Review: The Girls’ Guide to Homelessness by Brianna Karp

Title: The Girls Guide to Homelessness

Author: Briana Karp

Published: Harlequin April 2011 {ARC courtesy Harlequin/NetGalley}

Synopsis: “I am an educated woman with stable employment and residence history. I have never done drugs. I am not mentally ill. I am a career executive assistant—coherent, opinionated, poised, and capable. If you saw me walking down the street, you wouldn’t have assumed that I lived in a parking lot. In short, I was just like you—except without the convenience of a permanent address.” Brianna Karp’s account of her journey through homelessness immerses us in a timely, relevant topic that all too many Americans know about first hand.

Status: Read from April 28 to 30, 2011 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

“The review for this is going to be hard to write” is what I wrote immediately after finishing the book. I have had a few days to digest it now but I am still unsure how to address my thoughts.
The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness is a memoir from twenty something Brianna Karp. Abused and neglected as a child by her bipolar mother, Brianna grew up in a dysfunctional Seventh Adventist family. Despite her truly shocking childhood circumstances, Brianna establishes herself as an independent adult, until redundancy and the current state of the economy, forces her back home to live with her mother and stepfather. Brianna is immediately victimised by her mother until in a nasty confrontation, Brianna is told to leave. With no where to go, Brianna tracks down her recently deceased biological father’s trailer and moves into a Walmart carpark with her beloved dog. Starbucks’ free WiFi allows her to keep job hunting and unemployment benefits keep her fed but it’s a struggle to keep body and soul together in such soul crushing circumstances.
Briana Karp is to be commended for highlighting the face of homelessness that people would prefer to ignore. It is far more comfortable to blame homelessness on drug addiction, laziness or mental illness, than a combination of circumstances that could befall anyone, especially in times of global financial stress. For most people living payday to payday the thought is truly terrifying and so to push it away they choose to ignore the issue, and brand the ‘homeless’ with stereotypes. I have heard the complaints that Briana faced from those I know – wanting to know how do the homeless justify cell phones and laptops but it seems sensible to me that these are tools that in this age are essential for anyone seeking work, just as much as a good suit and access to transport. Brianna reminds us to that each homeless person has individual circumstances that led them to their situation and quite frankly no one is immune.
Had the memoir continued to explore these issues and Brianna’s struggle to reestablish her life, this would have been a five star book for me. Karp writes with an honest and authentic voice and her tone is confiding rather than preachy. I think her style would particularly appeal to young adults, and she had the potential to become a role model for them.
Unfortunately the memoir slowly devolves as Karp’s relationship with Matt becomes the focus. Obviously this relationship had a major impact on Brianna and this is her memoir, but the issues of her homelessness are pushed aside in favour of melodrama. The respect I had developed for her slowly ebbed away as she made Matt a priority in her life. Her independence suffered, her determination to improve her situation waned and it was frustrating. I couldn’t help but be disappointed in Brianna’s decision to buy an expensive first edition book as a gift for Matt, even while I recognise I don’t have the right to judge her. There is no doubt her trip to Scotland is heartbreaking and I had sympathy for her, there is no doubt it is a sad story.
Personally though this entire drama left me disenchanted with the book, it wasn’t what I wanted to know, or what I was expecting given the first half of the book. I almost felt deceived, even if that reaction seems unfair.
When I finished the book, I went to browse Brianna’s blog but found that in the 18 months since the book’s end Brianna has posted very rarely and has made little progress towards stability. I am both saddened and disheartened by that, she seems to be reveling in her status as a ‘celebrity’ homeless person, her initial goals forgotten. Of course there is still plenty of time for her to find her way. I truly wish Brianna the best and hope she takes full advantage of the opportunities she will get upon publication of this book to create a safe, secure and happy life for herself.
I do think The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness should be read widely for the message she has about the issues surrounding dispossessed persons and the stereotypes it confronts. Yet I think several might share a similar opinion to mine on the second half of the book, so I recommend it with that caveat. In turns inspiring, heartbreaking and (over)dramatic, The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness is compelling and confronting reading.

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20 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Birgit
    May 02, 2011 @ 16:30:20

    I read the book myself for review some time ago and it was hard for me as well to write my review. On one side it’s very touching, on the other side (specifically in the last part, like you said yourself) the whole romance with Matt is simply blown out of proportion and doesn’t really fit with the actual theme of the book.

