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Reviewed by Pennell Paugh

March 28, 2023 (San Diego) -- Seven-year-old Leslie has a serious problem. Someone is trying to kill her-- and it’s her mother. Leslie and her little brother live chaotic, often frightening lives under the care of their paranoid schizophrenic mother.

This excerpt from local author Leslie Ferguson’s memoir, When I Was Her Daughter, exemplifies those chilling conditions:

I was seven when we started running from the government.

We had moved in with Auntie Philys again after living in apartments and sometimes with Gramma and Grampa. Mom, William, and I slept in the living room of Auntie’s tiny place. Mom slept in the cushioned rocker, and William and I alternated between the couch and the pool raft, which fit lengthwise in front of the door. When I slept on the raft, cockroaches crawled the still mountain of my body in the dark, and after they fled, their ghosts scurried along my arms and in my hair. William admitted he had trapped roaches on his arm in the night, but he always let them go.

Convinced Auntie Philys’s place was bugged with listening devices planted by the government, Mom searched ceiling corners with her eyes and ran her hands along tables and under lamps, cursing the Communists. “Damn Russians. Sent to torture us,” she said when I questioned her. And then she lit a Marlboro 100, puffed on it until the smoke streamed smoothly from its tip, and cleared a tobacco fiber from her lip.

Several times, the two children are taken out of their home because their mother would keep them out of school due to paranoid notions. Under age 10, Leslie is placed in foster care, but life doesn't improve just because she is free of her mom. All seems lost . . . when an unexpected source changes Leslie's world forever. 

In spite of experiencing very difficult times in her childhood, Leslie Ferguson describes events clearly while sharing her feelings. Her story is comforting to those of us who have suffered. There are better days to come and there is hope we can recover.

When I Was Her Daughter won the 2023 PenCraft Seasonal Book Award Winter Competition.

The author is a Southern California native and former teacher and writing instructor. She earned her MA in English Literature and MFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University. She is a member of the San Diego Memoir Writers Assn and San Diego Writers and Editors Guild.


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