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Free Spirit: Growing Up On the Road and Off the Grid

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  556 ratings  ·  97 reviews
An Unforgettable Journey Through an Unconventional Childhood

When Joshua Safran was four years old, his mother--determined to protect him from the threats of nuclear war and Ronald Reagan--took to the open road with her young son, leaving the San Francisco countercultural scene behind. Together they embarked on a journey to find a utopia they could call home. In Free Spirit
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published September 10th 2013 by Hachette Books (first published January 1st 2013)
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Average rating 4.02  · 
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 ·  556 ratings  ·  97 reviews

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Dec 31, 2017 marked it as dnf
DNF @15% sorry Dad, just don’t have time for boring.

I promised my dad I would read this book this year. The countdown is on.
Dec 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Free Spirit: Growing up on the Road and Off the Grid by Joshua Safran, 2013, Hyperion, Hardcover, 272 pp, $24.95

Joshua Safran’s memoir, Free Spirit: Growing up on the Road and off the Grid begins with a wild ride up the side of Cultus Mountain in Skagit County, Washington. Safran’s stepfather, Leopoldo, a Salvadoran guerilla fighter who is drunk, angry, and erratic, is at the wheel screaming about CIA surveillance. Safran’s mother, Claudia has finally been shaken out of a meditation focused on c
Mary E Trimble
Oct 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing

Joshua Safran’s Free Spirit: Growing Up on the Road and Off the Grid is a haunting, beautifully written memoir about his appalling childhood. Although the subject matter is grim, the book is never-the-less poignant and often wryly funny.

Joshua’s early memories take place in the l970s San Francisco. His mother Claudia, steeped in hippie/revolutionary activism, searches for what she believes to be utopia. She leaves San Francisco in search of the perfect “intentional community,” a promised land f
Sharon Chance
Oct 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing

"Free Spirit" is a fascinating and powerful memoir of a young boy who had all the odds against him, thanks to a less-than-stellar mother, and managed to survive to become an accomplished and stable adult.

That being said, this was also a very frustrating book as well. At times I just wanted to leap into the pages and give Joshua's mother, Claudia, a shaking at times, a slapping at others. I realize that Joshua probably didn't write this book to intentionally present his mother in a harsh light,
Sharon Profis
May 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
No words of mine can do this book justice. Safran is a brilliant writer who was willing to open wounds from his past in order to share with us his story of unthinkable triumph.

You'll finish this in a few sittings. Ultimately you'll find that, no matter now a person is raised, and no matter how dramatically the cards are stacked against him, there is something inside all of us that is stronger than any outside force.
Kressel Housman
Nov 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
I was enamored of the hippie trip when I was younger, right in the Reagan/Bush years when this takes place. I still tend to romanticize the people living off the grid, particularly because my son has considered becoming one of them. This book is a cautionary tale about how not to do that. There's nothing heroic about cold, rainy nights and poopholes in the ground that are swarming with flies.

