Dave Pelzer's childhood is like something from a horror flick or a grim 19th-century storybook about punishments for bad children. His mother yanked his arm out of its socket; threw him into a bathroom with "a bucketful of a deadly mixture of ammonia and Clorox that can kill a person in a matter of minutes"; refused to feed him for weeks on end; would not allow him to speak in the house and required him to ask permission to go to the bathroom.

Yet somehow, Pelzer prevailed. In "Help Yourself," unbearably sadistic accounts of his horrific childhood alternate with upbeat, optimistic paeans to the indomitability of the human spirit. Pelzer transforms his nightmarish story into a modern Horatio Alger tale; it might well be retitled "Up From Child Abuse". "I learned as a child, shivering in my mother's garage, the value of personal responsibility and opportunity."

Pelzer's promise that we control all aspects of our inner lives, and that we are infinitely capable of transforming our psyches if we just make up our minds to do so, comes across as not just glib, but self-deluded and shallow. Maybe it's supposed to be inspirational, but this reader just found "Help Yourself" unrealistic and insulting to the seriousness of trauma and abuse.

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