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An Unforgettable Journey Through an Unconventional Childhood When Joshua Safran was four years old, his mother--determined to protect him from the threats of nuclear war and Ronald Reagan--took to the open road with her young son, leaving the San Francisco countercultural scene behind. Together they embarked on a journey to find a utopia they could call home. In Free Spirit An Unforgettable Journey Through an Unconventional Childhood When Joshua Safran was four years old, his mother--determined to protect him from the threats of nuclear war and Ronald Reagan--took to the open road with her young son, leaving the San Francisco countercultural scene behind. Together they embarked on a journey to find a utopia they could call home. In Free Spirit, Safran tells the harrowing, yet wryly funny story of his childhood chasing this perfect life off the grid--and how they survived the imperfect one they found instead. Encountering a cast of strange and humorous characters along the way, Joshua spends his early years living in a series of makeshift homes, including shacks, teepees, buses, and a lean-to on a stump. His colorful youth darkens, however, when his mother marries an alcoholic and abusive guerrilla/poet. Throughout it all, Joshua yearns for a "normal" life, but when he finally reenters society through school, he finds "America" a difficult and confusing place. Years spent living in the wilderness and discussing Marxism have not prepared him for the Darwinian world of teenagers, and he finds himself bullied and beaten by classmates who don't share his mother's belief about reveling in one's differences. Eventually, Joshua finds the strength to fight back against his tormentors, both in school and at home, and helps his mother find peace. But Free Spirit is more than just a coming-of-age story. It is also a journey of the spirit, as he reconnects with his Jewish roots; a tale of overcoming adversity; and a captivating read about a childhood unlike any other.


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An Unforgettable Journey Through an Unconventional Childhood When Joshua Safran was four years old, his mother--determined to protect him from the threats of nuclear war and Ronald Reagan--took to the open road with her young son, leaving the San Francisco countercultural scene behind. Together they embarked on a journey to find a utopia they could call home. In Free Spirit An Unforgettable Journey Through an Unconventional Childhood When Joshua Safran was four years old, his mother--determined to protect him from the threats of nuclear war and Ronald Reagan--took to the open road with her young son, leaving the San Francisco countercultural scene behind. Together they embarked on a journey to find a utopia they could call home. In Free Spirit, Safran tells the harrowing, yet wryly funny story of his childhood chasing this perfect life off the grid--and how they survived the imperfect one they found instead. Encountering a cast of strange and humorous characters along the way, Joshua spends his early years living in a series of makeshift homes, including shacks, teepees, buses, and a lean-to on a stump. His colorful youth darkens, however, when his mother marries an alcoholic and abusive guerrilla/poet. Throughout it all, Joshua yearns for a "normal" life, but when he finally reenters society through school, he finds "America" a difficult and confusing place. Years spent living in the wilderness and discussing Marxism have not prepared him for the Darwinian world of teenagers, and he finds himself bullied and beaten by classmates who don't share his mother's belief about reveling in one's differences. Eventually, Joshua finds the strength to fight back against his tormentors, both in school and at home, and helps his mother find peace. But Free Spirit is more than just a coming-of-age story. It is also a journey of the spirit, as he reconnects with his Jewish roots; a tale of overcoming adversity; and a captivating read about a childhood unlike any other.

30 review for Free Spirit: Growing Up On the Road and Off the Grid

  1. 5 out of 5

    Scrill

    DNF @15% sorry Dad, just don’t have time for boring. I promised my dad I would read this book this year. The countdown is on.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    Free Spirit: Growing up on the Road and Off the Grid by Joshua Safran, 2013, Hyperion, Hardcover, 272 pp, $24.95 Joshua Safran’s memoir, Free Spirit: Growing up on the Road and off the Grid begins with a wild ride up the side of Cultus Mountain in Skagit County, Washington. Safran’s stepfather, Leopoldo, a Salvadoran guerilla fighter who is drunk, angry, and erratic, is at the wheel screaming about CIA surveillance. Safran’s mother, Claudia has finally been shaken out of a meditation focused on c Free Spirit: Growing up on the Road and Off the Grid by Joshua Safran, 2013, Hyperion, Hardcover, 272 pp, $24.95 Joshua Safran’s memoir, Free Spirit: Growing up on the Road and off the Grid begins with a wild ride up the side of Cultus Mountain in Skagit County, Washington. Safran’s stepfather, Leopoldo, a Salvadoran guerilla fighter who is drunk, angry, and erratic, is at the wheel screaming about CIA surveillance. Safran’s mother, Claudia has finally been shaken out of a meditation focused on channeling blue universal energy to surround and protect them from harm. Within the first page, Safran has established that as terrifying as this ride might seem to the reader, for him, “Fear was commonplace, part of the will you kidnap me or won’t you calculation inherent in every hitched ride.” The journey on which Safran takes the reader is filled with terrifying situations and bizarre characters. His idealistic but clueless mother leaves the relative calm of post-hippie-heyday San Francisco with her four-year-old son and embarks on a quest to find a utopian community outside the influence of mainstream Reagan-era America. Instead of utopia, Safran finds himself living in teepees, a rusty old ice cream truck, a lean-to built on a stump, and a series of shacks, often without electricity or running water. At one point in the memoir, Claudia and the author take to the road with the Rainbow Family, a loosely connected band of hippies who hold gatherings in national forests. When Claudia settles down and marries Leopoldo, the home Safran finds is not idyllic, but dark and filled with abuse at the hands of his stepfather and school-aged bullies, who torment him for being different. Safran’s memoir is painful and poignant as one would expect of a story filled with abject poverty and domestic violence, but the darkness is balanced with moments of hilarity. Much of the humor comes from the juxtaposition of counter-culture ideology and Safran’s struggle to thrive in an America that is alien to him. The book is peppered with references to larger events in the country and their impact on Safran. For example, the trajectory of his life is set in motion by the Fall of Saigon, and his mother’s disillusionment with a country that has not, as she expected it would, reformed at the close of the Vietnam conflict. When Claudia becomes involved with anti-nuclear protests after a power plant on the other side of the country melts down, Safran writes, “Three Mile Island ruined my preschool graduation.” Free Spirit is remarkable primarily because of the candor with which Safran tells his story. He doesn’t portray himself as a hero. He struggles throughout the book with how powerless he is to protect not only his mother, but also himself from abuse. When Leopoldo attacks Claudia for imagined infidelities, Safran does not initially try to rescue her. Instead, he hides in his sleeping berth in the loft of the cabin they live in, and listens as his mother is beaten. When he finally convinces his mother to enroll him in public school, Safran is beaten and ostracized by a female bully at the bus stop. Safran’s willingness to express helplessness and vulnerability strengthens the impact of the narrative and gives the reader a deeper understanding of the dysfunctional dynamics of domestic abuse. The final chapter of the book works as an epilogue. There, the reader sees an adult Safran, more capable of advocating for domestic abuse victims in his work as an attorney. One concern many memoirists grapple with is the limitation of memory, especially during the first five or so years of life. We don’t carry as clear a recollection of early childhood as we do of later stages of development. Some memoirists choose to recreate dialogue and scene, and allow their imaginations to fill in the blank spaces our minds cannot recall. Safran’s account of his early childhood is vivid and detailed, and obviously recreated, but I was able to accept it as true, because he explains in the epilogue and acknowledgements that he researched those years with the help of his mother and other adults who did possess a clearer recollection of events. Free Spirit is not an easy book to read because it is so vividly rendered and painful, but it is well-written, often poetic, and compelling, and offers the reader important insight into a segment of counter-culture that is under-represented in modern American memoir. In this important book, Safran offers up the wounds of a flower child, and every frayed petal is astonishingly beautiful. (This review was first published in Gulf Stream Magazine, Nov. 8, 2013)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mary E Trimble

