What happens in The Lost Boy?

The Lost Boy is the sequel to Dave Pelzer's bestselling memoir A Child Called "It." The story opens in Daly City, California in 1973, when David's teachers call the police to report their suspicions of child abuse.

  • David moves in with Aunt Mary, a transitional foster parent. He's given a social worker, Ms. Gold, who argues in court for David to be permanently removed from his mother's care. She succeeds, and David becomes a ward of the state of California.
  • David is then placed with his first foster parents, Lillian and Rudy Catanze. Lilian and Rudy are loving foster parents, but they have strict rules when it comes to lying. When David is falsely accused of starting a fire at his school, Rudy is forced to take David to Hillcrest, a juvenile detention center.
  • David is sentenced to one hundred days in Hillcrest. Following this brush with the law, he spends several years bouncing around from foster home to foster home, struggling to find his place in the world. He develops a strong work ethic and eventually joins the United States Air Force. In the epilogue, he writes of finally finding a home with his wife and son.

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When Dave Pelzer was a young boy, his mother was shockingly abusive to him. She refused to feed him, forced him to sleep on a cot in the garage, beat him, burned his arm on the stove, locked him in the bathroom with a bucket of bleach and ammonia, and once even stabbed him—by "accident," she claimed—and refused to take him to the hospital. The abuse is chronicled in Pelzer's first memoir, A Child Called "It," which quickly became a national bestseller. The Lost Boy picks up where A Child Called "It" left off, chronicling David's escape from his mother and his entry into foster care.

The Lost Boy begins in winter of 1970. David is living with his mother, father, and brothers in Daly City, California. One night, in a crazed, drunken rage, David's mother opens the front door and tells him that, if he doesn't like the way she treats him, then he can leave. It's his choice. David hesitates, trained by years of abuse to suspect this is a trap—but when he walks out the front door, she doesn't stop him. He's free. His plan is to live near the Russian River in Guerneville, California, where "The Family" used to spend their summer vacations. Unfortunately, David doesn't know how to get there, nor does he realize that it's an eighty mile walk from Daly City to Guerneville. He gets picked up by the police, who call his parents. His father comes to take him back to "The House," as Dave calls it.

David endures three more years of hell at home before teachers at his school finally intervene. Over the years, the teachers had become increasingly concerned about David's home life, noticing that he frequently came to school in rags, bearing unexplainable bruises on his arms. His troubles at school were not initially attributed to the child abuse and are well chronicled in A Child Called "It." In The Lost Boy, his teachers come together to report the abuse. A police officer pulls David out of school, taking him to a hospital, where doctors document the physical signs of abuse and treat the chemical burns on his arms. The policeman then takes David to live with Aunt Mary, his first foster mother.

David doesn't understand what's happening. He's afraid that his mother will find him and abuse him again. His nightmares all involve his mother screaming that she'll never let him go. Her unexpected visit to Aunt Mary's frightens him half to death. His social worker, the angelic Ms. Gold, helps him work through some of his fear. She explains to him about the upcoming trial, in which a judge will decide whether David will return to his mother or become a ward of the state. In order for the judge to rule in his favor, David must tell the ugly truth about the abuse. This is difficult for him, because the psychological effects of the abuse have shamed him into believing that he deserved it and that he shouldn't have revealed the...

(The entire section is 1,434 words.)