The first half of the book is funny. The author mocks his mother's New Age beliefs and lifestyle with a
Feb 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
I finished this book in two chunks instead of one, because I had to take my son to his basketball game and go grocery shopping, neither of which I would have done if I were a character in Free Spirit. This is another one of those memoirs (like Glass Castle) that will make you feel like you had a fantastic childhood and you are now an awesome parent. Joshua Safran is a great writer, and has apparently turned out to be a successful and well-adjusted adult (and family man AND guy with an actual car ...more
Casee Marie
Sep 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Joshua Safran is an award-winning attorney widely noted for his efforts to aid survivors of domestic violence and his support of women’s rights, but it’s his triumph over his own personal history – told in his new book, Free Spirit: Growing Up On the Road and Off the Grid – that is perhaps just as worthy of acclaim. As the child of a single mother amid San Francisco’s countercultural world of the 1970s, Safran’s life was far from normal. His mother – at times Wiccan, at times bisexual, and alway ...more
Happy that the author survived a completely dysfunctional,
mentally ill parent, but this story makes me mad.
Didn't finish...gave up half way thru.
My rule is to give a book 100 pages.
I gave it more than that...
Oct 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Wow! In this memoir, the author tells of growing up with his hippie mother who wanders from one commune to another, more often than not living without electricity or indoor plumbing. He deals with multiple hardships, including an abusive stepfather, and yet finds things to appreciate in his counter-cultural upbringing. Much of the story is semi-tragic, but there are flashes of humor as Josh has interactions with "straight people" and schoolteachers. He spends much of his time learning without sc ...more
Tom Glaser
Jan 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
I bought this book after listening to the author's spellbinding Strangers podcast, "The Son, The Goddess and Leopoldo," expecting that the book would reveal more information about the author's bizarre mother and her background. There were some crumbs, but at the end of the book, his mother still remains pretty much an enigma. He never actually discusses her childhood and has almost nothing to say about her father. Whereas the podcast was nicely paced, and devoted equal measures to the author's c ...more
Sep 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was difficult to read. Much of it is a chronicle of the consequences of the author's mother's bad taste in men. Also about how she kept herself convinced that her psychic abilities and political views (both of which she attributed her romances to) were more important than taking care of her son. Especially after he and his mother left San Francisco, there were precious few times where he wasn't being either neglected or abused. I don't know if he knows which he preferred; either way, h ...more
Nov 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Every time I set this book down, I couldn't wait until I had a chance to pick it up again. The story of domestic neglect/abuse reminded me of Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle, though I was more drawn into Free Spirit than I was into that. The end of the book is written in a different tone than the rest of it, and is occasionally a bit self-congratulatory, but I'm grateful for the introspection and attempts at explanation presented there. Highly recommended.
John Marr
Aug 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
My favorite paragraph:

"The shitters were the communal restroom for the entire (Rainbow Family) Festival and consisted of nothing more than slit trenches carves into the mud with a few logs thrown down to hang your butt off of.... (having to use them) in front of two dreadlocked women crapping while they played Filipino nose flutes, or in the midst of a group of diarrheal bikers, was too great an offense to my dignity."
Apr 19, 2018 rated it it was ok
Too painful to read.
Sara Goldenberg
Feb 17, 2018 rated it did not like it
It was weird. Too much about his childhood. I didn’t like it
Aug 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
An incredibly hard childhood account. It was emotionally difficult for me to read, and I struggled through some parts.
Susan Clark
Sep 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Thought this was rather sad. I was very surprised Claudia and Josh made such a quick return to civilization.
Jun 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Haunting. Hit too close to home.
Sep 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fascinating story of a boy brought up under incredibly difficult circumstances who came through it all as a fine, upstanding citizen. At time funny, often sad, it was an enjoyable read.
Nov 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing

When I first chose this book, I thought Joshua Safran was one of the Safran Foer brothers. I'd read Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, and later on read Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. From what I can tell, there is no relation whatsoever, but "Safran" must be a relatively common Jewish name (as is "Joshua"). I'm so glad I found this book anyway!

Joshua Safran, an award-winning attorney who has committed his career to combatting do
Joshua Safran's Free Spirit is a heartbreakingly hilarious memoir of his bizarre and slightly tragic childhood. Joshua was born in the San Francisco 1970s to Claudia, a fiery feminist deeply immersed in the counterculture revolution. As a mother, Claudia aimed to instill her beliefs in Joshua, teaching him from a young age about women's rights, nuclear power plants, and the evil politician Ronald Reagan.

Everything about their life was alternative: Claudia dragged Joshua from one commune to the
Penelope Bartotto
Nov 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Free Spirit is probably the most powerful book that I have read in a decade. Joshua Safran bares his soul to the reader in every lyrical word that he has written. While I am a few years older than Mr. Safran I lived exposed to the opposite of this saga of his, only because my parents made a significant choice to change their hippie ways prior to my birth... I will admit this, I am an "oops" baby, that was not planned. My parents hitch-hiking and aiming to dodge the draft date that was looming fo ...more
Orbs n Rings
Sep 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
A remarkable memoir of the strength and survival of a little boy.

