Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Turning Stones: My Days and Nights With Children at Risk, by Marc Parent. Ballantine Books (1998), 400 pages.

This is the memoir of a caseworker for Emergency Children’s Services in New York City. The stories the author tells of the children and families he meets are unforgettable—tragic, depressing, inspiring and at times very funny.

Parent clearly has real writing talent, but unfortunately his book lost a few stars due to his regrettable tendency to wander off into reminiscences about growing up in Wisconsin. The book not only loses momentum in these sections, but the writing itself becomes dull and pedestrian. I suppose Parent meant for me to find the juxtaposition between his ordinary Wisconsin childhood and the chaotic, often horrifying, life of a caseworker interesting. Sadly, I did not. I wish an editor had helped him to see that this book is really about his work in New York and that introducing the rest of his life into the story does not add perspective, but instead diminishes the power of the narrative.

Nevertheless, for the most part Turning Stones is fascinating and sure to be of interest to the general nonfiction reader.

I think a lot of folks don’t actually believe the fact that people live with colonies of rats in their walls, that it’s not uncommon to see the fat little titans trundling casually from bathrooms to kitchens to bedrooms, that for some, day-to-day living is peppered with the sound of gnawing. Well I’m here to tell you, rats aren’t just for gutters anymore. The rats at 108th crawled on our counters and died in our laundry piles; they lived in our shoes and drowned in our toilet. Hearing them in the walls was not so comforting, either. Mice seem to fit so nicely in the small spaces between apartment walls and floors, but rats are a whole different animal. Before going to bed on many nights I could hear them falling and bumping across wall supports like small herds of migrating caribou.

This review first appeared in December 2003
By Cindy Pinto