Monday, 19 January 2015

Book Review: Please Don’t Take My Baby by Cathy Glass

Cathy Glass is one of the better authors of non-fiction cheap paperback books that are about usually abused or neglected children that come into foster care. If you have been in any supermarket’s book section, you will probably recognise one of her books among the many others showing sad children on the cover with depressing titles.
I literally only read this because it was the stirring of early morning and I found it hiding in the depths of my tablet’s book library but it was exactly the type of read I was after – quick, very easy and had just enough raw emotional pull to keep you turning the pages.

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"Please Don’t Take My Baby follows a 17 year old girl placed in the care of Cathy Glass while heavily pregnant and the trials and tribulations of her fight to keep her child once it is born. These type of books typically have a cult following which keeps them firmly on the shelves but they also hold interest for the curious and it’s that perspective I’ve taken today.

Image courtesy of Goodreads
What’s good about it?
This book fits perfectly with its shelf of misery-porn (this term is used in the same way as ‘gore-porn’ not an actual reference to pornography, just in case the context wasn’t obvious) companions which makes it a good candidate for an emotionally-deep-but-not-difficult read if you need a distraction for a couple of hours. It has everything it needs to be on that shelf: emotional trauma, a key social issue, disproving said key social issue and an altruistic heroine-like woman pioneering the way forward. It follows the formula on point and this works fairly well for this type of read.

The characters are built wonderfully; they make the story endearing and take away some of the mundaneness of Glass’ overly detailed descriptions of her everyday life, including, on occasions, what they all eat for each meal. In the end, the only character I so much as liked was Tyler, the 16 year old boyfriend and soon-to-be-father. Even Glass herself is insufferable in this book; it’s almost like she’s accidentally published her diary instead and enjoys questioning herself and justifying her decisions by taking us through a step by step guide as to how she reached them. However, since the characters are actual real people it’s hard to really judge the characters on the page to the author’s credit or discredit but Glass seems to pick out the key features of their personalities and portray them in a raw manner across the pages so we almost discover them alongside her. This is really what makes the book and what sets Glass apart from most similar authors of this genre.

One particular scene was very emotionally charged and it would have warmed the most cynical of hearts but describing it in any way is impossible without spoilers. All I’d like to say on it is if you enjoy this genre and you can tolerate Glass’ mindless waffle about the dilemmas she faces on a daily basis like whether she can fit going out shopping around collecting her daughter from school, this scene is worth sticking in for. It carries a huge emotional pull and it brings to light a very real and often forgotten side of social work.

What isn't so great?
The main criticism to be had of ‘Please Don’t Take My Baby’ is the same that many others have said across Glass’ whole line of books – the description. Every little thing is described to the point where you just don’t care exactly how she cleans up the bathroom or her hyper-smothering dilemma of not giving her children green vegetables with their evening meal for one night. It’s borderline ridiculous.

This teenage diary-like writing though does have its minor perks, it’s so easy to follow what’s going on in the story that every situation is spelled out for you in about twenty different ways. If you’re into that, then perhaps you should give this book a shot with your teeth gritted but otherwise, kicking down that 2 for £5 shelf full of weepy child faces adorning book covers might be a more enjoyable activity. Another slight bonus of this descriptive overload is that it makes it feel more realistic. However, Glass’ head is not somewhere I’d recommend anyone spend too much time in as it seems far too preoccupied with looking like a perfect person all of the time. Hopefully, the whole thing is just whitewashed with an overload of goodness to make her feel better or look like the angel of foster carers but it’s too much and if it is real, she wouldn’t make an interesting dinner guest by any means with her constant emotional doubts. The reservoir of patience foster carers must have seems incredible but this level of patience and understanding seems a over the top and a little concerning if anything else. If any fellow Glass reader has more thoughts on that, please comment or email me on because it's something I've found a little alarming when digging through her endless descriptions. 

Without giving too much away of the story, another point in this book had me incredibly riled up and it was downright hypocritical of Glass. All of Jade’s troubles seemed to stem from her age, seventeen, not the fact that she was clearly an irresponsible, selfish and generally frustrating person. The book gave the impression that if Jade had been a few years older, she would magically make a wonderful mother but of all people, a foster carer should realise that age, while being an important factor, is definitely not the biggest in how someone cares for a child.
This was written with the stigma of teenage mothers in mind and it was so despicably discriminating in some parts that it was unbearable. Conversely, the sixteen year old father doing his GCSE’s was painted as a wonderful person at the end which seemed to cast the entire first half of the book where Glass repeatedly emphasised how young Jade was quite hypocritical. The whole book would have been far better if it wasn’t peppered with judgement about Jade’s age because really, we all know that her being a few months younger than the magical 18 mark wasn’t the cause for her being a total idiot.

Overall, ‘Please Don’t Take My Baby’ is okay.
It’s okay to take on a boring flight or to turn to at 4am. It isn’t okay to take to a book club and remark on how it profoundly changed your life (it won’t, by the way). It’ll do but it’s by no means brilliant and I can almost guarantee that anyone who has read it won’t be too boastful of it unless they are part of the cult. Though following the formula typical of this genre, it isn’t hugely successful and I’ve found some of Glass’ other books to be written in a much more enjoyable way. Unless you come across it and there’s little else that looks better (for instance, a sleepless sleepover at a member of the cult’s house where this might sit proudly, pride of place on their bookcase full of misery), I’d give this a miss.”

(Read 17th January, 2015)

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