surviving alone on the streets since she was 12. Written with startling candor, this is the story of one womans quest to save a girls life.
About the Author
Janice Erlbaum is the author of Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir and Have You Found Her, which was named one of the New York Public Library's 25 Books to Remember. A former columnist for BUST magazine, she lives in New York City with her partner Bill Scurry. You can find her at www.girlbomb.com
Reading Group Guide
1. In Have You Found Her
, Janice has returned as a volunteer to the shelter where she once lived. She also voluntarily accepts a great deal of responsibility for Sams care and well-being. How else does the theme of volunteering apply in this book? Some self-help books discuss the notion of “volunteering for victimhood.” Can either Sam orJanice be seen this way?
2. Another theme of the book is addiction. Both Sam and Janice have
drug addictions, but they also exhibit other addictive behaviors. Can
you identify them? How do these other addictions affect their lives
and the events of the story?
3. Janice often mentions her own skin color, ethnic background, and
economic class, as well as the color, ethnicity, class, and sexual orientation
of the girls at the shelter. How do you think color, ethnicity,
class, and sexuality play into the events of the story? Do you think
such issues are handled sensitively in this book?
4. In the book, Janice admits to lying, taking drugs, and evading rules
a number of times. Does this influence your perception of her as a reliable
narrator? Why or why not?
5. Janice is a writer, as is Sam. How do you think Janices being a
writer affected the events of the story? Does this make her more or less
reliable as a narrator?
6. Were you surprised by the conditions of the shelter as Janice describes
them? What do you think of the shelter system, and how do
you think it could be improved? What kinds of services do you think
should be available to homeless and addicted youths?
7. Have you ever known someone like Sam? Is there anything about
her behavior that you recognize in other people, or even in yourself?
How do you think her behavior differs from that of “normal” people?
8. On page 336, Janice writes, “Something had happened in that
house . . . something that had helped make Sam very, very sick.” Do
you agree with her assessment? Do you think Sams sickness is a product
of her upbringing or do you think it is biological in nature? Are
her parents responsible for making her the way she was?
9. One title that was suggested for this book was “Sucker: A Love
Story.” Do you think that title is apt?
10. What do you think happened to the redhead who panhandled on
Janices block? What about the other graduates of the shelter? What
kinds of outcomes do you imagine for these girls?