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Etched in Sand: A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island
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Etched in Sand: A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  19,595 ratings  ·  1,906 reviews
Regina Calcaterra is a successful lawyer, New York State official, and activist. Her painful early life, however, was quite different. Regina and her four siblings survived an abusive and painful childhood only to find themselves faced with the challenges of the foster-care system and intermittent homelessness in the shadows of Manhattan and the Hamptons.
Paperback, 320 pages
Published August 6th 2013 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published May 28th 2013)
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Gene Hilgreen I will never say that I am too tired, or that I cannot do or take it anymore. My new hero is Regina Calcaterra, a proud Long Islander, who rises to th…moreI will never say that I am too tired, or that I cannot do or take it anymore. My new hero is Regina Calcaterra, a proud Long Islander, who rises to the top despite every misgiving that could be thrown at a child. Despite what the authorities told her—she survived—finished high school, went to college while working several jobs, and became a lawyer. I’m standing and clapping right now.
Etched in Sand is an eye-opening account of Regina and her four siblings—all with different fathers—life struggles through the foster care and child protective system. This isn’t TV where everything is honky-dory. This story brings to light—a foster care system that is broken and full of holes. This is real life and how the lowest form of human beings abuses the system.
Regina lived in the shadows of a heinous, abusive, (add any horrible word you can think of here), and neglectful mother while fending for them self. Dumpster diving for food and clothes; sleeping five across the back seat of a car, or in the trunk when they could. Despite living through the most horrible conditions, anyone could put to words—Regina, with some help from her two older siblings manages to raise and keep her family together.
When Regina’s mother is not out on her month-on-end drinking and sex binges—she is beating and humiliating Regina to the brink of death. Why you ask? Because the dirt bag of a man who fathered Regina—no names here, you have to read it for yourself—left before Regina was even born. Regina eventually proves who her father was, but she had to live with her mother’s wrath every day since he left.
Yes, Regina is my new hero and the foster care and child protective services system will be a better place because of her. I’m not ready to switch political parties just yet, but oh hell, why not—Regina Calcaterra for President.
Karen Yes! When I was young we used to sing that in music class. I was surprised to see it used in the book as if the lyrics were written by--well, I can't …moreYes! When I was young we used to sing that in music class. I was surprised to see it used in the book as if the lyrics were written by--well, I can't remember who she said made them up, but wasn't it one of her sisters? The lyrics in the book were almost exactly those in the song.(less)

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Start your review of Etched in Sand: A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island
The book's a genuine tear-jerker. Five little children all abused, a couple of them worse than the others with beatings and imprisonment, starvation and whatever else their mother (their five fathers were not present) could think up when she was present and not off on one of her months-long jaunts. You might think this was in some far-off country, but no it was in NY.

They were let down time and again by social services so much so that they felt all the abuse was worth it just to stay together. W
Sara Strand
Aug 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I don't know where to start this review other than to say this isn't a book for the faint of heart. As a parent myself, there were parts of this book that were really hard for me to digest because I don't know how a person could care so little for their child, let alone five children. I really struggled through parts of this book because you want to think that things can't get any worse but you know that they will and they do. And it really just affirms my personal belief that you shouldn't be a ...more
Clif Hostetler
May 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Reading this book is made tolerable only by the fact that the reader is informed in the Prologue that it has a happy ending—an example of survival beyond expectations from a horrendous childhood family environment. It makes a wonderful story when children from this sort of background are able to thrive as adults. I hate to consider how many examples may exist where children never manage to free themselves from the grip of poverty and abuse.

Whenever I hear a story such as this I suspect that ther
Carmen Blankenship
Jun 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Etched in Sand ....

This book put me through the wringer, and I was just the reader. Regina Calcaterra shares with us the brutal, torcherous, and horrendous abuse she and her 4 siblings endured at the hand of the mother Cookie Calcaterra. I am not sure I have felt such intense hatred for a charachter in a book in my entire life. She was a viscous narcissist who in no way should have been allowed to have children, let alone five. What is refreshing about this memoir is Regina Calcaterra's voice.
Aug 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Etched In Sand arrived yesterday- I was up into the wee hours of the morning to finish this beautifully written, compelling memoir. Regina Calcaterra, who is now a highly successful public advocate lawyer involved in NYS Government, courageously shares the painful, desperate world of her impoverished childhood in suburban Long Island. She is the middle child of 5 siblings of 5 different but absent fathers, who suffer the abuses of their mentally ill, alcoholic and drug addicted single mother. Th ...more
Oct 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars, but A BIG PROBLEM.

