By: Michelle Estile
Book review of
Three Little Words: A Memoir, Ashley Rhodes-Courter
Three Little Words: A Memoir, Ashley Rhodes-Courter, Atheneum, 2008, 320 pages, $17.99 hardcover, $9.99 paperback.
Ashley Rhodes-Courter dedicated her memoir about her journey from foster care into adoption to the “more than half million American children who are still waiting for safe, permanent homes.” She describes the fear and bewilderment of being taken from her young mother at less than four years of age, followed by the constant parade of caseworkers and “so-called mothers” that led up to her wary entry into an adoptive home at age twelve.
In the nine years between, Ashley experienced frustration and confusion about being taken, chaos in overcrowded foster homes, even neglect and abuse in one particular family. At the Mosses’ home, discipline was often harsh or unusual, including children being forced to drink hot sauce. There she and other foster children experienced hunger, shame, and unsanitary living conditions.
Many of the nineteen foster parents Ashley encountered were not abusive, however. While in stable foster homes, she still felt the constant ache for her mother. Ms. Rhodes-Courter does an excellent job of reporting her experiences in a raw child’s voice, complete with the complexity often missed by the adults around her. Ashley’s dogged attempts to wait for her mother were slowly eroded by missed visits and other disappointments.
Three Little Words points out several other complicated relationships. Ashley veered between feeling protectiveness and love for her younger brother and the fear and anger that he might be keeping her from her mother. Ashley’s dependence on both her caseworkers and foster parents made her vulnerable when any of them were oblivious to her pain. The last chapters of the book poignantly express her tentative steps into an adoptive family, complete with power struggles and hesitations.
The book’s title was taken from words spoken at Ashley’s adoption proceedings, when she was asked by the judge for her consent. “I guess so,” was her reply, indicating her tenuous faith in not only in the system, but in people in general. Ultimately, that faith took root and grew in her new home, where she was encouraged not only to tell her story, but was also supported in filing a class action suit against the Mosses.
It is humbling as a social worker to read that one of the heroes in Ashley’s story is not a social worker, but a Guardian ad Litem, Mary Miller. Ms. Miller took the time to listen to Ashley, even to find and return her prized Easy-Bake Oven. Something as simple as a child’s toy can symbolize security and love when those qualities seem in short supply.
Three Little Words is excellent reading for any social worker involved in child welfare, foster care, or adoption, and offers great insight into the mind of children in transition. The book serves as a great challenge to an often overwhelmed system. It can also be helpful to clients considering adoption or fostering as they prepare to take in children who may have a hard time with trust or permanence. Ashley’s story serves as an eloquent testament to resilience, hope, and the healing power of love.
Reviewed by Michelle Estile, LMSW, Family Counseling Services, Inc., Athens, GA.