Seventeen-year-old, college-bound Lauralee Summer never thought the details of her life were so extraordinary that they would show up in newspapers and soar over the American airwaves. But after she won a wrestling scholarship and, as a result, got interviewed by the Boston Globe and Associated Press, her story went nationwide. The ubiquitous headlines proclaimed triumphantly: "Homeless to Harvard." Summer's curiously titled memoir, Learning Joy from Dogs Without Collars, reveals a fatherless, nomadic life lived with her rarely employed, eccentric though loving mother. Constantly moving through the dreary, often dangerous confines of homeless shelters and flimsy welfare housing, they had no car, no bank account and little money for food or clothing. Summer's schooling was erratic, but she loved books from an early age. Not until she reached high school did she find the mentors and activities (especially competitive wrestling with an all-male team) that moved her toward self-acceptance and into the privileged realms of Harvard. Requests for network television appearances came pouring in after the surge of front-page press. Summer was aghast when, during a nationally televised interview, the host asked her what it was like to be homeless and gave her only 20 seconds to reply. Being forced to provide an abbreviated response eventually led to the writing of her memoir. And in the telling, Summer admits she has claimed her place in the world and built herself an authentic home. Using the constructs of her life poverty, neglect and isolation and her Harvard education, she has created a clear window into the shadowy, disenfranchised world of impoverished women and children. If the walls of Summer's house are a bit rough-hewn, hers is a sturdy and honest dwelling. For it houses a young writer who possesses courage, heart and social compassion, who has, in the words of an anonymous, homeless youth, "learned patience from statues in a thousand parks, and joy from dogs without collars." Alison Hood writes from San Rafael, California.

comments powered by Disqus