    Joshua Safran’s Free Spirit: Growing Up on the Road and Off the Grid is a haunting, beautifully written memoir about his appalling childhood. Although the subject matter is grim, the book is never-the-less poignant and often wryly funny. Joshua’s early memories take place in the l970s San Francisco. His mother Claudia, steeped in hippie/revolutionary activism, searches for what she believes to be utopia. She leaves San Francisco in search of the perfect “intentional community,” a promised land f Joshua Safran’s Free Spirit: Growing Up on the Road and Off the Grid is a haunting, beautifully written memoir about his appalling childhood. Although the subject matter is grim, the book is never-the-less poignant and often wryly funny. Joshua’s early memories take place in the l970s San Francisco. His mother Claudia, steeped in hippie/revolutionary activism, searches for what she believes to be utopia. She leaves San Francisco in search of the perfect “intentional community,” a promised land free of nuclear war. Joshua and his mother embark on a series of wild on-the-road adventures. There is no doubt Claudia loves her son, but many of her actions show a gross lack of common sense. In one instance, mother and son travel for days–mostly hitchhiking–to a Rainbow Gathering. She doesn’t think to bring a tent, or even food. Joshua is left on his own for days while his mother takes up with a just-met lover. Rain-soaked and miserable, the six-year-old pilfers a blanket and, on his own, finds food and shelter. Drugs and alcohol are plentiful; real food scarce. Through the years Claudia travels with different men, but Joshua, even as a young child, can see no idealistic future with any of them. Claudia is unbelievably naive, always making excuses for her current lover’s failings. Through all their travels, she teaches her son a love of books and he learns to read at an early age. They try a variety of living situations–communes, make-shift homes, a teepee, buses, a trailer, an abandoned ice-cream truck, and on Camano Island, Washington, a lean-to built on a stump. In the meantime Claudia has married an abusive Salvadorian guerrilla. Joshua struggles with his step-father’s alcohol-fueled abuse to both his mother and to him, or alternatively listens to their noisy love-making in their tiny water-logged shack. Joshua is eager to go to school, but he has huge obstacles to overcome to even get ready. They have no running water, no electricity, not even a decent outhouse. Joshua doesn’t own a comb, toothbrush, or a mirror. His clothes are patched and dirty. Kids bully him and tease him about his unkempt appearance. Still, he loves school, loves to learn and especially loves being warm. Eventually they move to Stanwood, just across the bridge from Camano Island, and he takes solace in the Stanwood library, relishing in the many books, being able to use the bathroom to wash himself with warm running water, and as a refuge from his abusive step-father. Free Spirit is, in the end, a story of triumph. The language is rough and the situations harrowing, but it is an honest, stark but eloquently-told coming-of-age story. At the end of the book the author sums up his adult life. What he has accomplished is impressive. To learn more about the author, visit http://www.jsafran.com/

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Chance

    "Free Spirit" is a fascinating and powerful memoir of a young boy who had all the odds against him, thanks to a less-than-stellar mother, and managed to survive to become an accomplished and stable adult. That being said, this was also a very frustrating book as well. At times I just wanted to leap into the pages and give Joshua's mother, Claudia, a shaking at times, a slapping at others. I realize that Joshua probably didn't write this book to intentionally present his mother in a harsh light, "Free Spirit" is a fascinating and powerful memoir of a young boy who had all the odds against him, thanks to a less-than-stellar mother, and managed to survive to become an accomplished and stable adult. That being said, this was also a very frustrating book as well. At times I just wanted to leap into the pages and give Joshua's mother, Claudia, a shaking at times, a slapping at others. I realize that Joshua probably didn't write this book to intentionally present his mother in a harsh light, but his brutal honesty in presenting his story of his childhood just made me furious at his mother - how could she put her child through all this? Joshua Safran's startling frank and brilliant written story is one that will evoke many emotions for the reader - compassion, admiration, and yes, anger. By the end of the book, I was so proud for Joshua for surviving his very untraditional childhood and cheered when he vowed to not let his own children experience the things that were forced upon him. I highly recommend this memoir! It is a book that you won't soon forget.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Profis

