Power of Being Seen
I The Power of Being Seen by Roger Saillant is a coming-of-age memoir based on his
experiences as a foster child on a farm in the Doylestown area in the 1940s and
1950s. By the time he arrived on the McClelland farm at age four, he had already
lived with several other families, experienced the death of a foster father, and
been evaluated as “lacking in promise” by his case workers.
He was expected to work on the farm, which he did at the expense of a more
normal childhood filled with sports and other fun activities. His performance in
the one-room schoolhouses through sixth grade attracted the attention of his
teachers who saw promise in him. They encouraged him “to strive to be a better
person every day.” The book is filled with recognition for those elementary school
teachers and those he met in his days in Central Bucks High School (today Central
The author was able to convey the frustrations he felt as a child without allowing
them to impede his growth as a person. There are anecdotes in the book that are
sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always depicting a child trying to find a
path toward a better life. He describes his complex emotions in an honest and
enlightening conversational style.
The author does an excellent job showing how the foster care system and
subsistence farming operated at the time. Children were given a home, and
farmers were given a fee with the added benefit of free labor.
Throughout the memoir, it is apparent that adults who really “see” marginalized
children can make an enormous difference in their lives and guide them to a
productive future. For example, the Robert W. Pierson family of Buckingham saw
the situation that Roger was in and took him into their family midway through his
junior year in high school. They influenced and supported him to attend college,
get a PhD in chemistry, and live a productive life.