I had a hard time digesting this book. Granted that it is an expertly written and unflinching look at foster parenting, The Risk of Us is difficult to get into at first. Written from the unnamed foster mother’s stream-of-consciousness viewpoint, it is rife with gutter language that does nothing to assist the reader’s appreciation of what it takes to raise a traumatized child.
The narrator and her artist husband Sebastian want desperately to rescue a child from the quagmire of abandoned children. Abused by her birth parents, separated from her sister, seven-year-old Maresa is a morass of mood swings. Affectionate one moment, destructive the next, she revives the mother’s memories of her own miserable childhood. Complicating matters are the couple’s shaky financial foundation and Sebastian’s health issues.
A well-meaning tangle of social bureaucrats does little to help them. Being a foster parent is much like being on trial, with the child as the star witness when she doesn’t get what she wants. Just when the mother thinks there is hope for Maresa, she pulls the rug out from under them.
One can’t help admiring the narrator’s motives. Harboring guilt over her one-sided first marriage, she is determined to make both the second marriage and the parenting work. Describing how she fell in love with her artist husband, she says, “I liked the idea of raising a child with a man who made weird paintings of people with cities growing out of their heads.”
Thankfully, angels appear to give them hope, especially a teacher who understands angry children and provides support for them and their parents as well. Friends and relatives, if not always helpful, at least offer sympathy.
Rachel Howard is a gifted writer. Her subject matter is challenging and worthy of exploration. I just wish she had not polluted her work with the same offensive language pervading so much of today’s literature.