Great memoir. Bravely written and a wonderful example of internal and personal perseverance.
HOWEVER, it's important to point out, a major disconnect in the author's perceptions. I was taken aback at her contempt of the overworked, underfunded social service system. Her utter stoicism and total unappreciative nature for her foster parents is disheartening. I work for an agency called the Child Placement Review Board (CPRB). Our job is to make recommendations to the c
Jan 28, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: memoir, abuse
Call me cold-hearted but I just didn't buy into this story. I am ready to lump this one right alongside A Child Called It. The author never comes across as likable, in fact I quite disliked her. She at times acts arrogant, ungrateful, and entitled.

There's a point where Regina finally tells the truth to authorities and she ends up in a foster home where so is so ungrateful to the people who take her in and treat her well that I shut down any empathy I may have had for her.

It was a little hard fo
Avi Morris
Aug 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Whenever I start to read a memoir about a difficult childhood, I think, well, it probably isn't going to be all that different from the others, and I'm invariably wrong. Each story is horrific and moving with a unique version of living hell. In Etched in Sand, Regina Calcaterra recounts in vivid, simple prose the misery and chaos she and her three sisters and a brother faced living with their brutal mother, and too often without her as for months at a time they would have to fend for themselves ...more
Mar 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Calcaterra tells a harrowing story growing up with an alcoholic, abusive and generally all- around despicable excuse of a human being for a mother. She and her four siblings are beaten, starved and do a better job of raising each other than when Cookie(they refuse to call her mom) stays home,. Fortunately for them she regularly abandons them for long periods of time. What I found particularly disheartening (view spoiler) ...more
May 15, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
There are just too many stories available to any reader, in this day of instant access, of atrocities/horrors that have befallen a child, a person, an animal, a country of people.

And this is just another one of them.

The woman who authors this memoir is a politician and an attorney, both jobs of questionable personal veracity if one were to develop a ‘truth matrix.’

In a similar Didion-esque way, this story leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

I do not dabble in widely read books and I thank this book
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
Aug 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Etched in Sand: A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island by Regina Calcaterra is the true story of the abuse and neglect the author and her siblings suffered through - at the hands of their mother and in a system that wasn't working as it should. Regina notes that her childhood made her very aware of how people in power can impact the lives of others and this knowledge helped lead her to her present day career in public service.

Regina has two older sist
Nov 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book, written by Regina Calceterra is about the lives of her three sisters and brother growing up with an alcoholic and an extremely emotionally, mentally and physically abusive mother. I don't even know where to start with this. Sometimes homeless, sometimes living in the worst of living conditions these children managed to survive. Sometimes left on their own, with no food, no heat in the winter, in and out of foster care (sometimes good but mostly bad) how they ever survived is beyond me ...more
Jen from Quebec :0)
Unbelievable. In a reading challenge I am doing for this site, I needed to read a book that featured SAND on the cover- I know, right? So, I thought that this one looked promising and the Kindle price was right.

I am always interested in stories about the foster care system in America, as I see so many ways it can be improved upon- and I live in Canada! For this reason, I have always read the books of Cathy Glass, who writes about her experiences as a foster mom, and thought reading a book about
Feb 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
Ok, if I see the phrase "mia bambina amore" one more time I might throw up.

I did not like this book at all. I am actually really surprised at all of the 4 and 5 star ratings. Why?? There are WAY better stories out there that consist of memoirs of abused children.

I think the problem with this book is that it did a lot of telling, not showing. She does not evoke the reader's emotion in any of her descriptions of anything. I didn't cry or even come close not one time and that is easy to do. Let me
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Heartbreak, abuse, and a broken system are what you find in this book. Though it is Regina who tells her story, she has 4 other siblings who share a horrible life as well. A mother's favoritism and selfishness leave her children mentally and physically hurt. A "mother" who is a drunk and uses her body to get what she wants, takes her children on a journey that will change them forever. Yes, in the end, they come back to each other and find a way for all 5 siblings to be a family again, but the p ...more
Ericka Clouther
The beginning of this was particularly good and I think it could have been a better memoir with tighter editing. Part of the issue is the main story of her abuse and overcoming the abuse to build a good life is over way before the memoir is over. It could have ended with her first job, quickly summarized her adult life- possibly with a focus on her role as a leader in Long Island.

I was particularly confused about the lengthy section about her paternity test suit, even though as an attorney myse
Nov 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
After reading works such as The Glass Castle and Three Little Words, this just didn't own up to similar memoirs. Although I strongly admire the author and all she had to endure, I had a difficult time connecting with her voice through out the book.
Linda Toft
Aug 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
It is absolutely amazing how the author of this book and her siblings rose above their tragic childhood! They lived their lives with a damaged mother who's contribution was to give birth to them then often leave them to fend for themselves, a flawed system that continued to fail these children and society's ability not to see what was happening to them! They experienced so much damage, mentally and physically from those closest to them, yet they have grown up to be so much more than their backgr ...more
Jul 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Though grim, this story plays as a reminder that even one kind adult in a child’s life can impact them in an enormous way.

