Cover Image: Return to the River

Return to the River

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Member Reviews

Very poignant book from a trauma survivor. Difficult to read at times due to the flashbacks of the trauma but it is most likely therapeutic for the author to write about his past and how far he has come. I give him a lot of credit. He is a true warrior.
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Written in the wake of a devastating divorce and working through the COVID pandemic as a first responder, Dave Pelzer had plenty of reason to give up on ever finding happiness and security; but as a child who had had to rely on incredible inner strength and perseverance just to stay alive, Pelzer finds the motivation to keep going. In a narrative that shifts between the present and the past, Pelzer reviews his entire life here — from the abuse he suffered at his mother’s hands to his happier days in foster care, his career in the Air Force, as a bestselling author and motivational speaker, and ultimately, as volunteer Fire Captain battling California wildfires — and while this does make for a satisfying standalone read, I can see how this would be even more satisfying for someone more intimate with Pelzer’s life story as detailed in previous memoirs. For me personally: While I appreciated the overview of the author’s life, I felt I was missing out on the details (I don’t really know why he got divorced, or anything about the mother of his grown son, or why he was forced to move out of his dream home — why is he broke today after all those bestselling books? — and while none of that is any of my business, I felt the gaps). On the other hand: It’s valuable to learn that an abuse survivor doesn’t just shake the pain off when he gets to adulthood; even if he writes bestselling books, wins countless awards, and is respected as a rock solid first responder, living a life in service to others doesn’t necessarily equal service to oneself — and that’s an interesting lesson to learn in one’s sixties. I would rate this a 3.5 and am rounding up to four stars.
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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review this book. As soon as I saw Peltzer had a new book I immediately had to grab it! I remember reading A Child Called It as a teenager and so I had to see what he has been up to since. It was the perfect quick, short read.  Definitely recommend.
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'A Child Called "It"' was foundational to my elementary education. Having the opportunity to read about the personal life of Dave Pelzer and the beauty of his mind. Tragically, beautiful I have gained a new perspective on my life and a level of gratitude.
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Return to the River
  by Dave Pelzer
Pub Date: March 7, 2023 
self help, personal growth 
Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for the ARC of this book. 
I read Pelzer's first book A Child Called It and I have followed him ever since. 

Amid the towering redwood trees and the serenity of his childhood utopia of the Russian River, Pelzer reflects on having the courage to move forward, the peace to accept yourself, the vulnerability to strip yourself of facades, and the tenacity to carry on when life doesn’t turn out the way you planned. Pelzer’s soulful and inspiring story will remind you to keep your faith, live with gratitude, and find the well of resilience deep within you.
For me, however, alot of the book was a retelling of the horrific things that Pelzer has survived. Fans of A Child Called It or survivors of abuse will want to read this book. 
For me it's a 4 star
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Dave Pelzer tells the latest chapter in his life of triumph over a terrible childhood of abuse by a mentally ill parent. His positive experiences as a firefighter and a public speaker are countered by the sadness of a divorce and a suicide ideation.  His home renovations as he moves  from a beloved home to a house full of interesting home improvement projects seem to improve his outlook.  

Fans of A  Child Called " It" will like this.
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Return to the River in my opinion is a compilation of his other four books. Much of this book is a retelling of horrific events in his life that are told in his first book, A Child Called "It" and a,summary of his other books. While he is certainly an inspiration and extreme example of survival when whatever you attempt in life defeats you, this novel is not that inspirational.
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Return to the River is a story of healing, moving forward, and remembrance. It’s a beautifully relatable book as we all make sense of our lives.
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Whatever happened to the child called It? Half a century after he was dramatically rescued from a horrifically abusive home environment, Dave Pelzer reflects on what it means to survive into adulthood, and how the journey of recovery is a never-ending road of grief, self-discovery, and redemption.

This book will be upsetting for many readers, and likely triggering for abuse survivors. No doubt there will be those who question the author's account, victim-blame him, or doubt his version of events because he isn't behaving in the way they expect a survivor should, or they feel he is too whiny, or he doesn't match up to their image of the idealised victim. That's part of the reason why I'm giving 5*, but it's also because there are some haunting lines in the book that struck me to the core and really made me feel seen.

The author talks a lot about how as a child he felt invisible or unreal. He was looking for evidence that he was a real person. A lot of the experiences feel to me like extreme dissociation, although he doesn't use terms such as these. Basically, his sense of deep, intense isolation comes across with intensity, and coupling that with his need to prove his own worth, to constantly over-give and self-sacrifice, I felt hugely validated as a reader. In this reflective memoir the author attempts to address and heal the deep wounds of his past and fill in the craters in his heart. Perhaps it's not quite as fulfilling as a fictional piece might be, in the sense that for personal reasons or privacy reasons he's decided not to go into much detail as to his divorce or his relationship with his beloved son and grandson. As a reader, being held at arm's length in this way left me feeling his story wasn't quite fully told, but I got the sense this was a purposeful choice and I accept it with respect. His story won't be fully over until he breathes his last breath, and I really feel this book is a testament to the author's strength, endurance, and will to survive unspeakable horrors, I hope he finds writing this and putting it out into the world is a meaningful and healing experience. Although I doubt it will get the exposure it deserves - not being as gruesome or salacious as A Child Called It, Return to the River will doubtless be one of my favourite releases of 2023.
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I have read Dave' previous memoirs and am proud of the man he has become 

I believe Dave needed to write this book and I hope it has helped him. I usually don't like reviewing memoirs as It's their story not mine so who am I to judge their story. I will say though I did enjoy reading this book.

