New book reveals that some secrets last a lifetime

A Place Called Home: Memories
By David Ambrose
c. 2022, Legacy Lit/Hachette
$30/384 pages

For David Ambrose, 42, author of a stunning new memoir “A Place Called Home,” one of his childhood memories is of him and his siblings walking with Mary, their mother, on a cold Christmas morning in New York City.

Today, Ambroz, who is gay and a foster parent, is an expert on poverty and child welfare and head of Community Partnerships (West) for Amazon.

But, that morning, Ambroz remembers, when he was five years old, he and his seven-year-old sister Jessica and six-year-old brother Alex were freezing. Mary, their mother was very mentally ill. They were homeless.

Ambroz pulls you into his fiery memory with his first sentence. “I’m hungry,” he writes in the simple, nervous, knowing voice of a malnourished, trembling little boy.

As the darkness grew colder, Ambroz recalls, he walked with his family, wearing “amazingly large” shoes “picked out of the trash.”

Five-year-old Ambroz remembers that the night before his family got lucky. They ate dinner (mac and cheese) at church “with a sermon on the side.”

“We heard the story of the three kings bringing gifts to the baby Jesus,” Ambroz writes.

But the next day they are still homeless and hungry. Talk about not having room in the guest house.

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Young Ambroz does not know the word “death,” but he (literally) worries that he and his family will die. Frozen, hungry and invisible to unsuspecting passers-by.

Ambroz’s mother, who is a nurse, is often employed and can take care of her family in dilapidated apartments. But soon he is caught by his mental illness, he cannot work. Then, his family is homeless again.

Until he was 12 years old, Ambroz and his siblings were abused and neglected by their mother.

Ambroz does not know as a young boy that he is gay. But, he can say he is different. Instead of playing street games with other kids, Ambroz likes to play “doctor” with another boy in the neighborhood.

Mary tells him that being gay is a sin and that you will die of AIDS if you are stupid.

His mother, after deciding that he is Jewish, has Ambroz severely circumcised. At one point, he hits her so badly that she falls down the stairs.

At the age of 12, Ambroz reports this abuse to the authorities and is placed in the foster care system.

If you think this country’s foster care system is a safe haven for our nation’s 450,000 children in foster care, Ambroz will quickly dispel that perception.

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From the ages of 12 to 17, Ambroz is haunted by a series of abusive, homophobic children’s programming.

One set of foster parents try to make him more “vigilant”, they hire him to work for free for their friends and deprive him of food. In another section, the counselor watches and does nothing as other kids hit him while making gay slurs.

Fortunately, Ambrose meets Holly and Steve who become wonderful foster parents. Ambroz has been tortured by hunger for a long time so it is hard to understand that he can eat whatever he wants in their house.

Through hard work, dedication and intelligence, Ambroz earned a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College, was an intern at the White House and graduated from UCLA Law School. Prior to his position at Amazon, he led Corporate Social Responsibility for Walt Disney Television.

But none of this came easily to him. Coming out was difficult for many LGBTQ people in the 1990s. It was especially difficult for Ambroz.

In college, Ambroz is very closed. She is ashamed to reveal anything about her past (growing up homeless and in foster care) and her sexuality.

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At one point, he is watching TV, along with other surprised students, the news comes about Matthew Shepard being killed because he was gay. Ambroz can see that everyone is outraged and horrified by this hate crime. However, she is too shy to reveal anything about her gender.

Over the Christmas holidays, Ambroz decides it’s time to explore his sexuality.

Not to tell anyone, Ambroz takes the train to Miami. There, she goes home with a man (whom she meets on the bus) who rapes her.

“I’m not running in any direction just away from this beast,” he recalls. “When I get back to my hotel room, I’m bleeding…I order food to be delivered but I can’t eat anything.”

“A Place Called Home” has the power of “Letter From Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr. and “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson.

Ambroz’s writing weakens as he delves into the weeds of policy. But this is a minor quibble.

Ambroz is a great storyteller. Unless you have a pulse, you cannot read “A Place Called Home” without wanting to do something to change our parenting system.

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