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Garbage Bag Suitcase: A Memoir

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Garbage Bag Suitcase is the true story of Shenandoah Chefalo's wholly dysfunctional journey through a childhood with neglectful, drug-and alcohol addicted parents. She endured numerous moves in the middle of the night with just minutes to pack, multiple changes in schools, hunger, cruelty, and loneliness. Finally at the age of 13, Shen had had enough. After being abandone Garbage Bag Suitcase is the true story of Shenandoah Chefalo's wholly dysfunctional journey through a childhood with neglectful, drug-and alcohol addicted parents. She endured numerous moves in the middle of the night with just minutes to pack, multiple changes in schools, hunger, cruelty, and loneliness. Finally at the age of 13, Shen had had enough. After being abandoned by her mother for months at her grandmother's retirement community, she asked to be put into foster care. Surely she would fare better at a stable home than living with her mother? It turns out that it was not the storybook ending she had hoped for. With foster parents more interested in the income received by housing a foster child, Shen was once again neglected emotionally. The money she earned working at the local grocery store was taken by her foster parents to "cover her expenses." When a car accident lands her in the hospital with grave injuries and no one came to visit her during her three-week stay, she realizes she is truly all alone in the world. Overcoming her many adversities, Shen became part of the 3% of all foster care children who get into college, and the 1% who graduate. She became a successful businesswoman, got married, and had a daughter. Despite her numerous achievements in life though, she still suffers from the long-term effects of neglect, and the coping skills that she adapted in her childhood are not always productive in her adult life. Garbage Bag Suitcase is not only the inspiring and hair-raising story of one woman's journey to over- come her desolate childhood, but it also presents grass-root solutions on how to revamp the broken foster care system.


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Garbage Bag Suitcase is the true story of Shenandoah Chefalo's wholly dysfunctional journey through a childhood with neglectful, drug-and alcohol addicted parents. She endured numerous moves in the middle of the night with just minutes to pack, multiple changes in schools, hunger, cruelty, and loneliness. Finally at the age of 13, Shen had had enough. After being abandone Garbage Bag Suitcase is the true story of Shenandoah Chefalo's wholly dysfunctional journey through a childhood with neglectful, drug-and alcohol addicted parents. She endured numerous moves in the middle of the night with just minutes to pack, multiple changes in schools, hunger, cruelty, and loneliness. Finally at the age of 13, Shen had had enough. After being abandoned by her mother for months at her grandmother's retirement community, she asked to be put into foster care. Surely she would fare better at a stable home than living with her mother? It turns out that it was not the storybook ending she had hoped for. With foster parents more interested in the income received by housing a foster child, Shen was once again neglected emotionally. The money she earned working at the local grocery store was taken by her foster parents to "cover her expenses." When a car accident lands her in the hospital with grave injuries and no one came to visit her during her three-week stay, she realizes she is truly all alone in the world. Overcoming her many adversities, Shen became part of the 3% of all foster care children who get into college, and the 1% who graduate. She became a successful businesswoman, got married, and had a daughter. Despite her numerous achievements in life though, she still suffers from the long-term effects of neglect, and the coping skills that she adapted in her childhood are not always productive in her adult life. Garbage Bag Suitcase is not only the inspiring and hair-raising story of one woman's journey to over- come her desolate childhood, but it also presents grass-root solutions on how to revamp the broken foster care system.

30 review for Garbage Bag Suitcase: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Shivonne Costa

