cover image Free Spirit: Growing Up on the Road and Off the Grid

Free Spirit: Growing Up on the Road and Off the Grid

Joshua Safran. Hyperion, $24.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4013-2460-5

Raised by a woman (Claudia, never mom, whose quest to flee modern society survived long after hippie idealism became passé), Safran spent the 1970s and 1980s in communes, cabins, and the occasional bus. The author didn’t regularly attend school until he was 11, when his bucolic upbringing made him a target for bullies. Adding to the misery was Claudia’s big heart and idealism, which allowed for a series of bad relationships, culminating in a tumultuous marriage to an alcoholic ex-Salvadoran revolutionary named Leopoldo. The young Safran can only sit helplessly as this sporadically employed thug regularly beats Claudia, apologizes, and starts the cycle anew. As he gets older, Safran recognizes that education is his way out—and that he can confront Leopoldo. Safran, an attorney, has written a beautiful, powerful memoir that shows how a son and his mother both grew up and survived amid chaos. Even better, he recalls events without condemnation or condescension. This assured debut is reminiscent of David Sedaris’s and Augusten Burroughs’s best work: introspective, hilarious, and heartbreaking. . B&w photos throughout. (Sept.)