Thank you Netgalley and publisher for allowing me to read this arc. All thoughts are my own
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If you are an abuse survivor, there's a strong likelihood that you at least know the name Dave Pelzer.

If you are a male survivor, it's incredibly likely that Pelzer is one of those people that you looked to as you traveled your own healing journey and began constructing something resembling a healthy life.

The now 61-year-old writer/speaker first wrote "A Child Called It" in 1995. "A Child Called It" recounted Pelzer's horrific experiences with childhood abuse and would stay in the New York Times bestseller list for several years. While many authors will hold on to that claim of being a "bestseller," Pelzer practically defines what being a bestseller really means.

Pelzer would follow up "A Child Called It" with "The Lost Boy" and over the years became widely known as a writer and motivational speaker who has received a myriad of awards including the national Jefferson Award. He's spent weeks with troops overseas, fought ferocious fires, and much, much more.

With "Return to the River: Reflections on Life Choices During a Pandemic," Pelzer for the most part turns the literary lens inward and reflects on a life spent in service but often in avoidance of his own needs and the needs of his relationships. After a divorce, though not his first (the book only mentions one specifically), Pelzer returns to the area around his beloved Russian River to reflect on his life choices and, yes, those choices during the pandemic that has impacted so many of us.

As is Pelzer's trademark, "Return to the River" is both brutally honest and deeply reflective. He begins by essentially returning us to a brief revisiting of his childhood, though "Return to the River" is more focused on Pelzer's current life and how it's been impacted by those years since his childhood abuse.

While "Return to the River" turns inward, it also continues Pelzer's devotion to moving forward. As a male survivor myself, and as a male survivor who has written (though much less successfully) about my experiences, I couldn't help but reflect upon my own challenges in putting away the past and moving forward when, on some level, the past is always present and in some ways intentionally so. "Return to the River" is an example. Despite being nearly 50 years past when teachers finally intervened and Pelzer was removed by police from the family home, even Pelzer's most spiritual writing, as this is, inevitably must begin with at least some immersion in those events of the past. It's difficult to write a book about healing without at least referencing what you're healing from. Indeed, "Return to the River" is harrowing in its first chapter yet becomes something entirely different moving forward.

Of course, even while reading that harrowing chapter we know how it ends. Or, at least we know how it has ended so far. While Pelzer seldom offers great details about his adulthood mistakes, for example the failure of his marriage is largely reduced to a failure to take their usual walks and the absence of once beloved trips, there's an awareness that he's coming to terms with the impact of his past on how he has lived his life. Pelzer seems to sort of click with the insight that while living one's life for others is often celebrated, it's also in many ways a coping skill that becomes not quite as healthy at some point in the healing journey. In some ways, it becomes an avoidance of the healing that truly needs to occur.

There are times in "Return to the River" when it feels like it loses a bit of focus, though this feels consistent with Pelzer's entire journey because he's less concerned with portraying himself as an expert in healing and more concerned with honestly and transparently sharing his journey. "Return to the River" feels less polished than some of Pelzer's writing but, perhaps, this is because Pelzer himself is realizing that the semi-pristine sheen of his life has been much more like a dirt gravel road on one of his favorite trails. He's becoming aware of that lack of polish and leaning into it a little more as someone who writes, speaks, and volunteers often. At 61, Pelzer seems to be grappling with the life he's lived at an age where he's now older than his father was when he passed and within a couple years of the age when his mother passed.

In essence, "Reflection" is a word that shines brightly throughout "Return to the River." Pelzer is truly reflecting here.

For myself as a survivor, "Return to the River" is a meditative reflection on how life unfolds following abuse. While it's certainly different for everyone, "Return to the River" felt familiar to me as Pelzer looks inward and reflects on his abuse, his choices, his relationships, his successes, his failures, his sorrows, his joys, his now, and his future. There's a sense that, just perhaps, it has taken what feels like an implosion of his life for Pelzer to reach a point where moving from survivor to thriver means something different than it did 30 years ago. It's as if, perhaps, he's learning how to not see himself through this lens of public service and more simply as Dave. This is likely an exaggeration, but there are moments in "Return to the River" when it feels as if he's letting go of the final remnants of holding on to that identity of being an "it."

I doubt if "Return to the River" will be acknowledged along the lines of books like "A Child Called It," "The Lost Boy," or even his third title "A Man Named Dave." However, I can't help but think that "Return to the River" is very much the book that Pelzer needed it to be as he relaxes into himself and he celebrates a renewed sense of purpose and pats himself on the back for a life well lived.
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