A Child Called "It" Summary

A Child Called “It” is a memoir by Dave Pelzer that describes the abuse he suffered at the hands of his alcoholic mother.

  • David lives in Dale City, California, with his mother, father, and brothers. Though they are a happy family at first, his mother begins to abuse David in increasingly inventive and horrifying ways.
  • David’s mother starves him and forces him to sleep in the garage. One day, she “accidentally” stabs him but doesn’t take him to a hospital.
  • Finally, due to the kindness of several teachers, the police intervene, and David is taken away from his mother.


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Last Updated on December 9, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3518


It is March 5, 1973, and David is in the school nurse’s office. He is answering questions about his mother again, and soon the principal enters the room. The young boy is afraid because he knows when his mother hears of this meeting his life will be even more miserable. Then a police officer arrives, and David is even more afraid. Information is shared, questions are asked, and the kind officer takes David to the police station. The boy is relieved because if he is in jail his mother cannot punish him for what he has told them. When the officer dials David’s home phone number, David is paralyzed by fear, but the officer reassures him it will be okay. “David Pelzer,” he says, “you’re free.”

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A Child Called “It”

From his home in Daly City, California, David can see the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline. He, his two brothers, and his parents are living as a perfect, television-worthy family. David’s father is Stephen Joseph, a strong and rather playful fireman; his mother is Catherine Roerva, an average-looking woman who “glowed with love for her children.” During the good years, the family does things together and mother happily prepares special meals, outings, and surprises for her sons. Holidays, from Halloween through Christmas, are the most special times for David and his family. Mother takes her children on special outings when Father is working, and the family goes on vacations, which are fun and memorable. Their trips to a cabin on the Russian River are the very best of family life for David. There are occasional signs of some manic behavior in his mother, but David is too young to recognize them as anything more than moments of frenzy and franticness. In all these moments, David’s mother treats him with warmth and love. At some point, though, things change.

David is perpetually being punished. His voice is a little louder than his brothers’ voices, and he is almost always the brother who gets caught in mischief. David is relegated to a corner of his mother’s bedroom and knows better than to ask to be released. His mother’s behavior grows erratic. She often sleeps through her days, getting up only to prepare minimal meals or to get herself another drink. On the days when Mother gets up and dressed and even wears makeup, David knows his life will be easier. On the other days, though, the young boy tries to avoid getting noticed. At some point, David graduates from banishment to the corner of the bedroom to standing for hours in front of a mirror. His mother smashes his tearful face against the glass and forces him to repeat, “I am a bad boy!” like a mantra, over and over. His brothers, Ron and Stan, simply ignore him. Mother begins to make her boys search for things in the house; these are often all-day, futile endeavors. Soon only David is sent on these fruitless searches. One day when he forgets what he is looking for, his mother smashes him in the face, causing a bloody nose. She does it without ever taking her eyes off the television. David never finds anything she sends him to look for—ever. When Father is home things are different, and David knows he is safe if he stays near him. On days when his...

(The entire section contains 3518 words.)

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