78 pages 2 hours read

Steve Pemberton

A Chance in the World

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 2012

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Summary and Study Guide


A Chance in the World: An Orphan Boy, a Mysterious Past, and How He Found a Place Called Home is a 2012 memoir by author Steve Pemberton. In three parts, it tells the story of his quest to learn the truth about his past. The book examines themes of identity, abuse, family, racism, and how peoples’ pasts can influence their futures.

Part 1 begins with Steve’s recurring memory of the day that his mother abandoned him and he entered foster care. He was so young that the memory does not include the fact that it was his mother, or that his sister was in the back seat of the car.

Steve is soon in the foster care of the Andrade family. The Andrades are neglectful while he is their ward, and his time with them is brief. The social agency next places him with Betty and Willie Robinson. The Robinsons seem kind at first, and Steve believes he has found a home and a place where people want him. However, Betty and Willie reveal themselves to be monstrously abusive and cruel. The rest of Part 1 details Steve’s struggle to survive in their household and the start of his quest to find his real family.

Part 2 concerns Steve’s attempts to graduate from college, to learn more about his family, and then to reunite with them. He learns that his father was a boxer named Kenny Pemberton, who died violently at the age of 26. Kenny was a heroin user and a violent street enforcer in addition to being a gifted boxer. After he is murdered, someone breaks into the funeral home and sets his body on fire to retaliate for all of the drug dealers he has beaten and stolen from.

With the help of one of his social workers, Steve learns that he has siblings: Marc, Ben, Bernard, and Joni. He also learns that his mother died at age 40 after a string of unsuccessful relationships and severe addiction problems. Meeting his siblings fails to give Steve the closure he wanted. They share different fathers, and he is the only one of them who is mixed race. His sister Joni refuses to talk to him after the first meeting because he is black.

In the final third of the book, Steve marries a woman named Tonya and starts to reconcile with everything he has learned. The family he has been searching for does not give him the fulfillment he always hoped it would. He has learned that his parents abandoned him. Rather than grow bitter, he commits to his life with Tonya and their children. He resolves to help others, just as others have helped him while he searched for answers.

A Chance in the World is highly recommended for fans of memoir, anyone interested in the reform of social services, and victims of abuse who find inspiration in stories of resilient survivors.