Angela and Jonathan are foster carers who have also completed training to become specialist carers for “teenagers with complex needs”. The latest addition to their family is Melissa, who requires a short term placement. Melissa is a sweet, polite and seemingly young twelve year old, yet she has a history of running away from foster care.
While Angela and Jonathan have fostered children for several years, Melissa is the first “runner” that’s been placed in their home. They don’t know if she’s running from or to something and are given very little information about her history so they’re not quite sure what’s in store for them.
Though their experiences with Melissa are central to this book, Ryan and Marty, whose time in their home overlapped Melissa’s, are also discussed. Vicky, who I presume is the same girl in Angela’s previous book, Terrified, also appears briefly.
I vacillated between feeling like a voyeur, wanting to know more about this young girl’s life, and treating the story as fictionalised in order to assuage the intrusiveness I felt. I was glad to read that “Certain details in this story, including names, places and dates, have been changed to protect the family’s privacy” although at the same time I knew the horror I would feel if I learned a foster parent (even using a pseudonym) had published my story without my consent, regardless of how much it had been altered to de-identify me.
Given the author states she has had no contact with Melissa since the final time she ran away, there’s no indication permission was granted by her for her story to be published, which concerned me. It also seemed incongruous to be consistently reading about how the author wouldn’t divulge private details about any of her foster children to current or prior foster kids or even her mother, who was babysitting them, when I was reading all about them (albeit de-identified) in a published book.
I’ve been hesitant to read books based on real foster care experiences because of my concerns about privacy but can also see their benefit, as they provide insight into this often hidden world. It was the recommendation from Torey Hayden, whose books I devoured in my early twenties, that made me finally bite the bullet.
Good foster carers really should be praised for their tireless efforts in providing stability and a safe place for some of the most vulnerable young people. I hope books like this spur people into action who have considered fostering, as more foster carers are always needed.
I was frustrated by the rules that foster carers were expected to follow in the 1990’s when the events of this book are said to have taken place; rules that are supposed to protect foster children but instead leave them vulnerable to additional harm. I can only hope this broken system has been changed for the better in the UK since that time.
Some readers may find the themes of this book disturbing and rightfully so as it mentions suicide, child abuse and neglect, grooming, trafficking and child sexual exploitation. This was a quick read for me. I found some sections repetitive but overall the story flowed well.
Thank you to NetGalley and Bluebird, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, for the opportunity to read this book.
Once Upon a Blurb
Melissa is a sweet-natured girl with a disturbing habit of running away and mixing with the wrong crowd. After she’s picked up by the police, and with nowhere else to go, she is locked in a secure unit with young offenders. Social Services beg specialist foster carer Angela to take her in, but can she keep the testing 12-year-old safe? And will Angela ever learn what, or who, drove Melissa to run and hide, sometimes in the dead of night?
The Girl in the Dark is the sixth book from well-loved foster carer Angela Hart. A true story that shares the tale of one of the many children she has fostered over the years. Angela’s stories show the difference that quiet care, a watchful eye, and sympathetic ear can make to those children whose upbringing has been less fortunate than others.