Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My Gentle Barn: Creating a Sanctuary Where Animals Heal and Children Learn to Hope; Ellie Laks

My Gentle Barn; Ellie Laks
Harmony Books - 2014

My Gentle Barn, a memoir, tells the story of Ellie Laks’ troubled childhood, feeling misunderstood and abandoned by her Jewish Orthodox parents and sexual abused by baby sitters. She relates that her early love of animals, to which she turned to for solace, helped to heal her emotional pain. From an early age Ellie had a dream to rescue neglected and abandoned animals. She wanted other troubled children to have a place to go where animals could help to heal their hurts.
According to the author, the Gentle Barn began one a small scale in an effort to rescue homeless and neglected dogs, right in her own backyard . Later she expanded her rescue to include pigs, goats and cows and quickly outgrowing her initial quarters. She was able to purchase a much large, more appropriate property, in part, thanks to a trust fund. This new property allowed her to continue her mission of helping more animals and healing more children. In 1999 the Gentle Barn animal sanctuary in Santa Clarita, California has open to the general public and has been helping animals and healing at-risk children. In a NY Times article, I read that according to Ellie’s husband, it takes about $50,000 a month to operate the Gentle Barn. The money has come from individual donations, through the Gentle Barn website, as well as from private family donations, corporate grants and foundations. Major donors have included Ellen DeGeneres, Toyota, CBS, William Morris Endeavor and Princess Cruises.
When asked early on why she does what she does, she replied, “You don’t understand. I’m not saving the animals; they’re saving me." Her stories about nursing the rescued animals back to health from deplorable conditions seemed genuine and heartfelt, and her love and concern for the animals welfare admirable. I loved her devotion to help troubled kids and how she was able to get some of them to trust through their interactions with the animals.
Although her memoir is inspiring and she is to be commended for her work, I never felt any sympathy for Ellie. Yes, she claimed her childhood was difficult, and the path to the Gentle Barn, involved lots of stumbling blocks. She also made a lot of bad decisions in her life. She spent 3-years as a crack addict, married, divorced, had unplanned pregnancies, remarried and ended up with significant financial issues.  Some of her recantations just did not ring true for me, making me wonder whether parts of the memoir might have been embellished or even fabricated.  
After finishing this memoir, a book which I am happy that I read, I started “googling" The Gentle Barn and Ellie Laks” and came across (2) interesting links which made wonder about the validity of what I read in this book. I think that while The Gentle Barn is and continues to do good work, there may be another side to the story which the reader has not been privy to.  One of these links of concern was posted by the author’s own brother in response to this memoir. View HERE.
The other link is from a blog post on another animal advocate’s website. View HERE.
I guess readers will be left to form their own opinions.  One thing I do know is that I’d love to visit The Gentle Barn. As a lover of all animals, I’m pretty sure I would love spending a day there.
4/5 stars (eGalley and audiobook)

8 comments:

  1. I love animals and memoirs so thought I might like this book until I read that review by the author's brother. All I can say is wow!

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    1. I know, now even though I liked the book, I'm not sure what to believe:(

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  2. I am an animal lover and former rescuer but I don't think I will read her book based on the conflict in her memoir.

    However, I applaud and appreciate her work. I've heard of the sanctuary on the Ellen show. She and Portia donate a lot of money there and sponsor some of the large animals that they can't home themselves, but pay for their care at the Gentle Barn. Good review--thanks, Diane!

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  3. This sounded like it would be good at the start, but I tend to shy away from memoirs with unreliable narrators. This one unfortunately sounds like just such a memoir.

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    1. "Unreliable narrators", yes, that is how I feel now, but still enjoyed the listening experience...weird huh?

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  4. I am undecided too, but rescue work sure isn't easy.

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    1. That's why I feel torn Brian, I know she does good work, but just got a funny feeling that she embellished a lot or misrepresented things.

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  5. I have this book on the way and now I'm really curious about it! Great review :)

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