A List of Things That Didn’t Kill Me by Jason Schmidt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Jason was a student in one of my creative writing classes in 1998, and I can say without reservation that he is the most talented undergraduate I ever worked with. I have followed his writing ever since — through his (now defunct, and much missed) weblog, short stories, a beautifully written novel, and finally this memoir.
There are very basic things children should be able to take for granted, whether rich or poor: food, someplace to sleep, a watchful and nurturing adult. Kids who don’t have those things have to fight every day to survive on the fringe, and harder still, to move beyond the experiences that shaped them. The only weapons available are the ones they can find within themselves. A person who fights that very long and difficult battle and comes out a whole human being has grown a kind of armor. The problem is that you can’t make other people understand that journey unless you’re able and willing to take off that armor and let them see the scars. Jason did that, but a careful reader will come away with more than an understanding of how he survived.
There are thousands of kids out there right now who are experiencing life the way Jason did. Too many of them won’t survive, or will come into adulthood unable to do anything else but follow the pattern they’ve internalized. After reading this memoir it will be harder for the more fortunate not to see those kids. And that’s exactly as it should be.