My favourite genre of books are non-fictional stories about experiences and events. One of my favourite authors is Cathy Glass – who has fostered children for over 25 years and writes about the children she has encountered and their stories. As harrowing as some of them are, what’s inspiring is the development they make with Cathy and her loving, welcoming persona that she offers from the moment a child walks through the door. So, when it came to choosing a book to take away on holiday with me, I picked up one of Cathy’s latest books, “A Long Way From Home”.
“The true story of 2 year-old Anna, abandoned by her natural parents, left alone in a neglected orphanage.
Elaine and Ian had travelled half way round the world to adopt little Anna. She couldn’t have been more wanted, loved and cherished. So why was she now in foster care and living with me? It didn’t make sense.
Until I learned what had happened…”
Anastasia, whom we later come to know as Anna, is born and raised in a run-down orphanage in a location undisclosed throughout the book (personally, I get the feeling it’s somewhere in Eastern Europe from the description of Anna’s appearance and the demeanour of the community).
Cathy’s style of writing usually begins with how a child comes into her care and we learn the child’s backstory through her experiences looking after the child and gaining their trust over time. I was surprised to open the book with the backstory of Anastasia told first. Though unusual for Cathy’s style of writing, the book is separated into parts – the first which bears no mention of Cathy’s involvement – but starts with Anna’s adoptive parents’ journey to finding and adopting her. Though not writing about her own experiences in this section, Cathy is still able to compel you to keep reading.
I usually find Cathy easy to read; I can always jump straight into her books because her home is almost as familiar as my own. I feel like I know her, her children and the way she runs her home. When I realised Cathy had taken a different approach for this book, I was worried it would feel ‘off’ but it was just as compelling as her other works I have read.
I believe this start to the book was important as, for once, we empathise with the parents as well as the child. In Cathy’s other books, we learn about a child through their behaviour and the brief background provided to Cathy upon their arrival. We make up our own minds about their upbringing/parents/guardians; often assuming it is down to some form of abuse that they or others have inflicted on their child to be the reason they are now in care. I feel if Cathy had taken the same approach with this book, we would feel the same way about Anna’s parents despite learning that Anna’s behaviour is down to a psychological condition and her early life – not down to her adoptive or even biological parents. So, for me, the way Cathy started this book – though not her usual style – really made an impact on my understanding and learning from the book. It was really important, as Cathy explains, that Anna’s background is shared first – before learning of Cathy’s experiences and input.
We read about Anna’s adoption experience and behaviour up to coming over to England – and we meet again some 5 or 6 years later when she shows up on Cathy’s doorstep – which brings in that element of ‘filling the gaps’ for yourself with your own imagination initially, as one usually does when reading Cathy’s books. But uniquely, because of the backstory, we know that up to a certain point, Cathy’s adoptive parents have worked so hard to adopt Anna, had struggles with her behaviour – but love her unconditionally – which poses the question of how has she come to be in care?
We learn more about Anna’s behaviour, how she thinks and feels, and the issues she had with her adoptive parents adjusting to her and vice versa. Anna is closed off from the world and makes it difficult for people to engage and care for her. I found Anna’s story of being brought up without love or affection sad to hear, and it’s easy to see the impact this has on a child. We see early on in the book the difficulties Cathy has with Anna’s behaviour and her determination to make the foster set-up work.
I really enjoyed the book – I felt it was well-written in terms of the information collated and how it was presented, and I welcomed the feelings I had towards the parents of empathy and frustration on their behalf which is not something I think I have ever felt whilst reading one of Cathy’s books. We are always routing for the child and assume that the parents are at fault. But in this case, though the parents did struggle to assert some authority on Anna and be ‘parents’ and not just ‘care givers’, their story at the start of the book showed that they entered into this relationship with good intentions and were – and are – good, loving, respectable people who have had a difficult situation put upon them without support in their most desperate and isolating time. I enjoyed seeing how Cathy’s loving yet authoritative persona had started to have a positive effect on Anna despite wondering how she was going to tackle the issues Anna came with from the get-go.
For those who have avoided Cathy’s works due to it’s usual dark and difficult nature – the majority of children in Cathy’s care have endured some form of abuse – Anna’s story isn’t one of those. And whilst we have to endure the cold demeanour of the nursing and care staff that brought Anna up, it’s not that kind of a story and was more about how Anna’s upbringing without a family unit and love has affected her mental health. As difficult as that is to comprehend, it wasn’t an uneasy or haunting read which may put others off from reading about Cathy’s experiences. If you have, I would suggest reading this instead if you do want to try her writing.
What I didn’t enjoy was I felt the book – after Anna and her parents’ background – was a little dragged out yet rushed and didn’t feel ‘finished’ when I had finished it. I feel like Cathy’s story, though she looked after Anna for a long time, didn’t feel like it had moved forward much within that space of time. And I don’t mean Cathy and Anna’s progression; but I feel personally as though the writing seemed to be drafted into a shorter space of time than it was. For example, I was surprised to learn that at one point in the book – Anna had been with Cathy for a matter of months despite it feeling as though only a couple of weeks had passed in the writing. Usually we get a sense of routine and stability in Cathy’s books, and we feel as though time is passing as we progress, but with this book, it felt like we were jumping from one event to the other and whilst it seemed intense reading it – it had actually happened over the span of a almost a year rather than weeks.
I felt at the end, though it was a great story and I enjoyed reading how Anna and her parents moved forward from the experience, I remember closing it and thinking ‘that seemed like a story she put together rather quickly’. Without wanting to sound harsh, it felt more like a story just for the sake of writing a story – than a story about Cathy’s work as her care for Anna ended so abruptly.
I’m hoping I’m articulating myself correctly here – I don’t want to come across that Cathy didn’t have any input or impact on Anna as this is clearly shown at the end of the book – however it felt as though the book was more about Anna’s backstory rather than Cathy’s story. We read Cathy’s books to learn about her work, experiences and how love, acceptance and stability can impact even the most damaged child in some way. But this story was different for me – as though Cathy had been wrote about in someone else’s book – and whilst there was obvious signs Anna had become to settle with Cathy – the written story of Anna’s time in Cathy’s care felt rushed to me.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book. I finished it within around 5 hours and struggled to put it down. As always, I came away thinking how wonderful Cathy is and how I would want to be as a parent. Cathy teaches her readers, in a non-advisory way, how to attempt to overcome certain situations and it seems the clear message is persistence and stability is important in any type of relationship. If you haven’t read one of her books yet, I strongly suggest you do.