Troubled: A Memoir of Foster Care, Family, and Social Class (Hardcover)

Troubled: A Memoir of Foster Care, Family, and Social Class By Rob Henderson Cover Image
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In this “affecting…intriguing…heartbreaking” (Booklist) coming-of-age memoir, Rob Henderson vividly recounts growing up in foster care, enlisting in the US Air Force, attending elite universities, and pioneering the concept of “luxury beliefs”—ideas and opinions that confer status on the upper class while inflicting costs on the less fortunate.

Rob Henderson was born to a drug-addicted mother and a father he never met, ultimately shuttling between ten different foster homes in California. When he was adopted into a loving family, he hoped that life would finally be stable and safe. But divorce, tragedy, poverty, and violence marked his adolescent and teen years, propelling Henderson to join the military upon completing high school.

A “vivid, insightful, poignant, and powerful” (Nicholas A. Christakis, author of Blueprint) portrait of shattered families, desperation, and determination, Troubled recounts Henderson’s expectation-defying young life and juxtaposes his story with those of his friends who wound up incarcerated or killed.

As he navigates the peaks and valleys of social class, Henderson finds that he remains on the outside looking in. His greatest achievements—a military career, an undergraduate education from Yale, a PhD from Cambridge—feel like hollow measures of success. He argues that stability at home is more important than external accomplishments, and he illustrates the ways the most privileged among us benefit from a set of social standards that actively harm the most vulnerable.

About the Author

Rob Henderson grew up in foster homes in Los Angeles and the rural town of Red Bluff, California. He joined the US Air Force at the age of seventeen. Once described as “self-made” by The New York Times, Rob subsequently received a BS from Yale University and a PhD in psychology from St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge. His writing has appeared in The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalThe Boston Globe, and more. His weekly newsletter is sent to more than fifty thousand subscribers. Learn more at


Praise For…

“A memoir of hardscrabble living, from foster care to the Air Force to Yale…. [Henderson] traces the contours of his remarkable and often-harrowing life, starting with his abandonment by his birth parents after serious mistreatment…. poignantly describ[ing] his rocky journey through numerous foster homes…. Shrewd on the narrowness and hypocrisy of elites… [he] is at his best in the frank observations about his trip up the ‘American status ladder’…. A blunt story about overcoming adversity.” Kirkus Reviews

 “Affecting…intriguing…heartbreaking...This eye-opening account lays bare the realities of America's deep economic and social divides.”

“In his superbly composed memoir, Rob Henderson illuminates an often overlooked segment of our nation. His profound saga — of his struggles as a foster kid attempting to pursue conventional badges of success and coming to realize the importance of family despite never having one — deserves careful attention.”
—Christy Carlson Romano, actress, co-founder of PodCo

Troubled is an extraordinary document. It is a primary account of historical descriptions of life in working and lower middle class America in the late 20th-century. It is time to sit up and listen to the voices of those who have suffered because of the policies of the highly educated and affluent class that validates and affirms the behaviors and attitudes of marginalized children that they would never accept for themselves or their own children. Rob Henderson's story is breathtaking but all too familiar in this county. He reminds us that the child raised with experiences of abandonment and chaos will experience the same in their relationships and employment.”
—Dr. Drew Pinsky, author of The Mirror Effect

“Rob Henderson had an incredibly challenging upbringing—raised as a foster kid in circumstances most children (thankfully) never know. His educational achievements are extraordinary. What’s more extraordinary is that he’s a keen observer of both the world he came from and the world he now inhabits. He has learned the importance of family despite never having one of his own, and he delivers that message in a gripping way. Read this book. It will challenge both your heart and mind. A rare feat.”
—J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy

Troubled reads at times like Hillbilly Elegy or Tara Westover’s Educated…[a] remarkable book.”
—Naomi Schaefer Riley, Commentary

Troubled is vivid, insightful, poignant, and powerful.  Beautifully written, it is a moving memoir, a powerful description of the predicament of countless foster children, and a sophisticated social critique.  Using his own astonishing life as a guide, Rob Henderson sheds light on the plight of foster children and the ways that elites and policy makers often adopt ideas that do not, actually, advance the interests of those who are most vulnerable in our society. Troubled is magnificent.”
—Nicholas A. Christakis, author of Blueprint, and Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale University

A captivating memoir about the travails of foster care, the discipline of military service, the importance of family, and the shock of discovering what has become of elite universities, told with a clear voice and focused determination.”
—Jordan B. Peterson, author of 12 Rules for Life

“This memoir is a profound account of a foster child overcoming severe adversity and achieving the unthinkable. Rob's story reminds us of the resilience of the human spirit against all odds and, most of all, what it means to be human. You will likely cry, feel shocked, yet remain hopeful while reading this heart wrenching book.”
—Yeonmi Park, author of While Time Remains

“[A] breakout memoir…Henderson, a brilliant young psychologist, illumines how harmful childhood instability is by reflecting on his own experience…. His eye is as keen as his intellect.”
Judge Stephanos Bibas, the University of Chicago Law Review
Product Details
ISBN: 9781982168537
ISBN-10: 1982168536
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication Date: February 20th, 2024
Pages: 336
Language: English