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Literature / A Child Called "It"

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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.


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These books provide examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Catherine fits this trope to a T, being a very emotionally and physically abusive (as well as neglectful) one.
  • Adults Are Useless / Useless Bystander Parent: 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 shut him out for stealing their lunches.
  • Ax-Crazy: Catherine, again.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: Zigzagged. The rest of David's Real Life family (namely, his maternal grandmother and younger brother Stephen) have stated that the books are, at best, a major exaggeration, or, at worst, downright untrue. David's counterargument is claiming his brother's cerebral palsy discounts what he says because he's "semi-retarded" and is blindly devoted to their mother. His brother Richard has also written several books chronicling the abuse he suffered in earnest after David was removed by child protective services. That being said, there are several discrepancies between both books, such as when he recalls being stabbed in the stomach while Richard says that it was in the heart, plus the fact that several incidents could have been made up or exxagerated, as its unlikely someone, especially not a little boy, would be able to survive them. That being said, its nearly impossible to tell who is truly lying, as the parties refuting David's claims are unreliable for different reasons; His maternal grandmother lived in a different state when the abuse was occurring and had no contact with David's immediate family, so she has no real leg to stand on when claiming the abuse didn't happen. Stephen is also the only one of the siblings to publicly defend their mother, which would make his own claims one hell of a Cassandra Truth if he was ever proven right, and, while what he said horrifically ableist and mean, David's statement does hint that Stephen has his own codependency issues towards their mother that are unresolved and clouding his judgement.
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  • Blatant Lies: It is scary the lies the police believed.
  • 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.
  • Did Not Think This Through: Overlaps with Do Wrong, Right. Catherine went through the trouble of weaving lies and making up stories, so she doesn't want to get caught, but was very careless about the physical evidence she leaves on the surface. There is no way a well-looked after child would constantly chip his own teeth, be dotted with bruises or hurt himself so severely and often that he has regular absences from school.
  • 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.
  • Enfant Terrible: David's younger brother Russel, whom Catherine trains to be "her little Nazi" and delights in torturing David as well.
  • 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: The book begins with the teachers calling the cops on Catherine and David being taken into care.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing
  • Jerkass:
    • No prizes for guessing who it is.
    • Possibly Dave himself, if his book really is a lie, as this would mean he lied about his mother stabbing and starving him just for attention and money. However, even if the book is true, one cannot deny that his response to his brother calling him out was absolutely disgusting.
  • Karma Houdini: Despite her abusive nature, Catherine never gets any comeuppance for abusing poor David.Justified since child abuse laws were nonexistent in the 70s.
  • A Noun Referred to as X: A Child Called It and A Man Named Dave.
  • 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.
  • Parental Neglect: David's mother may be horrifyingly abusive, but David's father isn't totally innocent himself. He doesn't lift a finger to stop his wife abusing his son and eventually runs off.
  • 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. Justified, in that child protective laws were far less strict back in the 70s, and even to this day claims of child abuse are often swept under the rug.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Catherine has no qualms about hurting David to the point of almost murdering him.

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