    No words of mine can do this book justice. Safran is a brilliant writer who was willing to open wounds from his past in order to share with us his story of unthinkable triumph. You'll finish this in a few sittings. Ultimately you'll find that, no matter now a person is raised, and no matter how dramatically the cards are stacked against him, there is something inside all of us that is stronger than any outside force. No words of mine can do this book justice. Safran is a brilliant writer who was willing to open wounds from his past in order to share with us his story of unthinkable triumph. You'll finish this in a few sittings. Ultimately you'll find that, no matter now a person is raised, and no matter how dramatically the cards are stacked against him, there is something inside all of us that is stronger than any outside force.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kressel Housman

    I was enamored of the hippie trip when I was younger, right in the Reagan/Bush years when this takes place. I still tend to romanticize the people living off the grid, particularly because my son has considered becoming one of them. This book is a cautionary tale about how not to do that. There's nothing heroic about cold, rainy nights and poopholes in the ground that are swarming with flies. The first half of the book is funny. The author mocks his mother's New Age beliefs and lifestyle with a I was enamored of the hippie trip when I was younger, right in the Reagan/Bush years when this takes place. I still tend to romanticize the people living off the grid, particularly because my son has considered becoming one of them. This book is a cautionary tale about how not to do that. There's nothing heroic about cold, rainy nights and poopholes in the ground that are swarming with flies. The first half of the book is funny. The author mocks his mother's New Age beliefs and lifestyle with a thoroughly enjoyable irony. But in the middle, when she gets into an abusive relationship with an alcoholic ex-soldier, the book takes a dark turn. At first you're angry with her for her irresponsibility toward her son, but it doesn't take long before you're feeling sorry for her. The happy ending is that the author grew up into a lawyer who has fought for other victims of domestic violence. He has also striven to give his daughters the comforts of a suburban life that he lacked, by which I mean indoor plumbing and heating, not a life in the lap of luxury. My frum friends will be interested to know that he became a baal teshuva also, but that's more of a minor than a major theme of the book. When his mother criticized his choice as a "patriarchal, rule-centered religion," he said that it was a natural consequence of having grown up a hippie without a decent father figure. So all in all, this book goes to prove that everyone, no matter how they grow up, ends up finding fault with it and tries to do just the opposite with their own kids. So nobody should be surprised when their kids come of age and ask, "What were you thinking when you raised me like that?"

  7. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    I finished this book in two chunks instead of one, because I had to take my son to his basketball game and go grocery shopping, neither of which I would have done if I were a character in Free Spirit. This is another one of those memoirs (like Glass Castle) that will make you feel like you had a fantastic childhood and you are now an awesome parent. Joshua Safran is a great writer, and has apparently turned out to be a successful and well-adjusted adult (and family man AND guy with an actual car I finished this book in two chunks instead of one, because I had to take my son to his basketball game and go grocery shopping, neither of which I would have done if I were a character in Free Spirit. This is another one of those memoirs (like Glass Castle) that will make you feel like you had a fantastic childhood and you are now an awesome parent. Joshua Safran is a great writer, and has apparently turned out to be a successful and well-adjusted adult (and family man AND guy with an actual career) which makes me happy. It's hard to imagine overcoming such a life that his mother provided for him. Cool bonus: Most of the book takes place in the PNW, where (and when -- we're exactly contemporary) I grew up. I know exactly where they're talking about when they go to the hippie Co-op in Mt. Vernon and the Peace Arch in Blaine, etc.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tom Glaser

    I bought this book after listening to the author's spellbinding Strangers podcast, "The Son, The Goddess and Leopoldo," expecting that the book would reveal more information about the author's bizarre mother and her background. There were some crumbs, but at the end of the book, his mother still remains pretty much an enigma. He never actually discusses her childhood and has almost nothing to say about her father. Whereas the podcast was nicely paced, and devoted equal measures to the author's c I bought this book after listening to the author's spellbinding Strangers podcast, "The Son, The Goddess and Leopoldo," expecting that the book would reveal more information about the author's bizarre mother and her background. There were some crumbs, but at the end of the book, his mother still remains pretty much an enigma. He never actually discusses her childhood and has almost nothing to say about her father. Whereas the podcast was nicely paced, and devoted equal measures to the author's childhood and adult life, 90% of the book takes place before the author reaches the age of 12. His college years, spiritual evolution, impressive pro-bono legal work, get a rushed, summary treatment. All in all, the book doesn't add much to the podcast.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Laura Joakimson

    I just spent an hour trying to remember this author’s name and scrolling through other children of counter culture memoirs. The story is memorable several years after reading it for the tenderness of the love of a son for his struggling mother. Loved.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Casee Marie