    P.S.: Great review 🙂 !!

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  2. Elsie love
    May 02, 2011 @ 22:17:43

    Interesting.
    I saw that it was published by Harlequin? So, I find it kinda strange that it had such a heavy beginning. I would have assumed romance had to be the focus from pg 1.
    Hmmm branching out I suppose.
    The first half sounds soul crushing.
    Cheers!
    Elsie

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  3. Alison Holt
    May 03, 2011 @ 00:04:53

    This was an excellent, well thought out, honest review. As a retired police officer, I am all too aware of the multi-faceted problems of homelessness. Moreover, as an author, I am also aware of the need to write a good book that holds the readers interest all the way to the very last page.
    Thank you for not giving the book a glowing review simply because you felt sorry for the author. I wish her well, and hope she takes your review to heart and writes a book that will speak to the millions of other young people who have been left to fend for themselves in the rather ignorant, uncaring world they find themselves in.
    Alison Holt
    http://www.alisonholtbooks.com

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  4. The Australian Bookshelf
    May 03, 2011 @ 16:41:56

    I was looking out for your review on this book. It is an intriguing story and I always find it interesting about the path people take and how they get there. It’s unfortunate that children and young people of parents with mental illness can lead a life of dysfunction if they don’t have the necessary supports in place to help them learn to live a more balanced and stable lifestyle. In my experience in working with women such as Briana who have had an upbringing where they are deprived of warmth, stability and unconditional love then they seek it in a partner-sometimes in unhealthy ways which may be why the infatuation with Matt becomes a central part of the book.
    It’s also interesting that Briana is still plodding along an unhealthy path even after she has completed her memoir. Usually when I’ve read a memoir the author has come to some sort of peace or acceptance with their past and can reflect on this. But it seems like her ‘story’ hasn’t found the happy ending yet.
    Jayne Fordham

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  5. Shirley
    May 10, 2011 @ 00:20:20

    I have yet to read this book though it is on my wait list. Thank you for this review. Homelessness is a sad issue and combined with the drama of her relationship, this memoir reveals a young woman who hasn’t found the elements necessary to overcome obstacles she grew up with and are still haunting her. I am hoping she will find the answers to her own happiness.

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  6. Mark
    May 16, 2011 @ 04:45:59

    Thank you for this honest review. You put what I was thinking into words. I have supported Bri since day one and I was excited to read the book. I opened it up and I was blown away at the courage to be honest this woman has, but then the book turned into more of a journal of hate, and that quickly became a turnoff .

    Then I found the two pages in the middle of the book where Bri mentions me and my work. Except for the fact we met and she did record a video everything else was a complete lie. I can literally prove each statement she made false! But the sad part is, what she wrote was so much fantasy, clearly this is a young woman writing out of her pain trying to hurt others.

    I then had to wonder how much else in the book is the same.

    You mention that you “almost felt deceived, but felt that would seem unfair.” Honestly, there is a lot of untruths and deceptions in this book and your feelings are valid.

    I hope someway, somehow, Brianna finds healing and joy in this life.

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    • Rlf
      Jan 19, 2012 @ 08:59:13

      Thank you so much for this comment! The entire time I was reading the book I couldn’t help but find most of it (specifically the second half of the book) hard to believe. I was so utterly disappointed in this book that part of me wished I could get a refund.

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  7. Rev. Cynthia
    May 16, 2011 @ 09:39:11

    Am not quite sure how this reviewer, in looking over Brianna’s blog, missed the bit about her finding her “Dream Job” with a theatre company, but she has definitely been rebuilding her life.

    As Bri is in her 20’s, she was telling the story of her life, up to this point. The relationship with Matt was simply what came next and perhaps it sounds all consuming, because that was the last most recent event & it was devastating.

    Of course, the story ended there – at the point in time, when she stopped writing. I’m hoping this will be an ongoing series and am already looking forward to the next installment!

    This was an amazing book for a first time, young author, who wrote it in the midst of the stress of being homeless. I’ve been homeless in the past & could never have concentrated well enough to attempt such a project. BRAVO, Brianna!!!

