Book About An Abused Boy: A Child Called ‘It’

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "A Child Called 'It'" by Dave Pelzer. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are you looking for a famous book about an abused boy? Did you know that the Dave Pelzer’s book was a true story?

A Child Called “It” is author Dave Pelzer’s autobiographical account of the abuse he endured at his mother’s hands from ages 4 to 12 and it is likely the most famous book about an abused boy. His experience was one of the worst cases of child abuse reported in California history at the time. 

Read more about this book about an abused boy and the story he shares.

Dave Pelzer’s Book About an Abused Boy

The book about an abused boy is the first in a trilogy—the first chronicling the childhood abuse, the second his teenage years in foster care, and the third his rehabilitation in adulthood. The books showcase Pelzer’s resilience and determination in the face of horrific abuse and adversity. 

Pelzer wrote this book using the perspective, language, and tone he had as a child, without any adult insight or speculation about the reasons for his mother’s behavior. 

The Story Starts With How He’s Saved

In March 1973, David is a fifth-grader in Daly City, California, just outside of San Francisco. When David arrives at school, he goes through a familiar routine with the school nurse: David removes his tattered clothes and the nurse checks his body for new bruises and scars. This book about an abused boy starts with the end of the abuse, when he is finally saved.

David claims he ran into a door, but the nurse has heard all his cover-ups before and David eventually admits that his mother inflicted them. Still, David’s terrified his alcoholic mother will find out that he revealed the truth and beat him for it, like she did when the principal called the year prior to ask about David’s bruises. 

Today the principal, two of David’s teachers, the school nurse, and a police officer have assembled, and David fears he’s in trouble because he regularly steals food from his classmates’ lunches. They assure David he’s not in trouble and ask about his mother. The nurse asks David to show the others the scar on his stomach from when his mother stabbed him, and David explains that Mother punishes him because he’s bad. 

The school staff members are jeopardizing their jobs to save David. (Shortform note: The first child abuse reporting laws were enacted in the 1960s, but they pertained to doctors. By 1974—the year after David was taken out of Mother’s custody—only 24 states mandated teachers and 34 states mandated nurses to report suspected abuse.)

The police officer takes a terrified David to the police station. The officer calls David’s mother to tell her that David is now in the custody of the San Mateo Juvenile Department. David is still apprehensive and thinks he’s going to jail, but the officer reassures him that not only is David not in trouble, he’s finally free. 

Book About An Abused Boy: A Child Called ‘It’

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Dave Pelzer's "A Child Called 'It'" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full A Child Called 'It' summary:

  • How David Pelzer survived horrific abuse at the hands of his mother
  • How victims and survivors of abuse can find support and overcome their painful past
  • Why child abuse may go unnoticed by other adults

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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