Castaway Kid: One Man’s Search for Hope and Home by R.B. Mitchell
In Castaway Kid, R.B. Mitchell revisits his childhood spent in an orphanage just outside of Chicago and the impact that had on his life. He is the only child of two parents who were very mentally ill. His father incapacitated himself during a suicide attempt and his mother spent most of her adulthood in and out of mental hospitals. Only his maternal grandmother Gigi brought any stability to his life. It was her weekly visits that provided him with the love he would ultimately need to survive inside the orphanage and to choose faith and hope over despair as he grew to adulthood.
It was heartbreaking to read about Mitchell’s experiences with his mother and the orphanage where she left him at the age of three. At such a young age, he had no concept of how sick she was and he blamed himself for being left alone. His kind housemother did what she could to comfort him and explain that his situation wasn’t his fault, but with so many other young boys to care for, she didn’t have all of the time and energy Robby needed. Gigi visited him weekly, but was unable to care for him physically or financially. Those visits were the bright spot in Robby’s week, but when she left him back at the orphanage it was like being abandoned all over again. Nothing good ever happened when his mother showed up, but Gigi tried her best to foster love between them. How it must have pained Gigi to watch the decline of her only daughter while being unable to raise her only grandchild as she would have liked.
Despite his circumstances, Robby is a resilient young boy who doesn’t want his circumstances to dictate how his life ends up. Once he learns that there is a scholarship to a college in North Carolina for which he is eligible through his father’s family, he starts taking odd jobs and weekend work to save the money he would need when he was on his own. His hard work earned him jobs that weren’t usually open to boys from the home. He also took it upon himself to invest his savings. This isn’t to say that his adolescence was smooth sailing. His anger, alienation, and feelings of inferiority would have led him down the wrong path had he not had this other side of him that wanted to rise above. His story is proof that nothing is impossible if you put your mind and prayer to it.
Even with a growing faith life, Rob continued to difficulty with relationships, especially with women. He realized that despite his loving grandmother, he had very little experience to draw upon when it came to romantic attachments. His fear that he would develop mental problems like his parents or that his girlfriends may turn out like his mother haunted him into adulthood. It wasn’t until he met the woman who was to become his wife that he opened his heart fully for the first time. Before that could fully happen, however, he had to learn to forgive his parents and learn to let go. It was a pleasure to experience that with him. She, like his grandmother before her, brought out the best in him and taught him how to trust.
It has been a long time since a book moved me to tears, but as I was reading the last pages of this book, I couldn’t hold them back. Some of the best and most inspiring stories come out of deeper personal pain. This story was well paced and well thought out. The only aspect that didn’t work well for me was the internal dialog and personal prayers. Those portions felt like they were often saying what was obvious from the context. I was able to skip over them without losing the story or its meaning. At its best, this memoir is a profoundly human story of the power of hope, love, and forgiveness. There is a reason for suffering if only you allow yourself to see it. This is an important message in such a cynical and sarcastic world.
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