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  8. Mrs D
    May 18, 2011 @ 01:27:57

    Okay I too am mentioned in the book I’m the lady who Brianna stayed with in London– I have read the review and then the comments and then done my 24 hour rule.
    Your review is very honest but can I say we all live our own lives and yes Brianna did drop off on her blog but that was due to driving two hours each way to work every day and working weekends plus writing the book and editing it so I think that is a good excuse of tapering off the blog, we all need a life and some sleep.
    As for revelling in her celebrity status that is so not Brianna , she is a very honest and open girl , she has gone from zero to hero under very difficult circumstances and a whole lot of expectations that she would solve all the homeless problems with one stroke of a pen ………
    As for Mark in the comments – Brianna has never mentioned your name in the book and if you feel this is you I do feel it’s somewhat juvenile to try and engage in a twitter spate and then come and comment on every book review to plead your case ……….so either confront her properly or shut up but nowhere in that book does it have your name.

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  9. shelleyrae@ Book'd Out
    May 18, 2011 @ 17:22:51

    Thank you for stopping by and sharing your opinions.

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  10. marisa sage
    May 29, 2011 @ 09:36:10

    If this is Vicky Day, is there a way we can correspond privately?

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  11. liza
    Jun 05, 2011 @ 05:04:42

    hi read your book twice! you and your book haunted my thoughts so i had to read it twice through. you went through more than anyone should ever have to go through on their own. I hope in your future you find the peace, family, and love you desire.

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  12. Samantha
    Jun 06, 2011 @ 11:55:00

    I finished reading the book today and have very mixed feelings about it. About a third of the way through I decided it was going to be one of those books that gave the authors lots of attention from the press and then turned out to but completely fake. But, then, with the internship and TV interviews, I decided at least that part of it must be true.

    Having read to the end and given it some thought, I realize that I have known a number of people like Brianna Karp, intelligent, talented people who seem always to border on homelessness–not quite on the street, but barely scraping by, sometimes being rescued by friends, and always, always, managing to sabotage themselves just when they have a chance to put their lives on an even keel. They make impulsive decisions, especially about money, spending too freely when they have it–and sometimes even when they don’t.

    Brianna had ongoing counseling, but it didn’t seem to help her make good financial decisions or to improve her relationships with her family and fiance. She describes how she repeatedly avoided confrontation by placating others, not asserting her own needs even when clearly justified and when it was irrational not to do so. Although she was able to describe this behavior, she does not specifically point out how it led to her subsequent problems or how her behavior was immature. I find it interesting that she does describe how her fiance shows the same immature behavior in dealing with the mother of his child, and she does point out how his subsequent difficulties come about as a result. Did she deliberately develop these two parallel threads in the book?

    I continue to question the truth of much of the book, although Brianna’s character is believable, even if some of her story is not. I will be interested to see whether in six months or so the press reveals how it was fiction after all.

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    • shelleyrae@ Book'd Out
      Jun 06, 2011 @ 12:13:34

      This book certainly garners some strong reactions. It’s interesting to see so many opinions. Thanks for sharing yours

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  13. Bill Anderson
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 01:45:58

    Please read my story of Masters degree to homelessness with a search for “New police weapon against homeless” on homeless forums. Bill Anderson soxin8@hotmail.com

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  14. SFUgrad
    Feb 01, 2012 @ 06:46:28

    It’s a good book, shows you that not all homeless people are drug addicts and lazy people. Mind you, some are, but some aren’t. Bri has a full and dramatic life which was eye-catching.

    However, I found she can be quite pessimistic and I don’t agree with all her views. Sometimes she’s a tad over-dramatic and defensive when people criticize homeless people. eg. homeless man with the blackberry phone; I literally scanned through a page and a half of her defending and reacting to others’ criticism. I understand why she was on the defensive as she was homeless and had a phone… but hey, seriously. If you had no money for food, how and why in the world would a blackberry phone get paid and prioritized over food? What’s more important? Food or phone?

    She’s tough, but sometimes way too sensitive when society expresses thoughts and concerns that are against her own. There are definitely stereotypes for homeless people… but why do you think they are stereotyped? Because those beliefs get reinforced repeatedly – not everyone, but majority yes.

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  15. Lyn Yates
    Jul 15, 2012 @ 21:30:43

    I also read Brianna’s memoir and I found the book gave me another insight into homelessness that I did not have before..so I thank Brianna for that. The book made me challenge my way of thinking and perhaps begin to see both sides of the story. I have read some of the above reviews and feel that Brianna told HER story ..it was HER memoir and it was told from HER experiences. She opened her heart and soul to us and until we are in the same situation and have had to do what she has to survive day to day I don’t think we can truely understand. I think we should applaud her.

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