    Joshua Safran is an award-winning attorney widely noted for his efforts to aid survivors of domestic violence and his support of women’s rights, but it’s his triumph over his own personal history – told in his new book, Free Spirit: Growing Up On the Road and Off the Grid – that is perhaps just as worthy of acclaim. As the child of a single mother amid San Francisco’s countercultural world of the 1970s, Safran’s life was far from normal. His mother – at times Wiccan, at times bisexual, and alway Joshua Safran is an award-winning attorney widely noted for his efforts to aid survivors of domestic violence and his support of women’s rights, but it’s his triumph over his own personal history – told in his new book, Free Spirit: Growing Up On the Road and Off the Grid – that is perhaps just as worthy of acclaim. As the child of a single mother amid San Francisco’s countercultural world of the 1970s, Safran’s life was far from normal. His mother – at times Wiccan, at times bisexual, and always opposed to the corruption of the political scheme – followed her spiritual yearnings across the western states in search of a utopia that nestled comfortably with her peace-minded, Marxist, organic ideal, and with her on this journey was a four year-old Josh. From a big green bus on the open road to a lean-to in the wilderness and a tepee in the middle of a drug-saturated spiritual gathering, Josh lived a true urchin’s life, witnessing his mother’s misguided attachments to all the wrong men. What might have been a quirky unconventionality transformed into a serious situation when one of these wrong men habitually began raising his fist to Josh’s mother. Stranded in the grip of domestic abuse, Josh was determined to change his fate – even if that meant turning against his mother’s perceptions of society and exposing himself to the ugly, brain-washing realities of America: namely, education. Armed only with the teaching he’d received from his mother and his own reading experience, Josh enters society to discovery that America is one seriously complex place, nothing quite like he’s prepared himself for. Told in a breezily honest and compassionate voice, Safran’s memories of his childhood outside of the realms of mainstream society tell an emotional story of determination, spirit, and the true strength of a son’s love. Through his narrative he touches on some entirely difficult topics, such as his exposure to sex and drugs at an impossibly young age and the disturbing scenes of abuse he witnessed in one of their many ramshackle homes. Safran handles these stories with a certain simplicity, and often even with an unexpected wit, that illuminates just how successfully he was able to overcome the trials of his young life. The love with which he writes about his mother transcends the pages and explains – without outright having to explain – just how much he cared for her and how willingly he forgave her misguided attempts to find a blissful life for the two of them. It’s in his relationship with his mother, laid bare as it is on the pages, that Free Spirit truly touches on the heart of its magic. A woman who can’t seem to triumph in life through her many failed attempts never really takes the shape of a failure to her son, and Safran illustrates exactly how the complex, entirely unconventional way she raised him helped to shape him for the future. Instead of a child made dumb by the absence of formal education, we witness a young boy brought up on the intricacies of philosophy, Native American history, astrology, and bolstered by the power of his own personal readings, be it a foray into Narnia or the Encyclopedia Britannica. We see that his mother’s feminist and enlightenment-empowered mindset raised a boy whose sense of morality and determination were innate, unfaltering. In short, we journey with Safran into the past to understand that the most difficult groundwork can sometimes be the foundation on which great achievements are built. I was engrossed in Free Spirit and at times I found myself reading it like a novel – perhaps due to a subconscious hope that some realities of the book couldn’t possibly appear outside of fiction. But I think in many ways Safran’s memoir manages to rise out of classification as it becomes, at its core, a man’s story of his boyhood experiences and the relationship with his mother that ultimately steered the course for the rest of his life. It’s a poetic account of some very unpoetic moments, a love letter woven compassionately with the search for an apology, and through the story of his life Safran leaves an impression on his audience that will engage their imagination and almost certainly change their perspective on the world. (Review © Casee Marie, originally published on September 10, 2013 at LiteraryInklings.com. A copy of the book was provided for the purpose of review.)

  11. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    Happy that the author survived a completely dysfunctional, mentally ill parent, but this story makes me mad. Didn't finish...gave up half way thru. My rule is to give a book 100 pages. I gave it more than that... Happy that the author survived a completely dysfunctional, mentally ill parent, but this story makes me mad. Didn't finish...gave up half way thru. My rule is to give a book 100 pages. I gave it more than that...

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lua

    Wow! In this memoir, the author tells of growing up with his hippie mother who wanders from one commune to another, more often than not living without electricity or indoor plumbing. He deals with multiple hardships, including an abusive stepfather, and yet finds things to appreciate in his counter-cultural upbringing. Much of the story is semi-tragic, but there are flashes of humor as Josh has interactions with "straight people" and schoolteachers. He spends much of his time learning without sc Wow! In this memoir, the author tells of growing up with his hippie mother who wanders from one commune to another, more often than not living without electricity or indoor plumbing. He deals with multiple hardships, including an abusive stepfather, and yet finds things to appreciate in his counter-cultural upbringing. Much of the story is semi-tragic, but there are flashes of humor as Josh has interactions with "straight people" and schoolteachers. He spends much of his time learning without school, because he and school don't really get along. Take this episode when Josh tries out first grade and the art teacher tells him about the festive holiday of Thanksgiving that apparently everyone celebrated. (After checking with his mother about this so-called holiday) "I returned the next day (to first grade) preaching about Native American genocide. 'Did you know,' I asked the art teacher, 'that Indians to this day are still being driven off their land? The government took away their forests and meadows and now they want their rocks. For the uranium. So we can make atomic bombs to kill every last woman, man, and child.' I shook my head in disgust. The art teacher shook her head too. We lapsed into silence. I sat with my hands folded while the other kids made paper turkeys out of their handprints." The austere environment, abusive stepfather, and lack of a traditional elementary school education don't stop Josh from later excelling in school, becoming a lawyer, and helping others. An inspiring story! And don't miss the documentary called "Crime After Crime" about Josh's experiences as a lawyer, trying to get a woman out of prison.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    This book was difficult to read. Much of it is a chronicle of the consequences of the author's mother's bad taste in men. Also about how she kept herself convinced that her psychic abilities and political views (both of which she attributed her romances to) were more important than taking care of her son. Especially after he and his mother left San Francisco, there were precious few times where he wasn't being either neglected or abused. I don't know if he knows which he preferred; either way, h This book was difficult to read. Much of it is a chronicle of the consequences of the author's mother's bad taste in men. Also about how she kept herself convinced that her psychic abilities and political views (both of which she attributed her romances to) were more important than taking care of her son. Especially after he and his mother left San Francisco, there were precious few times where he wasn't being either neglected or abused. I don't know if he knows which he preferred; either way, his situation was bad. At the end of the book, he brings us up to date on what happened with his life after that, which was all good, so the book ends on a cheerful note.