Based on her life as a child, Regina and her siblings struggle to survive homelessness and the brutality of a series of unfortunate foster homes. With an unstable mother, this story accounts for her upbringing in Lower Manhattan. Regina perseveres despite the odds yet encounters the unhappiest of situations along the way: neglect, violence, abuse, and near starvation.

Jul 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Who is Regina Calcaterra? Well, currently, she is the Chief Deputy Executive of Suffolk County. Sounds fancy?

What is interesting is Regina’s life. Raised by an abusive mother, Regina and her four siblings endured a tragic childhood facing hunger, physical, psychological abuse, and their share of foster care.

In Etched in Sand, Regina proudly recounts the early years of her life until she became a lawyer and a New York State Official.

The book is an inspiration for those living in poverty and whoev
Dawn Triola
Oct 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What an inspiring bring things into perspective book!
First of all, Regina, thank you for rising above your horrible upbringing and being strong enough in the end to tell your story.
Growing up in NJ, so close to NY, I never heard of this horrible woman who not only had 5 children but then refused to be a mother to them. The conditions these children grew up in are incredibly horrific.
I wish this mother was still alive to read her "daughters" story and to see what a monster she was.
This book is
Read it in one sitting! A remarkable story of these five children who managed to grow into strong adults by creating a family unit within themselves and with their determination to protect it from their abusive mother or separation from social services. Harrowing, heartbreaking, inspiring. Wonderful. Read it!
Suzanne Leopold (Suzy Approved Book Reviews)
$1.99 on amazon kindle and ibooks
Kathleen Minde
Jun 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: made-me-cry, memoir
Regina Calcaterra's powerful memoir, Etched In Sand, begins with her flying over the ravaged neighborhoods of Long Island following the hurricane, Super Storm Sandy. As chief deputy executive of Suffolk County, it is Regina Calcaterra's job to regulate, not just post-disaster funding, but any government resources her county receives. Calcaterra's career in public service is not accidental; growing up with four siblings and an abusive, neglectful, alcoholic mother and an ineffective foster child ...more
Courtney Allen
Apr 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This title was masterfully authored by Regina Calcaterra, who is a prominent lawyer, New York State government official, and activist for children's rights. First and foremost, this is a true-life memoir of hope and inspiration. This book brings to light the heart-wrenching account of Calcaterra's indigent childhood, the complete failure of her mother to care for her and her siblings, but also the failure of the foster care and social services system that is called upon to manage such children. ...more
Aug 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
From The Book Wheel:

I don’t even know where to start. This book is just that powerful. I’ve been putting off writing this review because I was trying to figure out how to put into words the impact it had on me and I’ve finally realized that I’m speechless. Absolutely speechless. And we all know that never happens. I read this book from cover to cover (until 4 am) and cried for the Calcaterra kids on numerous occasions.

I’m getting my Master’s in Public Policy, so this book impacted me on two leve
Meg - A Bookish Affair
Aug 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013, memoir, non-fiction
"Etched in Sand" blew me away! This is one of those books where the subject matter is incredibly intense but you will be absolutely drawn to this story. Regina and her siblings lived through such horrible things at the hands of their mother and they come out on the other side and are able to overcome their situation. It was really amazing to read this book where there are so many bad things going on and to see that good things can still come out of the bad.

Ms. Calcaterra tells her story in an un
Feb 15, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2014, memoir

I have vacillated between 2.5 and 3 stars for this book. While Regina's childhood was horrifying, somehow I felt detached while reading the book. Also, I would get very confused in parts.. what happened to Norman for years? Why exactly did Rosie cut contact for awhile? Why had one of the older sisters lost custody of her own child?

I don't know why this book didn't really resonate strongly with me. I will say that I am very glad that Regina brings up the issue of older foster children (teens/lat
Mary Blye Kramer
Dec 16, 2018 rated it did not like it
I’m so sorry for this young woman’s pain but a memoir like this needs something to distinguish it since otherwise it’s just another horrific growing up tale. Some comic relief, beautiful prose, a handle on your bitterness... anything. But it had none of these and so I read a little, then skimmed, then put it in a pile of stuff to give away. Why didn’t an editor or agent with with this woman to help shape the book?
David Crow
Aug 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. Having had a very difficult childhood, as outlined in my memoir, The Pale-Faced Lie, I felt for Regina and her siblings with an empathy that only a wounded child could know. This is a sad book with a happy ending and a great read.
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Regina Calcaterra’s memoir Etched in Sand, A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island (HarperCollins Publishing, 2013) is a #1 international best-seller and a New York Times best-seller.  As a result of Etched in Sand’s messages of resilience, optimism, the plight of foster children, that no child is a lost cause and how we can all positively impact the life ...more

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