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Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  1,090 ratings  ·  149 reviews
The first book by the author of the New York Times bestseller The Paris Wife is a powerful and haunting memoir of the years she and her two sisters spent as foster children. In the early 70s, after being abandoned by both parents, the girls were made wards of the Fresno County, California court and spent the next 14 years-in a series of adoptive homes. The dislocations, co
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published September 26th 2009 by Little, Brown (first published March 2003)
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3.67  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,090 ratings  ·  149 reviews

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May 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: foster-adopt
I couldn't disagree more with the readers who gave this book a low rating because it was "flat". This is real life, this isn't a soap opera. You're talking about a girl who spent most of her childhood being shuffled from one house to the next. Of course she's detached from the story, it's a defense mechanism. Obviously those readers don't understand the attachment issues foster kids have, especially the ones that age out of the system.

As a reader, I myself felt detached from the story. While I
Beth Hatch
Dec 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: episode-142
"I did try to write my story as fiction very early on, years ago, when I was still in graduate school, but it just wasn't coming together that way....I didn't know why then, but now I think that even though I was terrified (am terrified still) of exposing many of these memories and exposing myself at large, I wanted to own my experience." Bravo! Yes!

Writing your story, especially when it involves such a traumatic childhood, takes an incredible amount courage and emotional strength. I was never a
Jul 26, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: memoir lovers, social workers, people with mama drama, foster parents, foster chilldren
Shelves: memoirs
This book is lacking a lot, but it is a worthy read because it is a good story. I like to read stories about foster care victims, because I aspire to being a foster parent. I can certainly learn from the coldness of her foster parents. What makes the book only so-so is the author's lack of insight. For a self-proclaimed poet she lacks depth. Description worth reading is lacking, characters are flat, locations are fuzzy, time is rigid. Not well written, not a fantastic story, not reflective enoug ...more
Carol Waters
Nov 18, 2018 rated it liked it
The story is one I've heard too may times, of neglect and then abuse and then poor choices made behind a lack of stability or even of interest...

My problem with this book is that it shows the utter lack of participation of the System, where kids are supposed to be seen by the social worker or by individual therapists on a regular basis. How did no one ask about sexual abuse or physical abuse, or why did the writer not explore why kids don't tell about those things? I once listened as a young tee
Jan 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
What constitutes a family? Biological connections that are severed early on? Or the strangers who provide a kind of care for years, with no connection other than the physical proximity of living in the same house?

The author describes her journey through the foster care system in Fresno County in the 1970s and 1980s, and as she mentioned streets and places within the city and its surrounding areas, it all resonated with me. I had spent almost those same years as a social worker for Fresno County,
"For 14 years, Paula McLain endured a chaotic life of impermanence..." (book jacket)

"...nearly 15 years of shuttling between foster homes like a water bug between floating leaves and garbage." (p. 229) But what's the first part of that sentence? "I was 19 years old when I left the Lindberghs, ending nearly 11 years with them."

How is 11 years with one foster family, through to age 19, "a chaotic life of impermanence" or "15 years of shuttling"?

Not quite what it's made out to be at all. Paula and
Kim Miller-Davis
May 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a brutally honest, splendidly told memoir of a young girl who grew up in a series of foster homes after her mother went to the movies and didn't come back for 16 years. That abandoned girl grew up to be a best-selling writer of fiction and poetry.
McLain's mastery of fluid storytelling is enhanced here by her knack for remembering the most minute details. She recalls the perceptions of her youth with such precision that all readers, regardless of background, will be immediately transporte
Megan Graff
The Kindle edition of this book is full of odd typos. Do they scan books and use text recognition software to create e-books? A few examples: 1'11 for I'll and a character named Hilde's name has come up both as Nude and Rude.
Nov 18, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an overly descriptive memoir that has so little narrative thrust or character development that it's very hard to read without frequent breaks for cookies, Ben & Jerry's, urgent (and sometimes manufactured) trips to the bathroom to pee, idly noticing random things around the room, and putting down and picking up many, many times.

The author has an excellent way of describing everything that she sees, that happens to her, where she goes and other nice but ultimately superficial details,
Dec 08, 2018 rated it liked it
This was a heartbreaking memoir about growing up in the foster care system. I appreciated the author addressing the very difficult things she experienced. However, I thought some of it was too descriptive and graphic. The abuse for one, and the pornography that was brought to the party. The description of that was totally unnecessary and had little to do with rest of the book. Other than those issues, the writing was fantastic and engaging.
Feb 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
What a remarkable true story of 3 sisters growing up together in foster homes in the Fresno area during 1960-1970s. Descriptions of the locale was so right on. The author wrote about her personal experience in such a vivid way. Lots of life they lived and yet managed to come through, all 3. There was such uncertainty in their lives but fortunate to be able to stay together. Highly recommended
Dec 25, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommended to Suible by: NYT piece by author
Interesting book. The book allows a glimpse into a different kind of life - growing up in the foster care system even though both parents are living. The hardest part of the book for me was not some of the fairly expected bad things - sexual abuse, ostracization, etc., but the almost off-hand manner in which they are handled in the book.

I don't think the book was all that well edited - it seemed to skip around so much as to be somewhat confusing. Also, quite a few of the characters seemed not fl
Oct 24, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I registered a book at!

Paula and her two younger sisters were abandoned by both parents in 1965. They were placed in a series of foster homes, ending in one that lasted several years. Throughout that time Paula hoped that her mother would be able to take them back, but mostly she rode with the time. She adapted to the situation.

The memoir is vivid and does not ask for sympathy. It is simply a recording of what it was like. Naturally,
Jul 25, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015-reads, memoir
I really loved learning about Paula McLain's life growing up as a foster child. It was difficult to read about her feeling of never belonging to anyone. I loved her stories, and I appreciated her beautiful way of expressing how she felt about her life.