    It took me less than 1 day to read this remarkably written memoir, not because it’s what I would consider an “easy read” but because I was captivated to the point of not being able to put the book down. Written by Shenandoah Chefalo, Garbage bag Suitcase offers a personal look into the life of one child – one small girl who faced abuse and neglect in her daily life – a life that was worth saving even though no one was there to step in and be a savior. In her memoir, Chefalo describes the intens It took me less than 1 day to read this remarkably written memoir, not because it’s what I would consider an “easy read” but because I was captivated to the point of not being able to put the book down. Written by Shenandoah Chefalo, Garbage bag Suitcase offers a personal look into the life of one child – one small girl who faced abuse and neglect in her daily life – a life that was worth saving even though no one was there to step in and be a savior. In her memoir, Chefalo describes the intense trauma she suffered at the hands of those ordered to care for her by the people that she was supposed to love and trust most in this world. And after living in chaos and instability for 13 years, transferring her few belongings from place to place in a garbage bag that came to be known as her suitcase, she found the immense courage to make a choice – instead of remaining under the parental umbrella of addiction, abuse, and mental illness, Chefalo chose herself. Sadly, making life-altering choices usually come with a consequence or two. And in Chefalo’s case, she wound up in the foster care system. Lost and struggling with her identity, she writes of facing each new school, each new home with an underlying drive to make a way through her struggles, to become one of the 3% of foster children to go to college, and one of the 1% to graduate. In her memoir, Chefalo relays even more staggering statistics about the foster care system. She shares the mental and physical complexities that are common among children who have aged out of their foster homes with nowhere to go, no one to turn to as support. She reflects on her own struggles with lying , food, and relationship – how they weren’t just behaviors that needed to be “fixed” as our society proclaims, but how they were a way to stay alive and a way to reinvent herself, especially since her family and a broken system left her wondering who she even was. The inside glimpses she vulnerably shares in Garbage Bag Suitcase challenged me to look at my own children through a different lens. To understand the helplessness and fear that can still grip a child that has been through such trauma, who has been taken away from all that they’d known, as dysfunctional as it was, and placed with strangers – to see how one can walk away from the wreckage of it all and to make yet another choice, one of forgiveness… well, there aren’t words to describe the miracle of it all. In the second section of her book, Chefalo tackles her ideas of how to reform our current foster care system, changing it in ways that promise hope and success for many more children than the current statistics show. Personally, I have always felt that vigorous and constant early intervention services would be the best preventative measure for keeping children out of foster care, helping parents learn to parent in their own homes, bridging that gap and averting the formative years from being overlooked in our young children. Because, once a child gets to school, even if a teacher or administrator notice that something just “isn’t right” with a child, will they report it? Will anything be done? Will the child just be taken and traumatized further? Instead, Chefalo offers brilliant suggestions that are currently being tested and used in our country, offering children a better chance at life. And if one child is able to make the choice for themselves, and the choice for forgiveness, then this little girl’s story, with her garbage bag suitcase, will not have been in vain.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kayla

    Powerful and heartbreaking story.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Donna McBroom-Theriot

    I was only supposed to read and review the first couple of chapters of Garbage Bag Suitcase. Once I began reading the book, I couldn’t put it down. Quote - "…the general process of foster care. I suddenly came face-to-face with the truth in a way I never had. Without much work, I soon discovered that less than 1% of foster children receive a four-year degree, and that out of the nearly 1.6 million people incarcerated in the various correctional institutions nationwide, 1.3 million had been in th I was only supposed to read and review the first couple of chapters of Garbage Bag Suitcase. Once I began reading the book, I couldn’t put it down. Quote - "…the general process of foster care. I suddenly came face-to-face with the truth in a way I never had. Without much work, I soon discovered that less than 1% of foster children receive a four-year degree, and that out of the nearly 1.6 million people incarcerated in the various correctional institutions nationwide, 1.3 million had been in the foster care system, or 80%. I knew that the system wasn’t great and I knew that I had struggled, but I had never taken the time to understand how bad it was. Over 400,000 children in foster care are affected every year and the number is growing." Despite all of the odds stacked against her, Shenandoah not only graduated high school but went on to complete college. Garbage Bag Suitcase will break your heart. It is her story, told truthfully and without pretense. What the story reveals is just how broken our society is and how we are not only neglecting our country’s children but helping, by ignoring the problem, to raise broken adults. Once foster children age out of care, they are left alone to fend for themselves. No home, nowhere to go except the streets, and eventually more often than not, into the criminal justice system. Ridicule and lack of support continue to haunt foster children long into adulthood if it ever goes away. They struggle with little to no self-esteem and lack of acceptance. They struggle with forgiveness – of themselves and of the system. So many foster children suffer from food issues, having never had enough growing up. They learn to give, but not receive. Foster children learn to blend into their surroundings, not wanting to admit to being in foster care. Children in foster care are more likely to suffer from PTSD. Some are never diagnosed and others are given psychotropic medications. Shenandoah spouts off alarming statistics that should shake America to its core. There are staggering statistics that need to be addressed. A mere 61% of foster children age out of care without a place to live, becoming homeless. Less than 50% of foster children complete high school or obtain a G.E.D. Out of these, less than 3% attend college and of the 3%, only 1% are expected to finish their degree. Garbage Bag Suitcase is the story of Shenandoah Chefalo, a child who grew up in an abusive home and went into foster care hoping for a better life. Life isn’t always fair, yet she not only survived foster care but graduated from college. She beat the odds. Now, she is out to open America’s eyes on the child foster care system. I am giving this book five stars. It is a must read for everyone. Children are our future and we do not have the luxury of dumping this problem into someone else’s lap. I will end with one more quote – “When we stop asking, “What is wrong with that person?” and instead start asking, “What has happened to that person?” we can begin to change outcomes for those who have suffered great losses.” I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. More excerpts at www.mylifeonestoryatatime.com

