Laura was no stranger to the streets of Manhattan in the mid-1980’s, but something made her stop and turn around after passing a small, skinny, Black boy asking for money on one fateful Monday afternoon. His name was Maurice, and he was half-starved, and when she invited him for lunch at McDonald’s, he accepted. Laura was careful not to pry too far, but could see that Maurice was fending largely for himself, and she was unsure if she’d ever even see him again or how that would happen. To her amazement, though, she did, every Monday from then on. From this bloomed an unlikely friendship that became a blessing for both Laura and Maurice.
This is a true story that is told from Laura’s perspective, but gives a great deal of background from Maurice’s family experience as well. Both of them have experienced a great deal of family trauma, although Maurice’s is quite dire, with most of his family falling victim to the devastating crack epidemic of the 1980’s. While Maurice is clearly loved by his family, particularly his mother and grandmother, they are both usually too ill to properly care for him and he is often left to his own, skillful, but youthful devices. When Laura meets him, he is living in a crowded single room with many drug-addicted relatives where there is no routine, no structure, and never any food in the fridge. Laura is the first person to ask him what he might consider being when he grows up, giving him a first glimpse of the possibility of a real future for himself, besides what he sees in his family.
On one hand, this story is inspiring. Laura speaks freely about how she has gained as much from the relationship as she has given. While she truly has given, whether in lunches made in brown paper bags – signifying to Maurice a show of love and care for him – or clothing, or just a periodic respite from his tumultuous family life, she has also received. She has not had relationships where she was able to have children, and I believe Maurice was sort of like a son to her. She was able to lavish attention, occasional gifts and intermittently share her wisdom with him, the way she might with a son, and she felt gratification in this. And certainly, Maurice was given something of a lifeline, in that he was shown a different possibility for how his life might be – that he did not have to follow the path of his family and that he could choose a steadier, healthier, and safer path for himself. And he did.
On the other hand, the story being written as it was also feels a bit self-congratulatory and almost cringe-worthy. We’re here again, with another white woman “saving'” a Black boy – and it just feels a bit uncomfortable to read about this. Laura is truly generous and giving – but why does she have to write about it? While “a portion” of the proceeds from the book are destined for the No Kid Hungry non-profit group, it still feels a bit strange.
I’d be very curious to hear what others feel about this book and this issue. I invite your comments! I am truly torn over this one!