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Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite
No Place Like Hope by Stanley Leone Jr is an intense and gripping memoir. But it’s also reflective, introspective, inspirational and a must-read for all who believe that they cannot rise above the lot life has given them, because, well, “apples don’t fall far from the tree”, right? Wrong! Stanley Leone is dedicated to disproving that adage to give hope to the millions who feel there is none. Not only does he do that through his own story, but today, as a keynote speaker at educational conferences, he brings that message to those who need to hear it most: at-risk young people, their parents, and those who teach and counsel children and teens.
Stanley Leone and his siblings grew up in an abusive household where his father, a hopeless alcoholic, nearly killed his wife 3 times before she finally found the courage to pack up the kids and get out. But by the time she did that, the author, only 5, was a hopelessly frightened, insecure child. As he grew into his teens and moved numerous times, his mom hooked up with one man after another. He was bullied by peers and eventually suffered sexual abuse by a male relative. As his fear grew, so did his anger, and it was only a matter of time before Stanley Leone Jr fell into fighting, drinking and drugs. Fortunately, the universe had other plans for the author, and sent him messages, initially via Joe and later through a beloved teacher. Joe encouraged Stanley to get an education. His teacher, Monda Simmons, convinced him he had intelligence and talent and could do great things. Stanley listened to their messages and bit by bit turned his life around. While he always acknowledged there was much of his father in him, he also proved to himself that “Where you’re from has nothing to do with where you go. You are who you are today. If you don’t like who that is, then be someone else tomorrow.”
This wisdom, which he states near the end of the book, and touches upon in reflections throughout this memoir as he travels to find the father he gave up on 25 years earlier, encompasses that often repeated phrase, “Be the change you want to see.” In his search, he finds several of his uncles. Like his dad, they have been in and out of trouble. They all are no strangers to prison. They were born into violence and poverty. But the poverty is more than just not having enough to eat or a roof over your head. It’s the poverty of loneliness that comes with feeling unloved, unwanted, friendless and not being able to trust that others care enough to help you. Stanley Leone Jr, his mother, siblings and uncles have endured the bad extremes of life. Their stories are shocking. But as Stanley meets and talks with them, he realizes there is good in all of them. He encourages his readers to always look for that good, to suspend judgement, to reach out and help those who need it. He feels this is the only way we can leave a world better than the way it is now, because: “The truth is that each of us matters. Each of us makes a difference, and we are significant because we exist.” Thanks for reminding us of that simple truth, Stanley Leone Jr, and for writing your inspiring book, No Place Like Hope.