The Paris Wife remains one of my all time favorite books, and reading about Paula's life made me love her even more. I checked this book out in anticipation of the release of her newest book, Circling the Sun, which I can't wait to get my hands on
Nov 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adoption, foster-care
A beautiful book about a sad kind of childhood that is going on all around us, every day, although usually we aren't aware of it when we see the children living it. McLain delivers a matter-of-fact exposition of what it's like to never really have a place to BE, to be valued or not based on others' convenience, tolerance, and stunted needs.

Who should read this book: teachers, social workers, foster parents, loved ones of former foster children, and fans of childhood memoir.
Jul 24, 2015 rated it liked it
I liked reading about the inside look of growing up as a foster child. Mostly though, I liked how it was infused with growing up in the 70's. I could really feel it.

And I liked the sweet granny that provided kindness, stability and an old mint green house once a month to the sisters. I've always wanted an old mint house that a grandma has lived in - those are the ones I stare longingly at the most.
Renée Goldfarb
May 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
I saw the author speak at a fundraiser to support kids who are aging out of the foster care system, so I wanted to know her story. After writing the memoir, Paula went on to write two international best-selling fiction books. She had such a tough start in life, that I am completely amazed that Paula has accomplished so much.
Nov 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
After hearing Paula McClain speak at a library luncheon, I was intrigued to learn more about her experiences growing up with her sisters in the foster care system. Wow! What a beautifully written heartbreaking memoir. How amazing that she was able to overcome her circumstances to become an author who is able to express herself so well, and a speaker who can enchant an audience!
May 23, 2007 rated it it was ok
nothing fantastic, kind of a dull memoir in somewhat of an interesting life. some good little tales scattered here and there. you do sympathize with how pathetic the author/main character makes herself out to be.
Carolyn Somerville
Apr 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
I think this book might be my new Rusholme Road. The book against which all others are compared. It read like fiction and I had to keep reminding myself it wasn't. It was so well written, not too wordy but not too plain, just right.
Apr 08, 2015 rated it liked it
I found the story fascinating & the writing style easy to follow, however I found the ending was a little sloppy & quick.
Jun 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
Memoir by a poet growing up in foster care in Fresno, Ca. The sense of place is evoked with tenderness and an astute eye for detail. A very emotional, but satisfying read.
Tobi Evangelisti
May 03, 2011 rated it it was ok
Interesting topic of the foster care system but not overly well written:)
Jan 08, 2019 rated it it was ok
Like Family suffered from the same problem as many memoirs of growing up and trauma that I’ve picked up over the years. It lacked what I guess you would call thematic sculpting. The experiences are laid out before you with minimal editorializing and so at its core you simply have an author telling you, “This happened.”

Thematic sculpting would look something like, laying the experiences out, then looking it all over and deciding what you want to say. There will always be threads that connect it a
LInda L
Feb 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
As a rule, I am not a big fan of memoirs and did not like some of this one. However, Paula was brutally honest about their lives, both before being deserted by their parents and after. I was expecting much worse from the foster families -- well, it was bad enough, but at least they weren't beaten to a pulp and raped. And yes, I DO remember that one old phart who molested her until she told his wife. They were moved quickly after that. And although I am not minimizing what happened to them in any ...more
Feb 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
A compelling book, told in a straight-forward, unsentimental way. In this story of her childhood and youth in foster care, the author does a really good job of conveying her confusion, doubts, and her efforts to understand her shifting world. This does not read like a novel; there is no great arc, no growing to a climax, then resolution. It is much more reflective of real life: this happens and we react, then this happens, then this changes us in some way, and we reflect and try to make sense of ...more
Apr 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
It's a disturbing look back. Their father in prison and their mother left to "go to the movies" and just never returned. Granny couldn't take care of them, and an aunt didn't want to, so the sisters went through a series of foster homes. The story and the cover blurb don't quite add up. It talks about how impermanent these homes were, and yet the sisters lived in the last one for eleven years. On the other hand, when your parents disappear and you find yourself being moved from place to place wi ...more
Dec 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: podcast, nonfiction
You may be familiar with McLain's 2011 bestseller The Paris Wife. What you may not know is she was raised in foster care in Fresno, California from the age of 4 to 18. This memoir explores those years in an unflinching, understated, somewhat poetic way. There are many sad stories, and many reasons to feel heartbroken for her; at the same time, her coming of age was typical in many ways. We know going in that her story must have a happy ending since she is now an accomplished and successful autho ...more
Sep 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Paula McLain is one of my favorite authors: she is the reason I fell in love with Hadley Hemingway and Beryl Markham. After her memoir, I fell in love with Paula and her sisters. To be totally honest, I fell in love with them as soon as I saw their little smiling faces on the cover: three precious little girls who deserved to be doted on and lavished with love and affection. Loving my daughters has been the greatest blessing of my life That this was not their story is a tragedy: not only for the ...more
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
It's not flat, I just couldn't put my finger on what didn't click for me. However, I say 'Good on you Ms. McLain' so many years of not feeling comfortable, not being at home, just not feeling what's not quite right. She grew past all that despite the 'difference'.

A person doesn't realize for years, nearly a lifetime what other kids were living with or without. I found this kind of wrenching, as I may have been the kid with all the 'right' things from all appearances, yet not quite in that comfo
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Madison Mega-Mara...: like family 1 3 Apr 22, 2012 11:34AM  
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Paula McLain is the author of the New York Times and internationally bestselling novels, The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun. She’s also published two collections of poetry, Less of Her and Stumble, Gorgeous, the memoir Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses, and a first novel, A Ticket to Ride. She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996, and has since receive ...more