A few weeks ago, I found out about a new Cathy Glass book on an E-mail list I’m part of. Most of the members of the list are big Cathy Glass fans, but I’d never read a book by her. I badly wanted to. Cruel to Be Kind is Glass’ latest foster care memoir. I finished reading it on Saturday. Here is my review. It contains slight spoilers.
Cruel To Be Kind is the true story of Max, aged 6. He is fostered by Cathy while his mother is in hospital with complications from type 2 diabetes. Fostering Max gets off to a bad start when his mother, Caz, complains and threatens Cathy even before Max has moved in. Cathy and her family are shocked when they first meet Max. But his social worker isn’t the only one in denial; his whole family are too.
It wasn’t clear to me from the synopsis what it is that shocks Cathy about Max. I need to disclose it to make this review at all meaningful, hence my spoiler alert. The shocking fact is that Max is morbidly obese. Whether childhood obesity is a form of child abuse, is a controversial issue at least in the Netherlands. As an obese person myself, I was at first a little like “What’s the problem?”. Clearly this is me still not being fully accepting of the health risks of my own obesity. Max though is not just obese – he weighs twice as much as he should at his young age.
As is said in the synopsis, Max’s family and social worker are in denial. His mother and sisters are all morbidly obese too and, even though Max’s mother Caz has type 2 diabetes, she at first refuses to admit Max needs to lose weight.
I at first thought this would be a rather boring story, but it isn’t. In fact, it has many layers. I really got to know Max, Caz and Max’s sisters as they struggle with the generational curse of child abuse and domestic violence. I loved how Cathy attempts to portray most people she interacted with as humans with their strengths and weaknesses. For example, at first Caz was portrayed like a demanding, hostile feeder. In the end, she warms up to Cathy and discloses the dark secrets behind her overeating.
Overall, I really liked this book and it totally has me hungry for similar books. The only thing I really didn’t like about the book, is its title. Max at the end uses the phrase that you have to be cruel to be kind sometimes as an expression of gratitude for Cathy’s having put him on a diet. This phrase and the use of the words “tough love” in the same statement, did trigger me a bit.
Title: Cruel to Be Kind: Saying No Can Save a Child’s Life
Author: Cathy Glass
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: September 2017