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Off the Shelves: ‘Homelessness’ should be on your bookshelf

POSTED: April 10, 2011 1:30 a.m.

Our world is not a perfect place. If it were, we would always help our fellow man in need without a moment’s hesitation, without placing stigmas on those lacking the same privileges and luxuries as we have.

How often have we seen downtrodden people on the street, and we walk a little faster avoiding eye contact, worried they want to take our money at their first chance?

People probably don’t want to think this way, but this is the safety mechanism we have mentally adopted as a society, and a red light in our heads blinks on whenever we think of the term "homeless."

That is why it is important when a story comes out dispelling many of the usual prejudgments we may harbor toward certain classes, particularly the poverty-stricken. Brianna Karp’s "The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness" is one such book that will make you rethink how you view the homeless and how such a circumstance can happen to literally anyone.

Brianna Karp’s mesmerizing memoir takes us through her childhood as she is victimized by an emotionally perturbed mother and sexually assaulted by her father. We follow her into adulthood when she has the job of her dreams as an executive assistant.

But when the recession hits, Karp is laid off from her job as so many were at the time. After a nightmarish attempt to live back home with her mother and stepfather, Karp inherits a trailer from her recently deceased father and decides to live in it while camped out in a Walmart parking lot.

Officially homeless, Karp struggles to job search as she survives this new way of life by herself. When she comes across a website promoting information and awareness about homelessness, she begins a blog, "The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness," about her experiences and advice for other young women who may be homeless.

This leads to meeting new people who share her hardships, and eventually even grants her recognition from television reporters and talk show hosts about the trials she has faced.

There is something very compelling about this book, and it is from the courageous way Karp is able to relate her story to readers — everything terrible that can happen to a person happened to this woman at some point in her life, yet she does not describe her life with any tone of resentment or hatred.

Karp still believes in love — even after being rendered heartbroken multiple times — and that most people are generally good. Most people would never have been able to endure even just one or two of the life obstacles that Karp went through, but not only has she pushed on, she has turned her tragedies into lessons that she shares with us.

While her story can often be depressing, it is also inspiring to see the fortitude of the human spirit.

We get to see both sides of human nature in Karp’s journey, from the truly despicable to the purely tenderhearted. For someone who, throughout the book, says she doesn’t consider herself a writer, Karp does what many authors spend their whole lives trying to figure out how to do: She writes with honesty, integrity and fearlessness.

She is also a humble person, never flaunting any melodrama or trying to yank at our heartstrings. Her story simply flows, relating her victories and losses as the steps she has taken to become the woman she is today.

"The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness" is due for national release in May. This is not a story for the faint of heart, but it is one that will hopefully open your eyes to the ugliness of life we tend to ignore. And maybe teach us to unlearn what we’ve been socially programmed to think so we can become more knowledgeable. We cannot control the circumstances that happen to us, but we can grow from them like Brianna Karp has, and become stronger people through them.

Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? Email her to tell her about it.



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