The Lost Boy Themes (Dave Pelzer)

Dave Pelzer

The Lost Boy Themes

  • Pelzer frequently refers to the prejudice against foster kids. This theme becomes more prominent as the memoir progresses, culminating near the end of the book, when David and his foster family move to Duinsmoore Drive. The residents of this ritzy neighborhood look at David with suspicion and treat him like an outcast for no other reason than he's a foster child.
  • At heart, The Lost Boy is the story of one foster child's search for his identity. Before the abuse, David was a happy, energetic kid. After, his behavior becomes erratic, and he starts acting out, shoplifting food and toys to impress the older boys. It takes David years to finally understand who he is and what effect the abuse had on him.
  • Like A Child Called "It" before it, The Lost Boy addresses themes of child abuse and trauma. Specifically, The Lost Boy focuses on the aftermath of child abuse, the emotional and psychological damage it has on young David. With the help of his foster families, David heals from the abuse and goes on to become a bestselling author.


Child Abuse

Child abuse is one of the central themes of The Lost Boy. David's abuse at the hands of his mother is what causes him to become part of the foster care system, which saves his life. After he's taken from his mother, David begins the slow process of healing from the emotional and psychological damage caused by the abuse. This causes him to act out, which eventually lands him in juvenile hall. David's foster mother, Lilian Catanze, warns him of the consequences of his bad behavior. This helps David get his life on track. The foster care system isn't always a safe place, however. While living with the Joneses, David learns that Jody Jones has been accused of statutory rape. It's implied that these rape accusations are groundless.

One could argue that The Lost Boy is one boy's attempt to find a family that loves him. Early in this memoir, David makes it clear that he doesn't think of The Family as his family, and he hates Mother for abusing him and stripping him of his identity. When David enters the foster care system, he finds loving, understanding foster parents, but struggles to find his true family amidst all the foster homes and children. Only at the end of the memoir, when David and his son look out at the Russian River, does David find his true family.
Home is a fraught theme in The Lost Boy. When David is taken from The Family and The House, he enters an overcrowded foster care system that places kids in homes based on availability, rather than compatibility. David moves around a lot, often several times a year, and lives out of a brown bag for much of that time, because he knows that these "homes" are temporary. Eventually, he's able to find something of a home with the Turnboughs, but leaves it to join the Air Force. As an adult, he's able to make a home with his wife and son. Only then does he find peace.
The Law
David has many run-ins with the law in The Lost Boy, the first taking place in the prologue. David's first encounter with the law proves disappointing, with a police officer failing to notice the warning signs of abuse and believing Mother's lies about David being a bad boy. This sets the stage for all of David's future dealings with the law. Though the law and the associated foster care system are what save him from his abusive mother, not all of these encounters with the law are positive. He's falsely accused of attempting to burn down his school and is put on trial for the crime. He's sentenced to a hundred days in juvenile detention, including time served while awaiting trial. This scares him into becoming a model citizen.