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The Girl's Guide to Homelessness

Brianna Karp's memoir charts a sadly unremarkable journey

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Which takes us back to Genzlinger's standards for memoirs. He suggests that authors who don't have anything unusual to say, those who want to drum up sympathy and those who want to jump on a bandwagon stay out of the genre. Those who do choose to write memoirs, he says, ought to avoid making themselves the most important part of the story. By these rules, Karp's book probably wouldn't pass: She does have a somewhat unusual situation, but she seems to get caught up in the cause rather than telling a unique tale, and she's certainly the most important character in the book.

There's a between-the-lines story in Karp's memoir - never developed as a plot line, but instead buried beneath Karp's breezy language and sometimes aggravating good humor - that seeps through the fabric of the tale she's trying to tell. Karp refuses to paint herself as a victim, and she tries very hard to show readers what a pull-herself-up-by-her-bootstraps kind of girl she is. She reminds readers who might be teetering on the edge of financial oblivion that if they just have a good plan, they can survive homelessness unscathed, too.

But it doesn't actually seem like being homeless is the thing Karp needed to survive, though she ends her story with her triumph over it. It's the other stuff that she endures that probably shaped her: sexual and physical abuse at the hands of her parents, psychological abuse from the Jehovah's Witness community she grew up in, abandonment and exploitation by a fellow advocate for the homeless whom she falls in love with (and inexplicably excuses as mentally ill and unmedicated, rather than sociopathic and emotionally abusive). And it's that bit of raw story, the stuff that's not as well-developed or explored as her journey into homelessness, that makes this memoir memorable.

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