  14. 4 out of 5

    John Marr

    My favorite paragraph: "The shitters were the communal restroom for the entire (Rainbow Family) Festival and consisted of nothing more than slit trenches carves into the mud with a few logs thrown down to hang your butt off of.... (having to use them) in front of two dreadlocked women crapping while they played Filipino nose flutes, or in the midst of a group of diarrheal bikers, was too great an offense to my dignity." My favorite paragraph: "The shitters were the communal restroom for the entire (Rainbow Family) Festival and consisted of nothing more than slit trenches carves into the mud with a few logs thrown down to hang your butt off of.... (having to use them) in front of two dreadlocked women crapping while they played Filipino nose flutes, or in the midst of a group of diarrheal bikers, was too great an offense to my dignity."

  15. 5 out of 5

    Cheri

    Every time I set this book down, I couldn't wait until I had a chance to pick it up again. The story of domestic neglect/abuse reminded me of Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle, though I was more drawn into Free Spirit than I was into that. The end of the book is written in a different tone than the rest of it, and is occasionally a bit self-congratulatory, but I'm grateful for the introspection and attempts at explanation presented there. Highly recommended. Every time I set this book down, I couldn't wait until I had a chance to pick it up again. The story of domestic neglect/abuse reminded me of Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle, though I was more drawn into Free Spirit than I was into that. The end of the book is written in a different tone than the rest of it, and is occasionally a bit self-congratulatory, but I'm grateful for the introspection and attempts at explanation presented there. Highly recommended.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Alena

    This is a remarkable book: a gripping, psychologically acute coming-of-age story that reckons with family violence and the often-failed utopian vision of 1970s & 1980s American intentional community living. It's also, somehow, very funny, viscerally vivid, and full of heart. There are some scenes that I don't think I'll ever forget. Incredible read. I highly recommend it. This is a remarkable book: a gripping, psychologically acute coming-of-age story that reckons with family violence and the often-failed utopian vision of 1970s & 1980s American intentional community living. It's also, somehow, very funny, viscerally vivid, and full of heart. There are some scenes that I don't think I'll ever forget. Incredible read. I highly recommend it.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Logan Streondj

    Great autobiography of a highly unusual childhood of the child of a hippy witch with a wide range of boyfriends and living situations. There should be a trigger warning for domestic abuse as there is quite a lot of it. Otherwise an interesting insight into a wild life on Earth.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Callie

    Kind of a misleading title in my opinion, itd much more sad and much less "intentional" that I had believed- it's not so much a story of free spirited off grid living than one of a boy in a bad homelife and often fighting destitute poverty. Not bad in itself, but now what i was expecting Kind of a misleading title in my opinion, itd much more sad and much less "intentional" that I had believed- it's not so much a story of free spirited off grid living than one of a boy in a bad homelife and often fighting destitute poverty. Not bad in itself, but now what i was expecting

  19. 5 out of 5

    Esther

    Fascinating story of a boy brought up under incredibly difficult circumstances who came through it all as a fine, upstanding citizen. At time funny, often sad, it was an enjoyable read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sara Goldenberg

    It was weird. Too much about his childhood. I didn’t like it

  21. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    Too painful to read.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    Haunting. Hit too close to home.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Susan Clark

    Thought this was rather sad. I was very surprised Claudia and Josh made such a quick return to civilization.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Marie

    http://www.mariesbookgarden.blogspot.... When I first chose this book, I thought Joshua Safran was one of the Safran Foer brothers. I'd read Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, and later on read Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. From what I can tell, there is no relation whatsoever, but "Safran" must be a relatively common Jewish name (as is "Joshua"). I'm so glad I found this book anyway! Joshua Safran, an award-winning attorney who has committed his career to combatting do http://www.mariesbookgarden.blogspot.... When I first chose this book, I thought Joshua Safran was one of the Safran Foer brothers. I'd read Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, and later on read Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. From what I can tell, there is no relation whatsoever, but "Safran" must be a relatively common Jewish name (as is "Joshua"). I'm so glad I found this book anyway! Joshua Safran, an award-winning attorney who has committed his career to combatting domestic violence, tells the story of his childhood. This book was born when he represented a battered woman who had been serving life in prison for killing her batterer. This case resonated with him, as he realized he had a story to tell about his own experiences. Safran's mother ("Claudia") was a counterculture feminist artist/activist, and when he was four years old, they left Haight Ashbury in San Francisco and hit the road. He was raised in an extremely open, permissive home and "homeschooled." He heard his mother having sex with her lovers. He felt inadequate because he didn't have a vagina. They hitchhiked all around the west coast (mostly in Washington state), constantly seeking a true intentional community--utopia. Safran's village of parents were not necessarily related to him--he had a few positive role models along the way, but none of them were ideal. Many of his childhood experiences made me squirm with discomfort...being bullied after he puts himself in a regular school, being completely separated from his mother and nearly sliding down a mountainside or drowned at a hippie festival, or careening up a mountain with a drunk driver (his stepdad). But as much as his mother was proudly independent and strident in many ways, she ended up with loser after loser. (His father wasn't actively in the picture.) The last one--who she married--was physically abusive. Safran observed the abuse and felt humiliated for not supporting his mother and stopping her attacker. This book, more than any other I've read, describes well what it's like to be in a home full of domestic violence. Joshua Safran constantly yearned for a "normal life," but wasn't able to find this until he'd graduated from college, married someone who also was raised in a hippie home, reconnected with Judaism, and creates his own family. Now he's a practicing Orthodox Jew, husband and father, and attorney. He's written the story of his childhood with his mom's permission. It's a story of redemption and discovery in spite of a very difficult beginning. This book brought me to tears at the end...especially this paragraph: "People sometimes ask me: If you could do your childhood all over again, would you grow up in the cushy suburbs you always dreamed of? And I always give a complicated answer. As a father, I have done everything in my power to give my children the stable, secure, and comfortable childhood I never had. But I also recognize that while my early life was difficult, I received an unconventional and powerful education that taught me self-reliance, righteousness, and empathy like no other. In the end, I would rather slog back down those trails at my mother's side again. There are many ways to judge a mother, but I think the best way is to look at the man her son grew up to be." As a mother of three sons who sometimes doubts her own parenting strategies and patience (who doesn't?), this is reassuring and touching. And the way Safran has dedicated his work to helping women who are unable to help themselves is the most inspiring of all. I'm a hippie at heart, but this book shows the dark side of living off the grid and on the edge of mainstream culture...especially for children. Safran is already working on a sequel and his mother, Claudia Miriam Reed, is writing her own book.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Danna

