A Child Called It

Dave Pelzer, the protagonist and narrator of A Child Called “It”, is a survivor of child abuse. For years as a child, his Mother beats him, burns him, and subjects him to dozens of other cruelties. During his years in Mother’s house, Pelzer goes through psychological trauma in addition to his physical abuse. He begins to hate himself, to resent his brothers for avoiding any abuse, and to question whether his life is even worth living. However, Dave escapes Mother in 1973 when his school nurse, along with a handful of teachers, decides to alert the police to Dave’s condition. The police, recognizing that Dave’s parents must be abusing him regularly, take Dave away from his home for good. Throughout his time living with Mother, and for the rest of his life, Dave preserves his courage and dignity, promising himself that he’ll never give Mother the satisfaction of begging for mercy. Dave’s life’s story, while harrowing and frequently horrific, is ultimately optimistic. As an adult he has a child of his own, who he claims to treat with nothing but love and compassion. In this way, he breaks free from the vicious cycle of child abuse, and finds ways of coping with his trauma without denying or ignoring his past.

David Pelzer / Dave Quotes in A Child Called It

The A Child Called It quotes below are all either spoken by David Pelzer / Dave or refer to David Pelzer / Dave. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Child Abuse Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Health Communications edition of A Child Called It published in 1995.
Chapter 1 Quotes

After I count her steps, making sure she’s gone, I breathe a sigh of relief. The act worked. Mother can beat me all she wants, but I haven’t let her take away my will to somehow survive.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

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The police officer and I walk outside, past the cafeteria. I can see some of the kids from my class playing dodge ball. A few of them stop playing. They yell, "David's busted! David's busted!"

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker)
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 2 Quotes

From above, I felt someone hug my shoulders, I thought it was my father. I turned and became flushed with pride to find Mom holding me tightly. I could feel her heart beat. I never felt as safe and as warm as that moment in time, at the Russian River.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 3 Quotes

Mother would simply grab me and smash my face against the mirror, smearing my tear-streaked face on the slick, reflective glass. Then she would order me to say over and over again, "I'm a bad boy! I'm a bad boy! I'm a bad boy!"

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer
Page Number: 30-31
Explanation and Analysis:

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While I was cleaning the bathroom, I overheard an argument between Mother and Father. She was angry with him for "going behind her back" to buy me the paintings. Mother told Father that she was in charge of disciplining "the boy" and that he had undermined her authority by buying the gifts. The longer Father argued his case, the angrier she became. I could tell he had lost, and that I was becoming more and more isolated.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer, Stephen Joseph Pelzer / Father
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

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Standing alone in that damp, dark garage, I knew, for the first time, that I could survive. I decided that I would use any tactic I could think of to defeat Mother or to delay her from her grizzly obsession. I knew if I wanted to live, I would have to think ahead. I could no longer cry like a helpless baby. In order to survive, I could never give in to her. That day I vowed to myself that I would never, ever again give that bitch the satisfaction of hearing me beg her to stop beating me.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 4 Quotes

When I returned from school the next afternoon, Mother smiled as if she had won a million-dollar sweepstakes. She told me how she had dressed up to see the principal, with her infant son Russell in her arms. Mother told me how she had explained to the principal how David had an overactive imagination. Mother told him how David had often struck and scratched himself to get attention, since the recent birth of his new brother, Russell. I could imagine her turning on her snake-like charm as she cuddled Russell for the benefit of the principal.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer, Russell Pelzer
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

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Sometimes at the grocery store, if I felt things weren't just right, I didn't steal anything. As always, I finally got caught. The manager called Mother. At the house, I was thrashed relentlessly. Mother knew why I stole food and so did Dad, but she still refused to feed me. The more I craved food, the more I tried to come up with a better plan to steal it.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer, Stephen Joseph Pelzer / Father
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

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I knew no one could help me. Not my teachers, my so-called brothers or even Father. I was on my own, and every night I prayed to God that I could be strong both in body and soul. In the darkness of the garage, I laid on the wooden cot and shivered until I fell into a restless sleep.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer, Stephen Joseph Pelzer / Father
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

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The more I tried to focus on my options of what she might do to me, the more my inner strength drained away. Then an idea flashed in my brain: I knew why Mother had followed every step I took. She wanted to maintain a constant pressure on me, by leaving me unsure of when or where she would strike.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 5 Quotes

I stuttered, "Father . . . Mo . . . Mo . . . Mother stabbed me."
He didn't even raise an eyebrow, "Why?" he asked.
"She told me if I didn't do the dishes on time, she...she'd kill me."
Time stood still. From behind the paper I could hear Father's labored breathing. He cleared his throat before saying, "Well . . . you ah . . . you better go back in there and do the dishes."

