Have You Found Her
by Janice Erlbaum

Villard, 2008. ISBN 978-0-8129-7457-7.
Reviewed by Susan Andrus
Posted on 02/05/2008
Review of the Month, March 2008

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Life Lessons; Nonfiction: Relationships

For anyone who has experienced rescue fantasies, Have You Found Her by Janice Erlbaum, a daily journal writer, offers a true story of a rescuer who learns and grows from her experiences. Erlbaum's engaging second memoir invites readers to investigate her first book, Girlbomb, a story of her own struggles as a teenage runaway.

In Have You Found Her, a non-fiction thriller, Erlbaum relates her efforts to repay a debt of gratitude by volunteering at the same youth shelter that helped her when she was a homeless teen. In the course of her work as the "bead lady" who shows up every Wednesday to teach the girls how to make their own jewelry, she quickly learns to how reach the girls at the shelter. Giving them something to do allows the girls to open up to her at their own pace without Erlbaum becoming intrusive in their lives.

An honest storyteller, Erlbaum shows how she struggles with the shelter's rules to maintain the distance designed to protect the girls and herself from getting too involved in each others' lives. From the start, she routinely breaks each rule as she becomes more engaged, develops favorites, and soon becomes attached to Samantha (Sam), a girl whose life parallels her own.

A writer who understands that dialogue moves the action along, Erlbaum shows the ups and downs of supporting Sam, being overwhelmed by Sam, being manipulated by Sam, feeling threatened by Sam, having compassion for Sam, and embracing Sam as she struggles with a variety of illnesses including a possible AIDS diagnosis.

At the same time, Erlbaum weaves into the story her love for Bill, the first man to love her in a humanly healthy way, her own addiction to pot, and her struggles with relationships within her family. Managing all these elements without being sappy or preachy, Erlbaum shows how relationships can grow and thrive. Using her own ambivalence toward the significant people in her life, Erlbaum chronicles her fear of having honest dialogue with others while demonstrating how her attempts at dialogue keep the relationships healthy and intact.

As Erlbaum builds suspense page by page, the reader must stay engaged to the end to find out who will ultimately survive as Erlbaum depicts her characters' metamorphoses from neediness to autonomy. Although the book gives readers an inside look at the life of a rescuer, it also is a "how-to" for showing how helping others results in personal growth and how relationships grow through compassion, support, mutual understanding, and respect.

Janice Erlbaum is the author of Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir (Villard, March '06), and Have You Found Her: A Memoir (Villard, Feb. '08). She was a contributor to Bust magazine from 1994 through 2007. She lives in her native New York City with her domestic partner, Bill Scurry, and their three cats. Visit her website.

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