Literature: A Child Called "It"

The autobiographical story of Dave Pelzer (called David in the books), victim of one of the worst cases of child abuse in California history. The first in a series of books based on his life, A Child Called "It" documents his life from the beginning of the abuse at age five, to age twelve. Not for the faint of heart.

It was published in 1995, followed by The Lost Boy, which chronicled Dave's teen years, ending with A Man Named Dave, about his adulthood. It was later followed up by a biography his brother wrote about how he became the Scapegoat after David was taken away. Another brother has claimed that A Child Called "It" is a lie and that David was taken into care for starting a fire and shoplifting.


This book provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Catherine, Catherine, Catherine! David's father isn't totally innocent either, as he neglects his son and finally runs off, claiming he can't handle watching his wife abuse David.
  • Adults Are Useless: Dave Pelzer's father didn't make any effort to stop his wife.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Not only is David abused at home, but his classmates bully him as well.
  • Ax-Crazy: Oh my good lord, Catherine!
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: The rest of David's family have repeatedly stated that the books are, at best, a major exaggeration. David's only counterargument thus far has amounted to claiming his brother's cerebral palsy discounts what he says because he's "retarded".
  • Blatant Lies: It is scary the lies the police believed. Also, the entire book, according to David's siblings.
  • Denied Food as Punishment: Starving David for weeks on end and then giving him food not even the dogs eat is one of Catherine's methods.
  • Dissonant Serenity: After Catherine stabs David in the stomach, he wakes up with a bandage around his middle and Catherine with a blank look on her face, calmly telling him to go finish the dishes.
  • Domestic Abuser: Catherine.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing
  • Henpecked Husband: Dave's father. All sympathy will be lost when he leaves his family.
  • Hope Spot: Dave has a few of these, but each of them fall through the cracks before it could be cemented.
    • One example is when Catherine actually treats him kindly, but it is a trick when it is discovered that she is just faking so the social worker could leave her alone.
  • How We Got Here / Spoiler Opening: The book begins with the teachers calling the cops on Catherine and David being taken into care.
  • Jerkass/Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Catherine of course!
  • Karma Houdini: Catherine, BIG TIME. She never gets any comeuppance for abusing poor David since child abuse laws were nonexistent in the 70s.
  • Kids Are Cruel: See All of the Other Reindeer above. In addition, a female classmate tries to convince David to kill himself on a field trip. Also applies to David's younger brother Russel, whom Catherine trains to be "her little Nazi" and delights in torturing David as well.
  • Misery Lit: One of the best-known in the genre. And like many works in this genre, there's been some debate about how truthful it is.
  • Police Are Useless: No matter how often Catherine is suspected of abuse by the school, the police always buy her lies. Also, in The Lost Boy, David runs away from home and is taken in by the police. He tries to tell them what's happening, and they call his father...who tells them that David is a liar and just ran away because he wasn't allowed to go bike-riding. And the police believe it.
    • Although, the police believing it becomes much easier to swallow after all of Pelzer's family came out and said he was lying...
    • ...Except that his brother Richard has also written several books chronicling the abuse he suffered in earnest after David was removed by child protective services. (An upbringing spent in the thrall of a vicious, cruel manipulator like Catherine wouldn't ever warp a young person's sense of loyalty or fealty to truth, would it?)
    • Except that there are several discrepancies between books, such as minor things such as where he was stabbed, and the fact that several incidents were obviously made up as no one, especially not a little boy, would be able to survive them...
  • Would Hurt a Child: Catherine has no qualms about hurting David to the point of almost murdering him.

Alternative Title(s):

A Child Called It