Free Spirit is an incredible memoir and the most highly intense I have come across in all my memoir reviews. The story of Joshua Safran, aka Joshy, begins when he is just four years old and his mother Claudia takes him on the road in search of the perfect life and commune. This left them living in deplorable conditions with a constant struggle for shelter, food and medical care. Some of their living arrangements included a van, tra
Lloyd Russell
Nov 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I'm going to start this review by talking about the very beginning of the book and the very end of the book. To begin with - on page one I issued a very loud "Holy Mackerel!" When you think of The Glass Castle (one of my top 12 all-time), you certainly think about a dysfunctional family. Well, when you read FREE SPIRIT, you might think that Jeanette Walls had a normal childhood. Really.

As for the end of the book, literally the last 10 pages, Joshua Safran has given us an epilogue that truly mean
May 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
If you ever thought that a child has very little memory of his early life and that he is not actively involved in problem solving in his environment, you will change your mind when you read this book.

Joshua Safran was raised by a mother who was a bisexual witch whose behavior was affected by drug use, the hippie culture and a search for a government-free utopia. She wanted a child in order to receive welfare benefits. She was also a drifter, chasing dream after dream, and living in vans, tarp sh
Nov 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Sometimes when I look back at my own crazy childhood, I have to wonder how I made it out a somewhat normal, functional adult. But then I read stories like this and all I can think is how I guess it could have been worse.

Joshua's life story begins when he is born to Claudia, a single woman who has dropped out of college to help bring on the revolution. She is a feminist and believes strongly that New America is just around the corner. After a one night stand, Claudia finds herself pregnant with
Fr. River
Aug 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
August 4, 2014, Soaked and Safe,Enrique Angelli, Bishop and Martyr Matt, 14:22-36

In his autobiography Joshua Safran tells of his dysfunctional childhood being raised by a 60's radical, always rebelling against the society, which seems to be the same-today-consumerism, elitism. His mother was involved with various men and ultimately married one who was very abusive, and in the growing up with him, and being on the road "off the grid", Josh suffered a lot, but with his own inner strength he began
Sep 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-star
This book was AMAZING! Josh was born in a commune in San Francisco. His mother was a free spirit who moved from commune to commune all over the West coast looking for other people to start "the Revolution" with. She was always seeking a community of like-minded artists who were going to change the world. Josh was just along for the ride - he acted more like an adult from a very young age since his mother never planned anything or held a real job. He didn't attend school until he was 11. While hi ...more
Jun 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is an amazing story, reads like a fast paced novel, yet no one could ever make up Josh's story. How one young boy lived through adversity and became an award winning author.

The Stanwood (Washington) Library was a place of "shelter" for Josh when his family finally moved to Stanwood. I have been a staff member at the Stanwood library for 37 years, and do remember Josh as a very polite, articulate boy, always pleasant. At the recent author Stanwood Library/community event (standing room only)
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JOSHUA SAFRAN (b. 1975) is an author, attorney, speaker, and occasional rabbi, and was featured in the award-winning documentary CRIME AFTER CRIME, which premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and had its television debut as part of The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN)’s Documentary Film Club. He is a nationally recognized champion for women’s rights and a zealous advocate for survivors of domest ...more
“when I learned of the festive holiday of Thanksgiving that apparently everybody celebrated. I returned the next day preaching about Native American genocide. “Did you know,” I asked the art teacher, “that Indians to this day are still being driven off of their land? The government took away their forests and meadows and now they want their rocks. For the uranium. So we can make atomic bombs to kill every last woman, man, and child.” 0 likes
“Violence wasn’t a bad thing when it was brandished against the System.” 0 likes
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