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Critical Praise

"Raised by a woman (Claudia, never mom, whose quest to flee modern society survived long after hippie idealism became passé), Safran spent the 1970s and 1980s in communes, cabins, and the occasional bus. The author didn’t regularly attend school until he was 11, when his bucolic upbringing made him a target for bullies. Adding to the misery was Claudia’s big heart and idealism, which allowed for a series of bad relationships, culminating in a tumultuous marriage to an alcoholic ex-Salvadoran revolutionary named Leopoldo. The young Safran can only sit helplessly as this sporadically employed thug regularly beats Claudia, apologizes, and starts the cycle anew. As he gets older, Safran recognizes that education is his way out—and that he can confront Leopoldo. Safran, an attorney, has written a beautiful, powerful memoir that shows how a son and his mother both grew up and survived amid chaos. Even better, he recalls events without condemnation or condescension. This assured debut is reminiscent of David Sedaris’s and Augusten Burroughs’s best work: introspective, hilarious, and heartbreaking."

Publishers Weekly,starred review



"Haunting and beautifully written, Free Spirit draws you into the gritty, white-knuckle ride that was Joshua Safran’s childhood. Spellbinding. A must-read."

— Liz Murray, author of the New York Times bestseller Breaking Night



"Rich in detail, humor, and compassion, Free Spirit is an eloquent coming-of-age story about a mother’s well-intentioned, but flawed, search for utopia and the impact her chaotic journey had on her son. Thankfully, Joshua Safran emerges from his impoverished, rootless childhood resilient, resourceful, and wise. A transformative book."

— Mira Bartók, author of the National Book Critics Circle Award winner The Memory Palace



"Some writers search everywhere for a great story, and others have a great story happen to them. Joshua Safran’s tale of his upbringing among radicals, revolutionaries, and renegades is equal parts hilarious and touching. Strap yourself into the green bus for a whirlwind tour of the American underground through the eyes of an impressionable young storyteller-to-be."

— Thomas Mullen, author of The Last Town on Earth



"Joshua Safran’s Free Spirit provides a mesmerizing coming-of-age story for one of the next generation’s most inspired spiritual progressives."

— Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor, Tikkun, and chair, The Network of Spiritual Progressives




"Free Spirit is a stranger-than-fiction look at an absolutely fascinating childhood."

— Sam Apple, author of Schlepping Through the Alps