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Stephen Joseph Pelzer / Father (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer
Page Number: 89-90
Explanation and Analysis:

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I willed the wound to heal. Somehow I knew it would. I felt proud of myself. I imagined myself like a character in a comic book, who overcame great odds and survived. Soon my head slumped forward and I fell asleep. In my dream, I flew through the air in vivid colors. I wore a cape of red … I was Superman.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker)
Related Symbols: Superman
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 6 Quotes

To survive her new game I had to use my head. Lying on the tiled floor I stretched my body and, using my foot, I slid the bucket to the door. I did this for two reasons: I wanted the bucket as far away from me as possible, and in case Mother opened the door I wanted her to 1et a snoot full of her own medicine.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

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At times when I laid in the tub, my brothers brought their friends to the bathroom to look at their naked brother. Their friends often scoffed at me. "'What did he do this time?" they'd ask. Most of the time my brothers just shook their heads, saying, "I don't know."

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Ronald Pelzer, Stan Pelzer, Russell Pelzer
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

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Mother's hand on my shoulder brought me back to reality. "'Well, tell her, sweetheart," Mother said, smiling again. "Tell her that I starve you and beat you like a dog," Mother snickered, trying to get the lady to laugh, too.

I looked at the lady, My face felt flushed, and I could feel the beads of sweat forming on my forehead. I didn't have the guts to tell the lady the truth. "No, it's not like that at all," I said. "Mom treats me pretty good."

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer (speaker)
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 7 Quotes

As I sat alone in the garage, or read to myself in the near darkness of my parents' bedroom, I came to realize that I would live like this for the remainder of my life. No just God would leave me like this. I believed that I was alone in my struggle and that my battle was one of survival.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer, Stephen Joseph Pelzer / Father
Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:

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It was a comforting thought that promised an escape from Aggie, her friends and all that I hated in the world. But my better senses returned, and I looked up and fixed my eyes directly on John’s eyes and tried to hold my stare. After a few moments, he must have felt my anger because he turned away taking Aggie with him.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Aggie, John
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:

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"Get one thing straight, you little son of a bitch! There is nothing you can do to impress me! Do you understand me? You are a nobody! An It! You are nonexistent! You are a bastard child! I hate you and I wish you were dead? Dead! Do you hear me? Dead!"

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker)
Page Number: 140
Explanation and Analysis:

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Father shook his head and said in a sad voice, “I can’t take it anymore. The whole thing. Your mother, this house, you. I just can't take it anymore.” Before he closed the bedroom door I could barely hear him mutter, "I . . . I'm . . . I'm sorry.”

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Stephen Joseph Pelzer / Father (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

As Mother drove out of the McDonald's parking lot, she glanced back at me and sneered, "You are all mine now. Too bad your father's not here to protect you."

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Mother / Mom / Catherine Roerva Pelzer (speaker), Stephen Joseph Pelzer / Father
Page Number: 152
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Epilogue Quotes

I marvel at the wood how it reminds me of my former life. My beginning was extremely turbulent, being pushed and pulled in every direction. The more grisly my situation became, the more I felt as if some immense power were sucking me into some giant undertow. I fought as hard as I could, but the cycle never seemed to end. Until suddenly, without warning, I broke free.

I'm so lucky. My dark past is behind me now.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Piece of Wood
Page Number: 156
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Even now, as salty tears run down my face, Stephen smiles, letting me maintain my dignity. But be knows why I'm crying. Stephen knows my tears are tears of joy. "Love you, Dad."

"Love you, too, son."

I'm free.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker), Stephen (speaker)
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

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Perspectives on Child Abuse Quotes

Once exposed, the causes of child abuse can be understood and support can truly begin. Childhood should be carefree, playing in the sun; not living a nightmare in the darkness of the soul.

Related Characters: David Pelzer / Dave (speaker)
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:

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My mind returned to the Thomas Edison School in Daly City, California, September, 1972. Enter little David Pelzer as one of my fifth-grade students. I was naive back then, but I was blessed with a sensitivity that told me there was something terribly wrong in David's life. Food missing from other students' lunches was traced to this thin, sad boy. Questionable bruises appeared on exposed parts of his body. Everything began to point to one thing: this kid was being beaten and punished in ways far beyond normal parental practice.

