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Genie: An Abused Child's Flight from Silence [Hardcover]

Ross Rymer
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 4 1993
An account of one young woman's emergence from a tragic childhood describes how, after spending her early years trapped in a chair in a closed room, Genie learned to walk, chew, and speak, with the help of the scientists who adopted her. $20,000 ad/promo.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Permanently strapped to a chair by her deranged father, Genie (a pseudonym) spent her entire childhood in the closed room of a virtually silent house in suburban California. When her nearly blind mother dragged her into a Los Angeles welfare office in 1970, the emaciated teenager could barely speak. Bounced back and forth between foster parents, institutions and her biological mother (her father fatally shot himself in 1970), Genie improved her linguistic skills but ultimately proved unable to master the rudiments of language. Basing this searing, tragic account on an article he wrote for the New Yorker, Rymer tells how linguists and psychologists, eager to test their theories, competed for access to Genie, who now lives in a home for retarded adults, hidden away from researchers by her mother. Rymer suggests that scientists and caretakers treated Genie as a "wild child" instead of giving her supportive therapy that might have enabled her to overcome the confining horrors of her childhood.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

This is the true story of Genie, whose mentally unbalanced father tied her to a potty chair and left her alone in her room. Because of this abuse, Genie lacked language and social skills, and she thereby became a pawn in the great debate over language acquisition. Rymer here presents a fascinating look at a child's abuse and the failure of the scientific community to help her achieve some normalcy. Describing her history and the various tests and studies performed on her, he show how Genie ended up as just another case study. Unfortunately, scientists considered Genie a unique opportunity to study language skills and acquisition rather than a bewildered child who desperately needed help. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.
- Jennifer Langlois, Missouri Western State Coll. Lib., St. Joseph
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The "Afterword" knocked my socks off March 9 2003
Gee, I wish I could write a book this good, and I wish all books written were this good. The "afterword" is not to be missed -- Mr. Rymer describes his process of writing the book, and how he, the scientists he interviewed, and most everyone who tried to "understand" Genie, all ended up understanding themselves in some humbling or transformative way. So did I.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Modern Tragedy Nov. 24 2001
I have worked as an American Sign Language interpreter, and I am also a qualified behavior specialist. I currently work with autistic teenagers in developing community living skills. I have also worked with adults who have grown up in institutions, and have an array of "institutionalized" behaviors. Thus they have become severely impaired in their daily function, when they might have been habilitated to live independently. No matter how many times I see these situations, each one breaks my heart.
So I have more than a passing interest in the subject of this book.
That parents could strap a child to a chair and provide her no social interaction for thirteen years, with no one knowing boggles the mind. The whole family is a tragedy.
Russ Rymer documents Genie's habilitation after she is discovered, and freed from this captivity. She is more than a tragedy to some people, because she is also a scientific curiosity; she presents an opportunity to study a person who, deprived of social contact past the "critical point" in language development, never develops language skills beyond the semantic level.
Everyone wants a piece of her. Linguists want her, social psychologists want her, developmental psychologists want her; each with a different agenda. As for Genie, it is difficult to fathom what she wants. In the immediate present, she has remarkable non-linguistic communicative skills which she seems to possess intuitively. But what are her hopes, her desires for a permanent living arrangement, an education, she can't communicate, or even correctly understand.
It's no good to assume that she would want what a normal child wants. She doesn't respond to affection, doesn't appear to discriminate between people and objects at first.
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5.0 out of 5 stars GENIE: A VERY PERSONAL RECOLLECTION May 13 2000
Mr. Rymer's excellent book brought back an old and very painful memory for me. I am all-too familiar with Genie's tragic story. In 1970, I lived in California where it all took place. I was seventeen at the time, passing through my "hippie" phase much to the chagrin of my long-suffering parents.... We all happened to be watching TV one evening in early November of that year when a somber looking Walter Cronkite reported the tragic particulars of the a terribly abused thirteen year old. We were all shocked and completely emotionally overwhelmed by it.I've NEVER forgotten it. Many years later, I had moved back to my native East coast, finished college and became a free-lance writer. Then in 1994, PBS debuted its emmy award-winning documentary about this subject. It really took me by surprise. At that point, I hadn't thought of Genie for many years, but this heartwrenching expose brought it all back. All I could do is weep....and I'm NOT ashamed to admit that. I resolved, then and there to write something, ANYTHING to HONOR this poor girl (now in her forties, like myself). I am now six years into writing an elegiac work about her life. But its NOT easy . People directly involved with Genie'story have not really wanted to talk about it even though they are heroes to me. On this point, I take strong issue with Mr. Rymer when he seems to imply that these people exploited Genie. They really did the best they could to save her....although it was all in vain. Although I've never met Genie, she nevertheless is very very close to my heart. I will always remember her, and I hope, that her present life, such as it is, has at least some happiness and peace. No one deserves this more.......
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5.0 out of 5 stars Psycholinguistic issues meet scientific ethics Nov. 12 1997
Rymer offers a journalistic account of one of the most important events in psycholinguistics: the discovery in 1970 of a 13 year old child (the eponymous Genie) who had been kept in solitary confinement since the age of two by her abusive father. Found shortly after Lenneberg's proposal that there was a "critical period" for language learning, which finished at puberty, she provided a human laboratory to disprove or support theories about child language acquisition. However, Rymer's book does not limit itself to linguistic issues. It is also a blistering attack on the insensitivity and selfishness of the scientific community's treatment of Genie.
For a more academic treatment try "Genie: aPsycholinguistic Study of a Modern-Day Wild Child", the doctoral thesis of linguist Susan Curtiss. Of all the researchers who worked with Genie, Curtiss is perhaps the only one whose behaviour was beyond reproach. Her account is thorough, warm-hearted and highly engaging.
For a quick introduction to the case, try the transcriptof "Secret of the Wild Child", a PBS broadcast.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant July 21 2002
I don't have a lot to say that the other reviews haven't addressed, so I'll keep it short.
This is a book about such lofty subjects as neurolinguistics and scientific ethics, yet it remains wonderfully readable to the average (but curious) person. It's a fascinating story (see the other reviews), but Rymer's real achievement here is rendering what could have been dry scientific data interspersed with horrific tales of abuse into a book that at no time exploits its subject for cheap sentimentality. We care about "Genie" because her shot at normal life was twice aborted, not because Rymer simply wants us to.
Recommended to any curious mind.
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