Chris Wild’s memoir, reviewed by Rob Harkavy
Chris Wild’s searing exposé of life in and around the children’s care system in the early 1990s stirs such a maelstrom of emotions that even now, three days after finishing Damaged, I am still coming to terms with this no-holds-barred, often distressingly graphic depiction of young lives lost to neglect and abuse in the north of England.
The reader is at once moved, outraged and ashamed. Moved, because you would need a granite heart not to weep at the brutal destruction of innocence; outraged at how the perpetrators could get away with so much for so long, and how the system’s indifference facilitated such horrors, and ashamed because chances are that you and I have, at some point, walked past and ignored these lost souls on the high street or in our local park.
Wild’s own story, while frequently harrowing, is ultimately uplifting in as much as, after several false starts, he has turned his life around to become a successful author and a much-loved husband and father.
Others have not fared so well. We hear the stories of boys and girls, united in their exposure to the worst of all possible worlds. No spoilers here, but I’m struggling to get Susanna and Samantha out of my head, and I must admit to holding my own 16-year-old daughter a little closer and for a little longer last night.
I remain angry – incandescent, actually – at the queue of local politicians, celebrities and, incredibly, uniformed police officers patiently waiting in line to rape a very young girl who, after her ordeal, is left alone, bleeding and in unimaginable pain.
Damaged is not going to win any prizes for literature. But that’s hardly the point. Wild achieves something which is surprisingly difficult: to be vividly explicit without resorting to salaciousness, and to express anger and outrage without losing control – perhaps a consequence of his boxing training.
Much has changed in child welfare since the events described in Damaged, but to believe that there are no longer holes in society’s safety nets through which the young, the vulnerable and the abused do not fall would be blinkered and naïve. Those of us who have a voice also have a duty to work towards a society where a memoir like Damaged no longer needs to be written – until then, read the book, get angry, and do anything and everything to ensure that, even in times of austerity and budget cuts, that those charged with caring for our nation’s children remain scrutinised and accountable to the public.
Damaged: Heartbreaking stories of the kids trapped in Britain’s broken care system by Chris Wild is published by Blink Publishing on 14 June 2018.