Related Characters: Steven E. Ziegler / Mr. Ziegler (speaker), David Pelzer / Dave
Page Number: 168
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Get the entire A Child Called It LitChart as a printable PDF.
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David Pelzer / Dave Character Timeline in A Child Called It

The timeline below shows where the character David Pelzer / Dave appears in A Child Called It. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: The Rescue
Child Abuse Theme Icon
Psychological Trauma Theme Icon
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...police officer walks the narrator outside. As they walk past the narrator’s classmates, they cry, “Dave’s busted!” (full context)
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The police officer drives Dave to a police station. After completing some paperwork, he asks Dave for his Mother’s phone... (full context)
Chapter 2: Good Times
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In the early sixties, Dave remembers, his family is perfect. He and his two brothers, Ronald and Stan, have been... (full context)
Psychological Trauma Theme Icon
Dave still has vivid memories of celebrating the holidays with his family. The day after Thanksgiving,... (full context)
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One evening, Dave’s parents take him to watch the sunset. As he watches the sun set over the... (full context)
Chapter 3: Bad Boy
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Dave’s relationship with Mom changes very quickly, however, to the point where things get so bad... (full context)
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Mother begins to punish Dave more and more harshly. At first, she punishes him for being loud by making him... (full context)
Child Abuse Theme Icon
...she claims to have lost, and, when they can’t find it, she hits them. Once, Dave forgets what he’s supposed to be looking for, and when he asks Mother what it... (full context)
Child Abuse Theme Icon
Neglect and the Normalization of Evil Theme Icon
One day, while Father is at work, Mother yells for her children. While Dave’s brothers run away, Mother—whose eyes are bloodshot—hits Dave again and again. Suddenly, Dave hears a... (full context)
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Psychological Trauma Theme Icon
Neglect and the Normalization of Evil Theme Icon
Dave loves school because it’s an escape from Mother. He makes friends and gets good grades.... (full context)
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Neglect and the Normalization of Evil Theme Icon
After the summer, Dave repeats the first grade. He’s the most knowledgeable kid in class, since he already knows... (full context)
Child Abuse Theme Icon
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...team. She invites children to the house and treats them kindly; some of them tell Dave they wish their mothers were as kind as his. One Wednesday, when Dave is preparing... (full context)
Resistance Theme Icon
Alone in the garage, Dave realizes that he’s used his brains to survive. From then on, he decides that he’ll... (full context)
Chapter 4: The Fight for Food
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After Mother burns Dave, school becomes his refuge. In September, he returns to school with new clothes; however, Mother... (full context)
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Neglect and the Normalization of Evil Theme Icon
At home, Dave is barely a part of the family anymore. Mother no longer uses his name, and... (full context)
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Neglect and the Normalization of Evil Theme Icon
The year Dave goes to the second grade, Mother becomes pregnant. Miss Moss, Dave’s teacher, asks Dave why... (full context)
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Over the summer, Dave and the rest of the family drive out to Russian River to go camping. Dave... (full context)
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Neglect and the Normalization of Evil Theme Icon
In September, Dave returns to school, wearing the same clothes he wore last year. Instead of driving Dave... (full context)
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Dave runs back to school with the graham crackers and hides them in a garbage can.... (full context)
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After dinner, Mother scrapes leftovers into the garbage can and then makes Dave wash the dishes with scalding hot water. Desperate for food, Dave decides to eat from... (full context)
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Dave’s next plan to get food is to steal frozen lunches from the cafeteria. In the... (full context)
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After Dave eats his vomit, Mother throws some old newspapers at him and informs him that, from... (full context)
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Dave begins begging for food on his way to school. He stops at various houses and... (full context)
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Suddenly Mother calls Dave upstairs. She tells him, “I have a cure for your hunger,” and orders him to... (full context)
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One day, Mother squeezes soap into Dave’s mouth and makes him swallow. Secretly, Dave doesn’t—he just keeps the soap in his mouth,... (full context)
Chapter 5: The Accident
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In the summer of 1971, Dave is ten years old. He’s come to learn what punishments to expect from Mother—above all,... (full context)
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One evening in July, Dave sits by the stairs while the rest of the family eats dinner—Dave isn’t allowed to... (full context)
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As Dave clears the dishes, Mother continues to yell, brandishing a big knife at him and threatening... (full context)
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When Dave wakes up again, Mother is wrapping a cloth around his chest. Mother often said that... (full context)
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Neglect and the Normalization of Evil Theme Icon
Father walks into the house. Dave gasps, “Mother stabbed me.” Without raising an eyebrow, Father asks, “Why?” Dave explains that he’d... (full context)
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As Dave is finishing the dishes, he succumbs to the pain and collapses. He feels Father helping... (full context)
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Before going to bed, Mother feeds Dave some food. He sleeps in the garage, trying not to think of the pain. Eventually... (full context)