  4. 5 out of 5

    Brian Gillum

    Overall a good read. Informative and engaging. The author skips huge chunks of her life, however; these gaps could have informed readers a bit more about who she is today, versus the summary we get towards the end of the book. Great ideas on fixing foster care. If only those who make decisions would actually take the advice and use it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    An eye opener, I was so sad to see how badly people who should have loved her didn't. But she magnificently overcame that. Let's not let foster children who age out fall into unproductive lives.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Paula Schuck

    This is a really powerful memoir of a young girl who was chronically neglected by her parents and eventually made the choice to commit herself to foster care at age of 12. Truly heartbreaking and poignant, Garbage Bag Suitcase is a story of a young woman's success despite aging out of a child welfare system that is badly broken and also a system that most definitely failed her at many points along the way. I read this with deep interest because we adopted our children from the domestic foster ca This is a really powerful memoir of a young girl who was chronically neglected by her parents and eventually made the choice to commit herself to foster care at age of 12. Truly heartbreaking and poignant, Garbage Bag Suitcase is a story of a young woman's success despite aging out of a child welfare system that is badly broken and also a system that most definitely failed her at many points along the way. I read this with deep interest because we adopted our children from the domestic foster care system (but as infants) and I often work as a support person with adoptive families so I have a bit of familiarity with the topic matter. More children in foster care should share these stories so that people understand clearly what is lacking and where the problems exist. As Shenandoah was small her mother moved her so often that she never stayed long enough in any school district for anyone to really tweak to what was happening to her. Such a brutal but honest statement on how children fall through the cracks. What is interesting here is how this person, the author, manages to survive this horrendous neglect and maltreatment to become a successful business person, author and parent. I am overwhelmed by her resiliency here and why she survived, with scars, when we know hundred of children age out and fall into drug use, teen pregnancy, or prison. I know this a memoir but I almost wish this was also more deeply studied in a subsequent book. Policy makers should read this memoir and they should take it to heart and strive to do better for children who have nobody to speak up for them.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kambree

    Shenandoah writes with incredible insight and clarity. Her experience as a child was heartbreaking to read about. At the same time, we hear a lot of opinions and information about foster care from those who have not actually lived it. This book provides unique perspective from an adult who knows intimately the feelings and thoughts of what it's like to be in a system that tries to help, but in many cases fails the children in need. I found this book very informative and intriguing. It's a quick Shenandoah writes with incredible insight and clarity. Her experience as a child was heartbreaking to read about. At the same time, we hear a lot of opinions and information about foster care from those who have not actually lived it. This book provides unique perspective from an adult who knows intimately the feelings and thoughts of what it's like to be in a system that tries to help, but in many cases fails the children in need. I found this book very informative and intriguing. It's a quick read and kept me involved in the story from the first page to the last. Well done. Thank you for courageously sharing your story. It will help so many.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Susan Schaefer Bernardo

    A poignant and compelling memoir that has inspired me to take action to improve the lives of foster kids in our country. Chefalo presents her own harrowing story of adversity and triumph (she is one of the 1% of foster kids who make it through college successfully) - as well as shocking statistics about foster care (a striking correlation between foster care and ultimate incarceration). I applaud her for telling her story so vividly, and inspiring us all to help make a change.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Alison

    Michigan author, survived substance abusing and neglectful parents, followed by time in the foster system. Workaholism may have saved her (as it did me) until it stopped working. She's now a foster care system betterment advocate. Read this memoir for my first time attending the local Smart Girl's Book Club (yes, that's what it's called) next week.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Marissa DeCuir

    This powerful, heart-breaking story offers real solutions for a broken foster care system that hurts not just the children but all of society. An important read that gave me more insight into an issue that truly needs more attention. Thank you Shen for your courage in sharing your compelling story!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Angelle Barbazon

    Shenandoah Chefalo's "Garbage Bag Suitcase" is nothing short of haunting. I was truly stunned by this author's personal journey. Her story is heartbreaking, yet inspiring. Beautifully written.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jenna Smith

    An amazing, powerful, heartbreaking story! Everyone could learn something important from Garbage Bag Suitcase.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Chelsea

    So compelling and poignant. This book was really well written, tragic, yet also beautiful as well. Definitely adding this to my list of favorite memoirs.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Dawn Hughes

