There are good books, and there are bad books, sometimes you even stumble upon a great book. In my world there is one more level, and you find it very rarely, it transcends the ‘great’ designation, A Place To Belong, belongs in that place! A book that cannot be put down, a book that commands you to keep turning the pages.

Paul Miller maybe a newcomer to the literary world, but he is no newcomer to the harsh realities that the world can serve up.

A Place To Belong was 50 years in the making, it was a book hidden inside the author, hidden deep, a story that took an enormous amount of courage to tell. It is one thing to share the humor of your youth, skipping school, or stealing a farmers apples. It is an entirely different thing to explore the depravity and inhumanity of mankind, particularly when it concerns your own family. “I just want to be a kid” Paul implores of his sister.

Paul is now a successful, and I hope, a mostly happy man, but that was not the case when we first meet him at age 8. His early life was anything but easy. A father that seemed to make random decisions and a mother that seemingly loved Paul, yet followed his fathers wishes without a murmur.

A Place To Belong is probably the most disturbing book I have read in many years. For no apparent reason Paul is dragged from his home in Detroit to Boston, Florida, California, and then back to Detroit. Each move though, introduces a new and frightening deterioration in family life. His father is becoming more and more irrational, while his mother is becoming more introverted.

Paul finds himself increasingly the center of his own world, there is no-one else that he can rely on. The beatings, and the instability of the world around him lead Paul into into a world that no young child should have to face. Survival requires some extra abilities, a little bit of petty theft, and a quick mind are must haves.

This is a kid that is not permitted to be a kid, he goes from toddler to adult almost overnight. One of the most poignant moments in the narrative is Paul’s return to Detroit at age 11 and being reunited with his friends, “They were still little kids, playing pretend games. So, as it turned out, I didn’t want to spend time with them. I think they were just as baffled as I was.”

How many 14 year olds do you know that have hitch-hiked their way across the states twice? With no money, no real destination, Paul lives day by day. Mostly it is the kindness of others that provide the guiding light, but not everyone has such high principals. Surprising acts of kindness come from unlikely sources, Truckers, Motel Desk Clerks, and maybe the kindest of all, am old black man named Noah. He offered no money, he offered no food, he didn’t even offer shelter. But what he did offer was hope, and hope likely is what got Paul Miller to adulthood. Others that cross Paul’s path have different plans, plans that I care not to even think about.

I work with the homeless, and I have met ‘Paul’ more times than I care to recall.

This is a most disturbing book. It bothered me so much that I broke my rule on reviewing, I actually read a couple of other reviews. ‘It should be mandatory reading in High School’ one said. I have to disagree, Paul Miller survived his ordeal, most kids do not. They just become a statistic.

A Place To Belong is a gripping tale, and I applaud Paul Miller for having the guts to write it. There is humor in it, but is of the dark and mirthless type. You can get your copy from Amazon

There is also an accompanying Web Site that is worth a visit.

Simon Barrett

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