An Outcast Life: Ken Liljenquist
Growing up your parents is supposed to protect and nurture you. Teaching you values, learning how to stand up for yourself and making sure that you are never in harm’s way. But, what happens when you are ostracized, criticized and feel dejected not only by your own parents and brothers but by your teacher, principal and classmates? One young boy faces many tormenting situations and many heartfelt experiences as the author relates his true story of how he felt and sometimes still feels living his life as an Outcast. Why would any parent think it necessary for a child to fight his way in school in order to prove he is tough? What is wrong with walking away from a fight? His own brothers bully him yet when confronted in school they defend him. When things get tough he would try to back away from a fight but those that were bigger and stronger would not relent and all too often he came home battered and beaten. Telling his mother proved useless and often warranted another beating, rude comments and harsh words. Every time he voiced his concerns and would try to explain what he was going through his mother would say: Just ignore it! What kind of parent ignores the fact that her child is injured? Even when he was pranked by his brothers and got seriously hurt, she did not relent and just called him names. A father who threatened to beat him if he did not fight back and continued to cry. What would he do to prove that he is worthy of just being able to breath and live life? What would it take to show the other kids that they better stay away from him?
Junior High School changed it all as he decided to fight back and become his own person. One good friend made sure no one would bother him but fighting back seemed to be the only way to gain friends, respect and stay in one piece. What kind of a school looks away when a student gets hurt and kids fight at lunch? What kind of principal doesn’t see the warning signs of abuse? Bullying is wrong but his parent’s behavior equally as bad as child abuse of any kind is wrong and the schools he attended were negligent. When the teacher manhandled him so roughly and brought him to the Principal’s office she should have been brought up on charges. Today, she would never have gotten away with it. As an educator this behavior is inexcusable and as a dean having to be in the lunchroom it never happened on my watch.
Hearing the voice of the author as he relates each incident you can feel the pain, hear his frustration and applaud him when he stands on his own. A good friend wanted him to deliver a note to a girl attending his church. This changed things for him as the girl seemed not interested in his friend but him. Not great with girls and still not understanding social graces he shies away from the girl but maybe something will finally change.
As the school years went by and his summer vacations were spent with his brothers swimming, visiting grandparents one thing strikes odd as his parents denied him and his brothers the fun of getting to know their grandparents. Girls would smile at him, one in particular. Shy, not really adept in the social graces he would find himself tongue tied and turning red. Blushing made some girls think he was really cute. Fighting his way through school seemed to be the norm in more ways than one as fists seem to rule and the only way to gain respect was to win a fight.
Dances, getting involved in sports and conversations with other boys seemed to boost his ego but when attending a dance and one girl paid him too much attention what happens will not surprise readers but when the person in charge defends him he was truly amazed. Many kids find it fun to pick on others and bullying is wrong whether from other kids, adults or teachers. Learning to answer in class, finally being recognized for his talent in writing is something he should have been able to brag about to his parents but did not. Writing a book, letting his brother read it and then tossing it a shame. The author’s talent for writing is definitely quite prevalent within this true story as you can feel the smacks, slaps and pain as they are received and given as he so vividly describes each situation and fight. His emotional upheavals and the way his body reacts are described so perfectly you can visualize his face, his movements and even feel his tears.
Meeting a young girl that thinks he is cute and tries to draw him out is quite endearing. Hoping to see her when he goes to the pit to swim would make his day but disappointed when she is not there. Her kind ways, understanding of his lack of knowledge of how to deal with girls proves that some young girls are special and not mean.
An outcast is defined by freedictionary.com as: a person who is rejected have excluded by a social group. Imagine living your life as if you are invisible and trying to just be accepted by others. Making someone feel that they have to live life on the outer rim and not join the inner circle is more than sad it is unspeakable. A mother and father that do not show any caring for any of their children, no praise for good grades and are only concerned with their own needs, decide their own punishment in life if their children divorce them as adults.
Each chapter is headed by a saying that allows readers to know what will happen within the pages of that chapter. Dealing with bullies, fighting his own shadows and demons and just trying to be accepted was the world in which is attempted to live in but often could not. Painful situations, unwarranted fights, students and so called friends pushing his buttons until he became immune to them and decided to harden himself against the mental, physical and emotional abuse and turmoil he went through everyday. Wresting matches that were violent and left him and others injured. Fighting as if his life depended on it and winning four ribbons in track still not bring him the words he wanted to hear from anyone including his parents. Proud of himself, willing to work hard on the farms for others and never really starting a fight just finishing it, his world was often shattered by words, hurt feelings, teachers that thought he would cause trouble, the words of others that stung and his own insecurities.
The descriptions of the cold water, the feeling of the sting of the ice on his skin, the mountains, and the scenery bring to life how he dealt with life, how he still deals with life just waiting for someone to notice him, care about him and make him part of this world. Parents that do not deserve being called parents, so self-absorbed in their own world and not caring about the feelings of any of their children makes the reader realize why his sister and brothers would do the mean things to him and not be punished.
In order to survive he had to fight. In order to safe face he had to beat someone up. In a world that is so filled with violence in a small town named Harden why do so many want to hurt one young man who just wanted to be left alone. Girls pretending and trying to be his friend. A hard outer shell that he hoped would shield him from the pain but what about his parents and what about his family? Why did his coaches shun him and not give him the recognition he deserved? Why did the Bishop’s new teacher prejudge him? Why do you get the feeling that he could not win no matter what?
Something happens that changes it all and he just might get a new perspective about himself. But, with a father who shows no warmth and love and a mother who just ignores it all you wonder how he turned out to be such kind, caring and wonderful writer and person. Each fight brought on by others and each time he tried to back away his pride got in the way and his anger won over. But, when he realizes that he was becoming just like the rest what would he do to change? Fighting: “Doesn’t that put me in the role of bully? Was I being what I hated so much in others? Had the shadows turned their prey into a ravenous creature carrying out their dirty work? Was I now the one striking their targets for them?”
Sitting in the warm sun and feeling the hear as the “warm pools form in the corners of his eyes.” Emotions so raw and so tender. A man who just needed to find somewhere he belonged. An Outcast Life: A young man looking at the world through his eyes and wondering why what he sees is so clouded. An ending that will bring tears to your eyes and a story that will endear you to the author. This is one that all teachers, parents, pastors, coaches and principals need to read with open eyes so that this does not happen to any other child.
Fran Lewis: Reviewer
Five Golden Hugs