    A must read!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kirti Bagepalli

    Title: Garbage Bag Suitcase Author: Shenandoah Chefalo Genre: Biography, Autobiography Publication Date: February 1, 2016 Even though I am not someone who knows much about the foster care system or has any emotional ties associated to it, when given the task to pick a book about an influential topic, I chose Shenandoah Chefalo’s “Garbage Bag Suitcase”. I was quite surprised to find that this book was actually a autobiography, because so many of the biographies I have read have been stuffed with an o Title: Garbage Bag Suitcase Author: Shenandoah Chefalo Genre: Biography, Autobiography Publication Date: February 1, 2016 Even though I am not someone who knows much about the foster care system or has any emotional ties associated to it, when given the task to pick a book about an influential topic, I chose Shenandoah Chefalo’s “Garbage Bag Suitcase”. I was quite surprised to find that this book was actually a autobiography, because so many of the biographies I have read have been stuffed with an overwhelming amount of informational facts. However, from the moment I picked this book up and read the title, it captured my attention in a surprising way. “Garbage Bag Suitcase” is a memoir written in a first person narrative style about the author’s true life events. The story begins when Chefalo, the main character, is the age of 4 and introduces us to her life. She includes her constant moving around from place to place within the United States, sometimes staying at places for only a few weeks, her mother’s neglectful relationship with her, and the emotional and physical abuse she endured from her father whenever he actually was around. She then continues to move through her childhood, stopping at some of the most traumatic events, such as when her dad pushes her out of a moving car or when she is forced to sleep covered in her own feces. Finally, when her mother leaves her at her grandmother’s retirement community, she decides she has finally had enough, and decides to put herself into foster care. Hoping her life would finally start to become better, Chefalo’s life in foster care is sadly not much different than her previous upbringing, since her foster parents continue to neglect her. When Chefalo ages out of the system, her life finally turns around. She defies the odds when she not only gets into college, but also graduates. The biggest part that makes this book different than others and truly influential is the emotional rawness of the book. Upon reading the book, you can clearly see that the author took no initiative in hiding the torment that she lived through. The detailed descriptions of each traumatic event not only makes the book hard to put down, but also cleverly instills the author’s message into the readers’ heads, without physically stating it. The emotional rawness is also a reason I advise caution when reading this book, as it depicts events in such a way that may make readers squeamish or trigger someone who has been through similar events. Simply put, Shenandoah Chefalo illuminates the problems within our current foster care system through the wonderfully crafted personal journey she has taken her readers through. Although the main message of the book is tied to the necessary improvements needed to be made to the foster care system and the implementations she suggests for its reform at the end of the book. In a broader perspective, this book also illuminates the importance of uncovering the faults in the things we as society have created and not hiding their issues, but taking the initiative to fix what so much of our country’s growing generation is affected by. “Garbage Bag Suitcase” has definitely opened my mind to something I hadn’t thought much about and was a breath-taking read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sue Jackson

    Garbage Bad Suitcase is the author's story of her childhood. She describes having to put all of her belongings in a garbage bag whenever her parents moved to a new location in the middle of the night. They were constantly fleeing something and she never really knew what that was. The book clearly describes the confusion and pain that she experienced while being uprooted. She longed for a stable physical and emotional home. The author not only had to endure her parents constant moving but also the Garbage Bad Suitcase is the author's story of her childhood. She describes having to put all of her belongings in a garbage bag whenever her parents moved to a new location in the middle of the night. They were constantly fleeing something and she never really knew what that was. The book clearly describes the confusion and pain that she experienced while being uprooted. She longed for a stable physical and emotional home. The author not only had to endure her parents constant moving but also their abuse. They used isolation and even starvation as ways to control her. When she moved to an aunt's house, she yet again endured neglect and abandonment. And lastly, she was placed in a foster children program that failed her. Her foster parents used her as a means of earning money instead of providing haven. These unhealthy beginnings continued into her adult life when these adults demanded certain behaviors and/or money from her. Although much of this book is about her childhood, it clearly shows how not having emotional support impacted her entire life. She was able to beat the odds and get a college degree and become a successful business woman, wife, and mother. Still, her thought process is still largely of that wounded child. It shows from time to time in her writing. I would recommend this book. It gives a clear personal account of her experiences as she was uprooted from place to place. It's also interesting to read that most of the people in her life are still unable to have a healthy relationship with her or with themselves.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Candi Hadley