    Joshua Safran's Free Spirit is a heartbreakingly hilarious memoir of his bizarre and slightly tragic childhood. Joshua was born in the San Francisco 1970s to Claudia, a fiery feminist deeply immersed in the counterculture revolution. As a mother, Claudia aimed to instill her beliefs in Joshua, teaching him from a young age about women's rights, nuclear power plants, and the evil politician Ronald Reagan. Everything about their life was alternative: Claudia dragged Joshua from one commune to the Joshua Safran's Free Spirit is a heartbreakingly hilarious memoir of his bizarre and slightly tragic childhood. Joshua was born in the San Francisco 1970s to Claudia, a fiery feminist deeply immersed in the counterculture revolution. As a mother, Claudia aimed to instill her beliefs in Joshua, teaching him from a young age about women's rights, nuclear power plants, and the evil politician Ronald Reagan. Everything about their life was alternative: Claudia dragged Joshua from one commune to the next, sometimes urban, sometimes rural. They went 4 years without a toilet or electricity. And the string of characters that surround Josh's childhood are wildly entertaining and often terrifying. Take, for instance, Crazy John, "a white ape-man [who] stumbled out of the bushes...completely naked and bushy clumps of red hair bulged out of his head, eyebrows, jaw, and genitals. His body was littered with pine needles, cedar sprays, and dirt" (141). Rather than run, Claudia approaches Crazy John, befriends him, and allows him to sleep naked in their car for months. And, the ironic thing is, Crazy John is one of the less crazy people who enters Josh's life. Free Spirit is Josh's tale from childhood to adolescence, with just enough adulthood in the last few pages to give us a sense of how he turned out. I loved this book, and often laughed out loud at his childhood diatribes on nuclear winter and equality for blacks and women. For example, take his school lunchtime conversations with Misty, a fellow elementary schooler: '"Misty, did you know all the corporations are making the sky poisonous?' 'I got a lemon-like sucker at the bank yesterday and two gumballs.' 'Banks put all their money into nuclear holocaust development.' 'I watched Bambi on TV after church.' 'I never saw it but my mom told me thy Bambi is really sexist. Girls should be able to save themselves. The worst thing a boy can be is macho. The worst thing.' 'My big sister, Krista, came home from the rodeo after curfew last night. It was past my bedtime, but I was still awake, and she got into a huge argument with my mom, but then they said they loved each other and they loved Jesus. And I know Jesus loves them.' I didn't really understand what a curfew was, although I was vaguely aware Somoza's death squads imposed them on the barrios in Nicaragua" (103). The conversation continues to deteriorate from there. Claudia is a lovable and infuriating mother. You know she means well, and some of her radical characteristics are endearing (e.g. trying to be a lesbian because heterosexuality isn't feminist enough, and feeling like a failure every time she has sex with a new man). But sometimes you want to shake her and shout that all her liberalism is ruining her son's life. This book is not for the prudish or the conservative. If you're a Jewish New Yorker with two parents who lived in San Francisco during the '70s (e.g. me), then this book might be a perfect read for you. Favorite conversation: "'Claudia, what was that thing he said we were?' 'What thing?' 'There was something he knew we were. Because of my nose.' 'Oh, Jews?' 'Yeah. What is that?' 'I never told you we were Jewish?' 'No. What is it?' 'Jews, you know like Einstein, Freud, Marx.' Being my mother's son, I knew who those men were. But I didn't see the connection. 'Like we're related to them?' 'Sort of.' And then she gave me a very Jewish answer: 'You know, Joshey, I don't exactly know what it means to be Jewish. We'll have to go to the library and look it up'" (223).

