The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness, by Brianna Karp

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Author’s website
Publication date – April 26, 2011

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) “I am an educated woman with stable employment and residence history. I have never done drugs. I am not mentally ill. I am a career executive assistant—coherent, opinionated, poised, and capable. If you saw me walking down the street, you wouldn’t have assumed that I lived in a parking lot. In short, I was just like you—except without the convenience of a permanent address.” Brianna Karp’s account of her journey through homelessness immerses us in a timely, relevant topic that all too many Americans know about first hand.

Thoughts: I’ve had a few friends who, at various points in their lives, have found themselves homeless for one reason or another. So when I saw this book, my curiosity was piqued. It wasn’t until around halfway through that I realized I’d already heard about the author, though not extensively. I remember browsing news links one day and hearing about a homeless woman who’d landed an internship with a magazine writer. That was my introduction to Brianna Karp, and my introduction to her was, no doubt, just about identical to thoudands of other experiences, as people read the news and saw a glimpse of this woman.

Brianna’s story wasn’t an easy one to tell, but she does so with a frankness that reminds me sometimes of a person who’s seen and been through too much and has just become immune to many of the stresses associated with some of the terrible things that can happen in life. From an abusive upbringing to finding herself homeless to falling in love with a man who turns out to be a total asshat, Brianna seems to have been through a bit of everything. She doesn’t flinch away from telling it like it is.

This book does a lot to help break down some of the all too common stereotypes associated with the homeless. Let’s face it, when most of us think of homeless people, one of the first images that comes to bring is an unshaven guy in a long coat and knit skullcap, or a woman with unkempt hair pushing a shopping cart of her belongings down a street. They’re the common face of homelessness because they are very visible, by dint of their being so far outside what we expect people to be and look like. But scratch even a little bit below the surface and what you’ll find are young couples living out of their car, guys coming from a day at the office straight into a homeless shelter, and it’s not because they drink away their paycheques, but because society is expensive. Think about how much it takes to rent an apartment. First month’s rent, damage deposit equal to that, last month’s rent in some places. Ad we aren’t all lucky enough to get paid $50000 a year. Some of us make less than half that. My roommate makes about one quarter of that.

Aside from breaking down stereotypes about homelessness, another theme that runs under this whole book is the value of social networking. Weird though that may sound. But through free (or at least cheap) Internet connections, Brianna made a host of friends who helped her out of tight spots, either financially or emotionally, all because she started a blog and made a few connections to other websites. It may sound trite, but this is a testament to what people can do for one another when they are united by a common thread and pull together in times of need.

This isn’t a book I’d recommend to everyone. There are depictions of abuse — emotional, physical, and sexual — that left me queasy, and there are many parts of this book that I simply couldn’t relate to, as I don’t place the same emphasis on appearance and social-climbing that many do, especially young women. But given the main theme of the book, those parts that I couldn’t relate to are easy to relegate to the back of my mind and overlook. I can do that, but I know far too many people who can’t, and I think that sadly, the message of this book would be lost on them.

Which makes them, perversely, the very people who ought to read this book and have their preconceptions blows out of the water.

I’d recommend giving this one a chance, at least. It’s slow going at first, as Brianna spends a good deal of time setting up the backstory of her life before tackling the actual issue of homelessness, but it’s still worth the attempt.

(Provided by the publisher for review via NetGalley)

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