Monday, July 22, 2013

Book Review: Bend Me, Shape Me by Debra R. Borys

by M. J. Joachim

Bend Me, Shape Me, A Street Stories Suspense Novel provides an unexpected perspective relating to the lives of homeless youth in Chicago. It is a raw story, one that startles the reader, making one curl back with a desire to flee some of its all-too-real scenes, complete with street language many of us might not be used to. 

Characters in Debra R. Borys story were related to each other in an abstract sort of way, curiously intertwining their lives with each other from different points of view. Take for example Snow; she was a homeless, drug addicted youth whose troubled life unveiled itself throughout the story. Her little brother Alley was also a homeless youth, and though they lived separate street lives, they managed to keep an eye out for one another throughout the story. Jo, another character in the story, was a reporter on a mission – to save troubled youth living on the streets in Chicago. 

Leonard was Snow and Alley’s guilt-ridden uncle, who went in search of his sister many years before, only to find her strung out and living on the streets with two young kids. In disgust, he turned a blind eye to their plight, keeping an eye on them from a distance, until (several years later – after his sister had passed away) he couldn’t live with his decision any longer and went on a mission to save his niece and nephew. 

Everything else in the story falls between the lines of these three characters, Snow, Jo and Leonard, and there’s quite a bit of everything else. Through these characters, we are introduced to case workers, psychiatrists, relatives, detectives, other homeless people, community volunteers at homeless shelters, administrators overseeing homeless shelters and a variety of other characters directing us toward the mystery and eventually solved case of a bizarre and disturbing story. 

Societal issues addressed in this story include homelessness, addiction, sexual predators, sexual identity, prostitution, mental illness, government corruption, terrorism, paranoia, mind control, conspiracy theories, post-traumatic stress, child run-aways, child hunger... the list goes on and on and on.

I can see where Borys was coming from and what she was trying to do; I applaud her efforts to address the plight of homeless youth in Chicago. I really do. However, this story troubled me. The writing was good and easy enough to read. The characters were real enough, despite the never-ending chaos they faced within the pages. Following the chaos was a bit more difficult for me. I had to reread and flip back a few times, just to make sure I was focusing on the right scene as it unfolded, and to double-check the character being portrayed in the chapter. This was important, because if the story was being told from Snow’s perspective, as opposed to Jo’s, the reasoning, choices, decisions and consequences would be entirely different. 

The plot(s) – well, you knew the primary psychiatrist was a bad guy. That was clear from the start of the story. However, and this is where a bit of mystery comes in, there was always the uncertainty as to why he was bad and what he was really up to. Personally, I think Borys may have changed her mind a few times, without doing rewrites for the benefit of her readers. 

The plot(s) drove me crazy. I wanted to feel smart, like I was figuring something out as I read this story, and I hoped there might be a call to action upon its conclusion. Instead, I felt frustrated and let down by an ending so unrealistic (though it was written really well), that I felt like the story ended on a rather bland note. 

This is a story that begins with an intensely strong opening chapter, one that startles readers, awakens their senses and captures their attention. Happy endings, albeit nice, seem to soften the blow and dismiss the horror of what life must be like for homeless teenagers on our streets, especially in rough cities like Chicago. 

Bend Me, Shape Me is an important testimony for the plight of homeless people, prostitutes, addicts etc. My heart opened wide as I looked beyond the story and felt the desperation and hopelessness they must feel, as I recognized and acknowledged the circumstances which led to their situation. There is no other answer but love and compassion for those left wandering our streets – lost souls in need of hope, assistance and truth without judgment, fear or rejection. This was the meat of the story, the message I hoped Borys would deliver in her conclusion. 

Unfortunately, I won’t be adding Bend Me, Shape Me to my Recommended Reading List. The story needs more focus, less drama and a direct message, as opposed to an abstract message trying to give the reader warm fuzzies at the end. 

Book Reviewer’s Note: I wanted more. My book reviewer’s lens clashed strongly with my desire to be Effectively Human. What I found was an unyielding desire to learn and understand the plight of homelessness in our midst. From the moment I finished reading and reviewing “Bend Me, Shape Me,” thoughts of homeless people and the struggles they face have been ever present in my heart, mind and soul. For this reason I’m changing my mind and adding “Bend Me, Shape Me” to my Recommended Reading List. My opinions shared in this review have not changed from a reader’s point of view. However, I would be remiss if I overlooked what the images of homelessness and life on the streets shared in this book, have done to my heart.

As a side note, I’m currently working on and researching some new articles relating to homelessness for my Effectively Human website. I expect to publish a few more in the not too distant future. 

Thank you for visiting Writing Tips,

M. J. 

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p.s. Thank you for all your prayers for my niece and great-niece. My niece met her new daughter yesterday for the first time. By all accounts, both patients are doing much better and will hopefully be moved from their separate ICU rooms in the next couple of days or so.