  26. 4 out of 5

    Orbs n Rings

    A remarkable memoir of the strength and survival of a little boy. Free Spirit is an incredible memoir and the most highly intense I have come across in all my memoir reviews. The story of Joshua Safran, aka Joshy, begins when he is just four years old and his mother Claudia takes him on the road in search of the perfect life and commune. This left them living in deplorable conditions with a constant struggle for shelter, food and medical care. Some of their living arrangements included a van, tra A remarkable memoir of the strength and survival of a little boy. Free Spirit is an incredible memoir and the most highly intense I have come across in all my memoir reviews. The story of Joshua Safran, aka Joshy, begins when he is just four years old and his mother Claudia takes him on the road in search of the perfect life and commune. This left them living in deplorable conditions with a constant struggle for shelter, food and medical care. Some of their living arrangements included a van, trailer/ice cream truck, bus, and in the woods in a lean-to on a stump. Toward the end of the book Joshua finds some deliverance from his oppression when his mother and him move into a rat infested apartment. Joshua is happy to at least have running water and electricity. But that was a short-lived relief as the man his mother chose to marry continued his mental and physical abuse of this mother and Joshua. At times I could I feel Joshua's pan and distress, even becoming angry with his mother for not protecting her young son, especially because his mother lacked sound judgment. Other times I was left feeling sorry for her as she seemed trapped and brainwashed by her lover. While her abuse and use of drugs was no excuse for the neglect of her son, her immaturity was very clear. Having children of my own including a son, I felt angry and sad when Joshua was bullied immediately on his first day of school and wished I had been there to protect him. Yet I also felt his determination to keep going to school, considering his circumstances which at that time included living in a shack on a bunch of stumps. At those times he struggled to do his homework, while his stepfather sabotaged him and downpours left him soaked through the night, yet he continued to fight for his education. This book and its testimonials are a mixture of happiness, sadness, at time appalling, shocking and disturbing. There are some funny moments in this story, but they are few and far between and I felt Joshua threw in these lighthearted moments at times to disperse and make sense of the craziness. This is one of those stories that made me take a look at my own life, taking into perspective how lucky I have been considering my own childhood abuse. As well as years during my first marriage when I was immature, naïve and lived through many years of abuse. I felt a close connection to Claudia and found myself taking notice at the end of the book to the timeline, as ironically I was starting my life in an abusive marriage the same year Joshua's and his mother finally freed themselves from their abuser. I was really hooked on this memoir, at times found it very difficult to put it down, mostly because this book is written from the heart and as a reader I could tell these memories in Joshua's past affect him now and will forever. What happened to this little boy not only stunted his childhood it affected and shaped his whole outlook on his adulthood in good ways and in bad. I have nothing but admiration for his intelligence, his strength and for keeping it together through all those years of abuse and neglect, as there is no justification for what he experienced. I am happy he has accomplished all his dreams and that he has chosen to help other victims, but must importantly I am happy that he brought an end to the cycle of abuse in his family.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Penelope Bartotto

    Free Spirit is probably the most powerful book that I have read in a decade. Joshua Safran bares his soul to the reader in every lyrical word that he has written. While I am a few years older than Mr. Safran I lived exposed to the opposite of this saga of his, only because my parents made a significant choice to change their hippie ways prior to my birth... I will admit this, I am an "oops" baby, that was not planned. My parents hitch-hiking and aiming to dodge the draft date that was looming fo Free Spirit is probably the most powerful book that I have read in a decade. Joshua Safran bares his soul to the reader in every lyrical word that he has written. While I am a few years older than Mr. Safran I lived exposed to the opposite of this saga of his, only because my parents made a significant choice to change their hippie ways prior to my birth... I will admit this, I am an "oops" baby, that was not planned. My parents hitch-hiking and aiming to dodge the draft date that was looming for my father, discovered that my mother had gone and gotten pregnant. Decision time. Unlike Joshua's mother though... the man that fathered me and the woman who carried me, came home, married at the courthouse, and I became the daughter of a soldier in Vietnam. Papa made it to his draft date. A different decision would have created a life for me that may have mirrored young Joshua's to a fair extent. Free Spirit is an emotional roller coaster for the reader, and to me a therapeutic expression of the author's need to release the past and move forward with life with no regrets. We see a child who is forced to traverse through some of the cruelest conditions, some serious neglect and a simple lack of true identity. We then are allowed to watch the child grow and discover a new world that smashes everything he has grown up believing to be the truth to scraps of falsehood. The foundation of his world is rocked to the core. Trust, who can he trust? His mother has raised him to believe so many things, banned him from the social network and the dramatic options that the world presented as the eighties decade moved forward. While most of us watched computers become a part of our individual worlds, watched the first music videos on MTV as we enjoyed the progression of cable television... Safran felt honored to be able to simply go to school. Education became an outlet that opened a maze of doors for him, he need only choose which to walk through. The tale being told becomes a continuing journey for Safran as he grows up, but I will admit that my only issue with the book was how abrupt the ending came together. The conclusion about domestic abuse could have been explored further, as could the adulthood stage of Safran's life. I felt he waxed over that area too fast. While the book shows the domestic abuse and how it affects those involved, the theme is lost during the majority of the powerful tale. The original theme seems to be more about the complexity of a child lost due to a parent's life choices. If nothing else, I almost wish that everything up to the epilogue would have been one book, and the Epilogue could have been expanded into another book with more details about Safran's growth, his mother's new decisions and choices, and how he got involved in domestic abuse advocacy. While I understand that some of that is covered in other Safran options, it still is a part of his story that is waiting to be told. Regardless, this book is a must read in my opinion, especially to those who have lived in less than stellar situations as children. I think this book should also find its way onto the shelves of psychiatrists, therapists, hospital behavioral health wards, and clinics for abuse victims. Please, donate a copy... buy a copy, and share this tale of desperation to hope with others.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lloyd Russell

