“Don’t Hurt Laurie!” by Willo Davis Roberts


I remember checking out Don’t Hurt Laurie! by Willo Davis Roberts from the Worthington, Ohio library, probably soon after it came out. It was probably recommended to me by a librarian in a similar scenario to the one narrator Laurie describes in the book, minus the child abuse in my case:

“My goodness, what happened to you?”

Laurie swallowed. She wondered what the lady would say if she replied, “My mother hit me with a butcher knife.” But of course she didn’t say anything like that. She knew it would only make things worse.

“I cut my hand and had to have stitches in it,” she said.

“My, that’s too bad.” The woman took Laurie’s card and began to check out the books. “We’ve got a new book here you might like. It’s about a little girl whose parents are being divorced. The girls your age say it’s very good. Would you like to take it?”

“No, thank you,” Laurie said politely, averting her eyes from the cover. “I have all I can read in two weeks, I think.”

That wasn’t true at all. She could read twice as many books as she was taking out, without half trying. But she didn’t like books aboutkids and their problems with div orcing parents or alcoholic fathers or extreme poverty or troubles, troubles, troubles. She had enough problems of her own, and she didn’t want to think about anyone else’s, even in a pretend world where you knew everything was goign to turn out all right in the end.

What she liked were fun books, where it was not only all right at the end, but all the way through the book. (p. 7-8)

Reading this book at 44 rather than at 9 years old makes a big difference. I still was horrified at the brutality of Laurie’s mother. But I also cringed at the overly determined story, e.g., Laurie wishes her mother would die, then she gets hit by a car though doesn’t die.

I read this as part of my summer reading bender, Summer of Shelf Discovery. Lizzie Skurnick, in Chapter 5: “You Heard It Here First: Very Afterschool Specials,” writes about the pull of these Problem-with-a-capital-P novels:

It is part of the perverse logic of childhood that, as far as the fictional world goes, the greater the horror of the story, the greater the greedy reading glee…it goes without saying that a story that can tell us an entirely new horrible things we’ve never heard has unparalleled possibilities for enjoyment. (193)

What does it say that in 2012 books about child abuse, as well as after-school specials, very special episodes of television shows, and Lifetime movies, has become something of a cliche? That’s potentially a benefit. No one now would be unaware or ignore the symptoms Laurie experiences. Skurnick reminds us, too, that

in its day, both the revelations of the problem at all–to say nothing of its features–were largely unknown by the public, including young readers. (205)

Nonetheless, this book seems more a relic from a time capsule than something that continues to resonate, especially in its willingness to empathize with the mother:

“Her own mother mistreated her very badly, Laurie, and somehow that’s why she’s the way she is. She told the doctor some really terrible things that happened to her as a child…maybe when she gets that all out of her system, she won’t have to hurt you anymore.” (163)

Yes, children today still suffer at the hands of authority figures. And yet, this book seemed more like a careful description of what kids, teachers and health workers should notice, rather than a story of a complex character. It was more about the Problem than about Laurie.

Comments are closed.