Written by Bruce D. Perry and Maia Szalavitz, The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dog is what one might get if they were to cross a book by Oliver Sacks with the insights of Mary MacCracken’s books about her experiences as one of the first teachers of troubled and delayed children. This particular book is an informative and fluid arrangement of past and present theories on child psychology and the development of the brain.
Each story is as unique as the child who lived the experiences, and each has a little (or a lot!) to teach us about just how the human brain develops from infancy, and how it heals. There is a child who grows into a true sociopath, and no one can quite understand why until Dr. Perry is brought in as an outside party to evaluate this teen who had brutally slain two girls. Little Laura’s body did not grow - a four-year-old girl so starved for physical love and attention is just one extreme example of “failure to thrive” at a mere 26 pounds. Peter is a sweet kid originally from a Russian orphanage with behavioral issues that ostracize him in kindergarten. Dr. Perry talks about his personal experiences with the child survivors of the David Koresh compound as one of the first psychologists involved.
In the telling of these stories, the authors do not choose the experiences with the highest shock value. With the cases that do involve violence, Perry’s retelling is not graphic, sharing only minimal gory details, but focusing instead on the heart, mind and psyche of the child. It does dip into a little more than armchair reading when he finds his stride in explanations of brain development and workings, though overall it is fairly easy to follow. One does not have to have multiple degrees to enjoy this book.
Also, somewhat unlike many authors of psychology books out there, Dr. Perry seems downright humble, but not stupidly so. He easily owns up to past mistakes and gently takes credit for successes. Reading it, one can almost see a glowing, self-satisfied smile - not of glory, but of sheer joy at having made a contribution. In practice, he has trampled right over a lot of longstanding psych rules when he’s found better ways. He has broken ground for new ideas for healing. The stories of these children are just some of the proof that he is finding a better way.
The overall theme of the book is simple: safety, love and support can create a buffer that encourages new growth for children who have been hurt or neglected. It really is as simple as that, and these children prove it over and over. Both in what Dr. Perry has learned and in what the children illustrate, The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dog offers hope. It is the ultimate ‘human interest’ story, with an added bonus of being intelligently and compassionately written.