    I'm going to start this review by talking about the very beginning of the book and the very end of the book. To begin with - on page one I issued a very loud "Holy Mackerel!" When you think of The Glass Castle (one of my top 12 all-time), you certainly think about a dysfunctional family. Well, when you read FREE SPIRIT, you might think that Jeanette Walls had a normal childhood. Really. As for the end of the book, literally the last 10 pages, Joshua Safran has given us an epilogue that truly mean I'm going to start this review by talking about the very beginning of the book and the very end of the book. To begin with - on page one I issued a very loud "Holy Mackerel!" When you think of The Glass Castle (one of my top 12 all-time), you certainly think about a dysfunctional family. Well, when you read FREE SPIRIT, you might think that Jeanette Walls had a normal childhood. Really. As for the end of the book, literally the last 10 pages, Joshua Safran has given us an epilogue that truly means something. Many books, both fiction and non-, have epilogues. And, oftentimes, they neatly wrap up the book. In this case, I was absolutely fascinated by what Josh says in these 10 pages. It not only talks about Josh today, but it also tells us how he transitioned from then to now. I'm having a little bit of trouble saying what I mean, but, trust me, you will be blown away by the book and maybe even more blown away by the epilogue. Between the beginning and end, there is, of course, a whole bunch of stuff about Josh's childhood. And I have to admit being a little bit smug that my own son, Josh, did not go through what Josh Safran went through (I think that's true - you'll have to ask my Josh for verification). It's amazing that Josh Safran got through it and became the family man and crusader for women's rights that he is today. You want a Goodreads plot? Fugetaboutit. This is a book you just have to read. There are no spoiler alerts here. But I want to point out, and then emphasize, that this is a very well-written book. Because of the nature of the story, maybe Josh could have gotten away with less skilled prose. But, instead, his writing is excellent. A couple of examples: In his 1st experience with a popsicle, or any food that is not all-natural, he says: "No, the genuine artificial article, glowing in unnatural colors and brimming with ingredients like FD&C Yellow No. 5 and enough preservatives to embalm a mammoth." When Josh's mom, Claudia, gets a phone call that Leopoldo (her husband) is in jail, Josh says: "The phone went limp in my mother's hand. She rolled her head back and exhaled like she was giving birth to a nightmare." The book is not all shock & awe and gloom & doom. There is a segment where a Canadian border agent tries to get Josh's last name. This is a scene right out of the famous Abbott and Costello routine, Who's on First." Very well done. Besides a few humorous moments, there are also (not surprisingly) some very poignant ones. Josh realizes that with so much dysfunction, there has to be a few spots where his readers can take a breath. I give him strong kudos for that. And, finally, because some of this book takes place in the Bay Area, I get to relate to people and places that Josh talks about. One is the Hare Krishnas (look them up). They were big at Cal Berkeley when I was there in the late '60's-early '70's. Josh encountered them in the late '70's, when they were still prominent in the Bay Area. And Josh mentions Gilman Avenue, in Berkeley. I grew up in Albany, a couple of blocks from Gilman. I was on that street all the time. Very cool. That's it. Read this book. You will thank me - and curse me - for it.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    If you ever thought that a child has very little memory of his early life and that he is not actively involved in problem solving in his environment, you will change your mind when you read this book. Joshua Safran was raised by a mother who was a bisexual witch whose behavior was affected by drug use, the hippie culture and a search for a government-free utopia. She wanted a child in order to receive welfare benefits. She was also a drifter, chasing dream after dream, and living in vans, tarp sh If you ever thought that a child has very little memory of his early life and that he is not actively involved in problem solving in his environment, you will change your mind when you read this book. Joshua Safran was raised by a mother who was a bisexual witch whose behavior was affected by drug use, the hippie culture and a search for a government-free utopia. She wanted a child in order to receive welfare benefits. She was also a drifter, chasing dream after dream, and living in vans, tarp shelters, and overcrowded immigrant slums. In many cases, Joshua would wake up from his soaked "bedding" on the ground, steal blankets and food and not be seen by his mother for days. These experiences occurred before the age of 6. His mother considered school an establishment indoctrination and "home-schooled" him with her liberal political ideas. From these experiences, he gained an appreciation for literature while lacking grounding in mathematics and science. The greatest trauma in his life occurred when his mother brought home an abusive alcoholic liar who was trying to obtain residency in the US to avoid being deported to Central America. She believed his story of being involved in revolutionary activities that would cost his life if he returned. She was beaten horribly and regularly while justifying his behavior to Joshua as a result of his horrible torture. In reality, he had a wife in Central America. He did not want to work and rarely kept a job for a few days. His mother married this man in order to help him qualify for US residency but lost her welfare benefits as a result, and their poverty increased. By the age of 12, Joshua had attempted to attend school under extremely difficult circumstances, with no running water, electricity, heat, warm clothing, adequate food, etc. He determined to set his mother free from this man and confronted him in a fight. This was the breaking point for his mother. Even though she was a vegetarian out of compassion for animals, she allowed a man to mistreat her. But she would not allow her son to be beaten. They escaped from the home that night. The life Joshua endured could have destroyed him. But the rest of the book talks about the amazing recovery of Joshua and his mother, with both of them with university degrees and successful careers. The account of the emotional damage done to Joshua is amazing in its detail. Joshua recalls the thoughts and plans and decisions that he was forced to make that no child should be responsible for. It is also amazing in that so much emotional pain was buried and only came back to him while he was doing pro bono work to free an abused woman from jail. It is amazing because he was able to get healing and wholeness, marry and have a warm stable family despite having no male models in his life. It is also amazing because he writes this book with his mother... instead of being bitter, and rejecting her, he focuses on the good that came from his unusual life at "home". It is a story of victory that few of us would be able to write... Joshua Safran is an amazing man. It is also

  30. 5 out of 5

    Alyx Walker

    Joshua's vivid memories and rhythmic storytelling made me somehow in disbelief that he lived this while also living it with him as he recounted his tales. Joshua's vivid memories and rhythmic storytelling made me somehow in disbelief that he lived this while also living it with him as he recounted his tales.

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