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Three days after the “accident,” Dave feels awful, but Mother is back to her old ways. Dave doesn’t ask Mother for... (full context)
Chapter 6: While Father Is Away
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After Dave’s stabbing, Father spends less and less time at home. He makes excuses, but Dave doesn’t... (full context)
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Neglect and the Normalization of Evil Theme Icon
During one period when Father is gone for work, Mother starves Dave for ten days. She makes sure that Dave eats no food, locking the freezer and... (full context)
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When Father is away, Mother forces Dave to clean the bathroom with ammonia and Clorox. She locks him inside, so that the... (full context)
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During the summer, Mother makes Dave mow lawns and give her the money he earns. The previous Easter vacation Mother also... (full context)
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Neglect and the Normalization of Evil Theme Icon
One day, Mother summons Dave to the bathroom, where he finds her filling the tub with cold water. Mother forces... (full context)
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In the coming weeks, Mother begins to use the “bathtub and backyard treatment” on Dave more and more often. Dave’s brothers bring their friends into the bathroom to look at... (full context)
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Neglect and the Normalization of Evil Theme Icon
Fall arrives, and Dave begins the fourth grade. For the first two weeks, the class has a substitute teacher,... (full context)
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By October, Dave’s life has gotten even worse. Bullies tease him, and he has a hard time finding... (full context)
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One morning, Dave is sent to the school nurse. At first, Dave tells the nurse the lies Mother... (full context)
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In late October, Dave’s brothers carve pumpkins for Halloween while Dave sits alone in the cold bathtub. Dave can... (full context)
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Christmas is a rough time of year for Dave, because he doesn’t get to go to school. For Christmas, he receives a pair of... (full context)
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In March, Mother goes into labor, and Father takes her to the hospital. Dave is very relieved to have Mother out of the house, even for a few days.... (full context)
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One Sunday, Mother tells Dave that she’s sorry, and that she wants to “make up for all the lost time.”... (full context)
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Shortly afterwards, a woman from social services arrives and asks to speak with Dave. The woman asks Dave if he’s happy; Dave says that he is. When the woman... (full context)
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Early in the mornings, Father wakes up in the same bed as Dave and kisses him goodbye, whispering, “Try to make her happy and stay out of her... (full context)
Chapter 7: The Lord’s Prayer
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Shortly before entering the fifth grade, Dave decides that there is no God: he’s convinced that no God would let Mother beat... (full context)
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Dave thinks about killing Mother, and making her feel his pain and loneliness. He also despises... (full context)
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At school, Dave’s classmates bully and tease him. A girl named Aggie regularly tells him to “drop dead,”... (full context)
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In fifth grade, Dave’s teacher is Mr. Ziegler. Unlike some of the other teachers, Ziegler makes an effort to... (full context)
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In the coming weeks, Dave begins doing his chores more and more carelessly. He wants Mother to know “I didn’t... (full context)
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The only thing that keeps Dave sane is his baby brother Kevin, who he loves. Shortly before Mother gives birth to... (full context)
Child Abuse Theme Icon
Neglect and the Normalization of Evil Theme Icon
...argues with her own mother on the phone, and then takes out her anger on Dave. She also yells at Father, calling him a “drunken loser,” and even bans him from... (full context)
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That year, for Thanksgiving, Father comes to the house and Mother allows Dave to eat with the rest of the family. The dinner is silent and sad. Afterwards,... (full context)
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As Mother drives home, Dave clasps his hands together and silently prays. As the car pulls into the driveway, he... (full context)
Epilogue: Sonoma County, California
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...the waves pull the wood back into the ocean. In many ways, the wood reminds Dave of his former life—his life began with “being pushed and pulled in every direction.” Dave... (full context)
Psychological Trauma Theme Icon
Dave knows that he’s been very lucky. He made himself a promise: if he ever came... (full context)
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Dave gets back in his car and drives out to the city of Guerneville. He stops... (full context)
Perspectives on Child Abuse
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The chapter begins with David Pelzer explaining that he was not alone—there were thousands of other abused children in California. Indeed,... (full context)
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By telling his story, Dave has tried to give a sense for what child abuse is like from the perspective... (full context)
Child Abuse Theme Icon
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Neglect and the Normalization of Evil Theme Icon
...the chapter, Steven E. Ziegler, David Pelzer’s former teacher, describes September 1992, the month when Dave reached out to him about the child abuse reports Ziegler made twenty years before. Ziegler... (full context)
Child Abuse Theme Icon
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...to educate itself about child abuse, thanks to books, films, and child abuse survivors like Dave. (full context)
Child Abuse Theme Icon
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...reminds readers to remember the tens of thousands of children who aren’t as lucky as Dave—those who don’t survive their abuse, or who survive and then perpetuate the cycle by hurting... (full context)