By People Staff
March 24, 2003 12:00 PM

By Virginia Holman

“Nineteen seventy-four was a bad time to go crazy,” Holman writes at the outset of her wrenching memoir. A year after Patty Hearst’s kidnapping, Holman’s psychotic mother took Holman, then 8, and her baby sister from their Virginia Beach hometown and relocated them to a primitive cottage in the rural part of the state, telling the girls that they were foot soldiers in a secret army.

In lean prose lacking any trace of self-pity, Holman, who sees parallels between herself and Hearst, infuses her nightmarish past with compassion and insight. As in Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club, another triumphant memoir of a childhood gone awry, abuse stories—her sister was forced to eat a bowl of cereal “crawling with ants”—are tempered with gallows humor. Ultimately, Holman finds a way “to forgive my mother for being so sick.” (Simon & Schuster, $23)

BOTTOM LINE: Captivating