    Chefalo said early in the book (maybe the foreword) that she isn't a writer, but was still encouraged to write her story. I felt like maybe she should have teamed up with someone who IS a writer in order to better tell it. The facts were there. There was plenty of information. Important information. There just didn't seem to be any emotional connection for me. It felt scattered at times, especially when she would mention in one chapter that it was "the last time she ever heard from" someone, but Chefalo said early in the book (maybe the foreword) that she isn't a writer, but was still encouraged to write her story. I felt like maybe she should have teamed up with someone who IS a writer in order to better tell it. The facts were there. There was plenty of information. Important information. There just didn't seem to be any emotional connection for me. It felt scattered at times, especially when she would mention in one chapter that it was "the last time she ever heard from" someone, but then the person would show up in the following chapters. I just didn't feel the flow of a story.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kivalina Mauck

    Loved this book My name is Kivalina, I was forced to go by Kimmy from walking to well I am 49 and am trying to get people to use my birth name. I do not feel its fair to me to use fake name. As for your idea of using a Harry potter type home for foster kids. You are onto something AWESOME I think this is the perfect idea. This would solve so many problems. One problem I see with this is GREEDY people who run them. They are the ones who starve the kids. They buy cheep so they can pocket the extra Loved this book My name is Kivalina, I was forced to go by Kimmy from walking to well I am 49 and am trying to get people to use my birth name. I do not feel its fair to me to use fake name. As for your idea of using a Harry potter type home for foster kids. You are onto something AWESOME I think this is the perfect idea. This would solve so many problems. One problem I see with this is GREEDY people who run them. They are the ones who starve the kids. They buy cheep so they can pocket the extra money.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Peg

    A journey that takes you from how confusing it is to grow up in a home without love and nurturing... to foster care... to breaking through the binds that these experiences wrap around you... to healing, this author has shared a tremendous story of her survival and strength. If you have your own ghosts from childhood, or you care about children with these struggles, this book can provide you with connection and insight to start the healing process.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    A powerful memoir that suffered from lack of good editing. It's too bad, as the author's story of surviving a childhood of neglect and abandonment is important. I found by the last third that I was skimming to avoid the poor sentence structure and heavy-handed descriptions. Still, there were nuggets to pull out, particularly when the author wrote at the end about the lasting effects of poverty and neglect on her.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Conklin

    Loved it So much of this spoke to me about my own childhood. Especially the parts with the issues with food, communication, gift giving and displaying/receiving love. This book also helps me to understand some of the negative behaviors that I have. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I may be partial to the book because I heard her speak & was touched by her story. For me this book is a great reminder that no child is lost & that we need to be diligent in reaching out to vulnerable kids & teens. To fill them with encouragement & hope - that they can go to college & have a functioning family etc. A future to look forward to can be theirs! I may be partial to the book because I heard her speak & was touched by her story. For me this book is a great reminder that no child is lost & that we need to be diligent in reaching out to vulnerable kids & teens. To fill them with encouragement & hope - that they can go to college & have a functioning family etc. A future to look forward to can be theirs!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jacqui Hawkins

    Striking! This book isn’t as graphic as some real life stories can be, thankfully, but what makes the story striking is...the abuse is subtle. When you live an experience, you can’t help but to look back and compare your story to others and not recognize your story is just as sad. I appreciated the foster care information and discussion in the 2nd half of the book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Pam Sloss

    I enjoyed reading Chefalo's memoir. It demonstrates the ups and mostly downs of children in foster care. The book provides the reader a window into the life of a young woman facing the hand she has been dealt with courage and real emotion. Definitely a page-turner!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Katie B Skellenger

    Great, fast read! I was able to hear Shenandoah speak recently, and she was just as captivating in person as she is in her writing. This is a great read, especially if you share the desire to change our foster care system.

  26. 5 out of 5

    John

    Hard to read but worth it A very difficult story but ultimately a personal triumph. The statistics reveal this to be an exception to the typical outcome of a life with such a horrific beginning. She has not been embittered by it but wants us to get involved in rectifying the wrongs done by the foster system. Thought provoking.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Avid (Maria) Reader

    One of the best memoirs i have read. So touching and inspiring that a neglected little girl made it out alive from her upbringing.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kirsty

    Amazing how Shen was victorious over those who abused her and beat the stats.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sara Pritzl

    It is so sad to read what happened to her. We shouldn’t take things for granted. Her strength is unbelievable. I appreciate that she opened up and shared her life.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Monroedc

    Not a huge memoir fan but I recommended this to a few friends so it must have been alright! Interesting conversations were started by this book.

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