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The Women Who Raised Me

by Victoria RowellAmistad; $14.95

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Most reports that chronicle life in U.S. foster care--whether the latest sensational news headline or Nina Bernstein's award-winning The Lost Children of Wilder: The Epic Struggle to Change Foster Care--focus on the problems. Victoria Rowell's memoir, The Women Who Raised Me (Amistad; $14.95), is a breath of fresh air, an ode to her foster mothers. This is no tale of woe but a celebration of life.

Emmy-award winning actress Rowell, seen for years in the daytime drama The Young and the Restless, became the state of Maine's case number 19267-C the day she was born. She would remain in foster care until she was 18. Unlike many who grow up in foster care and eventually age out of the system, Rowell blossomed.

As the title suggests, The Women Who Raised Me tells not just the author's story, but pays tribute to a parade of foster moms. First came Bertha C. Taylor, whom Vicki (as she was then called) remembers waltzing her around the house, singing to her. Agatha Wooten Armstead ("Ma"), who also raised Rowell's two older sisters, was perhaps the most influential. She nurtured Vicki's dream to become a dancer from the day the six-year-old saw a ballerina on TV--and wore holes in her sneakers trying to stand on her toes. Rowell eventually danced with American Ballet Theater's Studio Company.

Rowell has since served as spokesperson for Casey Family Services and founded Rowell Foster Children's Positive Plan (, a nonprofit that provides cultural scholarships to foster kids. She sees herself as repaying a debt to her social workers, to Maine's foster system, and to all of her remarkable mothers. As she proclaims, "I was never meant to be raised by one mother, but by many."

Reviewed by Lois Gilman, author of The Adoption Resource Book (HarperCollins).

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