Borrowed Body

20th May 2005 at 01:00
BORROWED BODY. By Valerie Mason-John. Serpent's Tail pound;8.99

There are very few really disturbed children. Rather, there are ordinary children who are reacting in entirely understandable ways to being "cared for" by disturbed people who treat them either indifferently or badly. The best hope is that in the end there'll be redemption and an adult made more determined, more aware, perhaps wiser by the experience.

That seems to be the story for writer Valerie Mason-John, who after a long succession of foster care placements ended up in a young offenders'

institution. In the middle of it all, she spent time with her abusive natural mother, Wunmi, from Sierra Leone.

"I don't understand why I have to change from being English to African and coloured to black," she writes. "Wunmi tries to beat the English out of me every morning before I go to school."

Through it all, she's supported by a rich inner life that intertwines imagination with reality. The book ends two months before her 17th birthday, on the day she leaves borstal for what we now know developed into a career in journalism and political commentary.

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