Title: One Child
Author: Torey L. Hayden
Publication Date: July 30, 2002
Reviewed by: Angie Edwards
My rating: 5/5
Note to my readers:
This is the first time I come across a book that is listed on Goodreads without any description or proper additional info (but I'm aware that there are many such books on Goodreads). I’ve tried my best to summarize and describe the book in my review below. Though I’ve added the Goodreads link, you can read more about this amazing book on Wikipedia by clicking here.
The first thing I want to tell you is how much this book made me cry. Buckets full. Maybe even enough to fill an ocean. Ugly cry, even. Unashamed, let-it-all-out, bawling. That’s how much. I’m not even exaggerating. This is significant, because tearjerker movies get me to cry often, but in contrast, only a handful of books have managed to dissolve me into tears. With One Child, I cried often, and I cried long and hard. It’s not only Sheila’s circumstances that made me cry, but also because I was so grateful that there is a teacher who cared enough to save this little girl whom everyone had given up on.
Let me share a little about Sheila. She is a six-year-old girl who committed a terrible crime. It wasn’t her first crime, but it was probably her worst. At the age of six she had already had run ins with the police three times, and after her last crime the courts had decided that she should be placed in a state institution for mentally disturbed patients. Unfortunately for the state, but fortunately for Sheila, there wasn’t space available to accommodate her in the local state institution, and she was placed in a classroom for handicapped, abused, and mentally disturbed children. The teacher for that classroom at the time was Miss Torey (the author of this book). According to state regulations, Torey could only accommodate eight children in her classroom due to the severity of their conditions. Yet, she had no choice but to accept problem-child Sheila into her classroom.
When I say Sheila is a problem-child, I don’t mean it lightly. The things she does is incredibly shocking, but here I also want to mention that she is no ordinary child. She has an IQ of over 170. Obviously, until Sheila has landed in Torey’s classroom, no-one has figured it out yet because Sheila is such a difficult child who goes out of her way to make herself unlovable. She lives in poverty with her alcoholic, ex-convict father, in a one-room shack in a migrant camp. You might wonder where Sheila’s mother is, and I can only tell you that that is another heartbreaking part of Sheila’s life. No acceptable excuse can be made for what Sheila’s mother did to her. It’s just too appalling.
Anyway, the entire story centers around Miss Torey and Sheila forming an unbreakable bond and how they changed each others’ lives, and also how it changed Sheila. This little girl who never cries and who only knows rejection, abuse, and abandonment, has to learn to love, be accepted, deal with her anger, and adjust to normal society - what is socially acceptable, and what is not. Often I found myself smiling about how Sheila perceives the world and her surroundings, and how she tries to make sense of her life. The other kids in the same classroom also crept into my heart. So many times did I go “aaawwwhhh” because of something or other that Sheila, Torey or any of the other kids did or say, and then the tears would start all over again.
I’ve read many abuse stories, whether it’s written in books or news articles, but never have I been as shocked as when I read what Sheila’s uncle did to her. You think you’ve heard it all with regard to the extent of human depravity, and then you read something like that...
The story has a good ending, but not, in my opinion, a satisfying one. I desperately wanted a different ending for Sheila at home. I didn’t agree with the welfare system’s opinion of Sheila’s home life. I appreciated every single effort Torey made to improve Sheila’s life and I am grateful that there are teachers who really care about their students. One Child is a book worth reading, albeit not an easy one because it plays havoc with your emotions. Whether this really happened or not, it is a reminder that the world is filled with people who have no limits to the cruelties they bestow on defenseless little children (and animals, for that matter). At the same time it also showcases that, once in a while, a gem such as Torey comes along who dedicates her time and all of herself to protecting, loving, and making a difference in the lives of little ones who can’t fend for themselves.
As much as I want to recommend this book to everyone, I also have to issue a warning that it contains content of a disturbing nature. Sheila’s story needed to be told and I’m grateful to Ms Hayden for sharing it with us. However, read it at own risk (such as crying buckets of tears and having your heart break into tiny little pieces over and over again).
ABOUT the AUTHOR
Victoria Lynn Hayden, known as Torey L. Hayden (born May 21, 1951 in Livingston, Montana) is a child psychologist, special education teacher, university lecturer and writer of non-fiction books based on her real-life experiences with teaching and counselling children with special needs.
Subjects covered in her books include autism, Tourette syndrome, sexual abuse, fetal alcohol syndrome, and elective mutism (now called selective mutism), her specialty.
Hayden attended high school in Billings, Montana and graduated in 1969. She then attended Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.
A little time after having written her most famous book, One Child, Hayden moved to Wales in 1980 and got married to a Scot called Ken two years later. In 1985, she gave birth to her daughter, Sheena. Hayden is now divorced.
She has also written three books of fiction in addition to her non-fiction books.
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