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Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Book Review: Dani's Story by Diane & Bernie Lierow with Kay West

Thank you to Penguin Books and @Francesca_PR who supplied this book to me for the purpose of reviewing.

Dani's Story documents the true tale of how a girl, desperately neglected in the first years of her life, came to find a place in a family when the odds were stacked against her. What could have been a run-of-the-mill human tragedy story was distinguished by the sheer despair of Dani's situation and the persistence of the Lierow family in continuing with their quest to adopt her. Also notable about this book is the fact that the Lierows shied away from media attention. When they were eventually approached by a magazine they only agreed because they were persuaded their story could encourage more people to adopt. As they write in the epilogue, "If we had not told Dani's story, then all of her suffering, all of her struggles, and all of the strength she somehow found to survive would have been for nothing. If telling her story helps other children in the foster care system find a home, then her ordeal may be the catalyst for a positive outcome."

Diane and Bernie Lierow had five children between them when they decided to add to their family and adopt. They saw a picture of Dani at an event and were instantly drawn to her case, an interest that wasn't extinguished by finding out that Dani had severe special needs. She had existed primarily on a mattress in a dark room surrounded by rubbish. She couldn't speak, she hadn't been toilet-trained and she evidently hadn't experienced a day of love in her life. Social workers didn't think it was possible that she could ever find a 'normal' home because of her problems. Enter the Lierows.

This book doesn't shy away from the grimness of Dani's early life. It isn't included to sensationalise; it serves to highlight the remarkable achievements in her later interactions with the Lierows. Many of the important moments in her development are documented but perhaps not as many as I expected. The book focuses on Dani but also on the impact she has on her new mother, father and brother Willie. I got the impression that very little was ironed out in the presentation of the family unit - they come across as a remarkable family though they would argue that they are nothing special.

A couple of final things about Dani's Story: it is a heart-warming read but it could also make you quite angry at the two opportunities that were passed up to remove Dani from her birth mother's care. It isn't any consolation to realise that child protection services can get it as badly wrong in America as they can here in the UK. My last point is highly personal to me and doesn't detract from the essence of the story the Lierows are telling: as an English atheist it was sometimes difficult to connect with, firstly, the American slang and, more importantly, the reliance on religion that permeates the book. It's sometimes tricky for me to comprehend the importance that God plays in this family's life and it isn't something I'm completely on board with.

Nevertheless, this book was an enlightening read that demonstrates the worst in human nature then combats it by showing the unconditional love human beings can offer. Find out more about Dani at this website.

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