Cover image for The lost daughter
The lost daughter
Publication Information:
New York : Blue Rider Press, c2013.
Physical Description:
304 p. : ill. (chiefly col.) ; 24 cm.
The adopted daughter of Jane Fonda describes her youth in 1970s Oakland, California, her daunting prospects in the face of her dysfunctional biological family, and the ways in which a structured home life enabled her eventual reconnection with her biological family.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 921 WILLIAMS 1 1
Book 921 WILLIAMS 1 1
Book 921 WILLIAMS 1 1

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A daughter of the Black Panther movement tells her remarkable life story of being raised amid violence and near-poverty, adopted as a teenager by Jane Fonda, and finding her way back home.
As she grew up in 1970s Oakland, California, role models for Mary Williams were few and far between: her father was often in prison, her older sister was a teenage prostitute, and her hot-tempered mother struggled to raise six children alone. When Mary was thirteen, a silver lining appeared in her life: she was invited to spend a summer at Laurel Springs Children's Camp, run by Jane Fonda and her then husband, Tom Hayden. Mary flourished at camp, and over the course of several summers, she began confiding in Fonda about her difficulties at home. During one school year, Mary suffered a nightmare assault crime, which she kept secret until she told a camp counselor and Fonda. After providing care and therapy for Mary, Fonda invited her to come live with her family.

Practically overnight, Mary left the streets of Oakland for the star-studded climes of Santa Monica. Jane Fonda was the parent Mary had never had--outside the limelight and Hollywood parties, Fonda was a wonderful mom who helped with homework, listened to adolescent fears, celebrated achievements, and offered inspiration and encouragement at every turn.

Mary's life since has been one of adventure and opportunity--from hiking the Appalachian Trail solo, working with the Lost Boys of Sudan, and living in the frozen reaches of Antarctica. Her most courageous trip, though, involved returning to Oakland and reconnecting with her biological mother and family, many of whom she hadn't seen since the day she left home. The Lost Daughter is a chronicle of her journey back in time, an exploration of fractured family bonds, and a moving epic of self-discovery.

Author Notes

Mary Williams is a writer based in the Southwest. She is the author of the children's book Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan . She has also written for McSweeney's and O, the Oprah Magazine.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Born in Oakland, CA in 1967 to parents active in the Black Panther party, Williams spent her early childhood in Panther community, attending Panther-run schools. With her father in and out of prison, her mother left the Party, her older sister became a crack addict, and life took a decided downturn. Un-til, that is, Mary's uncle-friends with Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden-intervened. As Williams re-members it, Fonda "threw me a lifeline and I grabbed it." Williams moved into the Fonda-Hayden household attempting to assimilate into a new class existence. Her tumultuous life shuffled her be-tween new-found privilege and occasional returns to "the underworld" of an Oakland life she had out-grown. After graduating from Pitzer College, Williams teaches English in Morocco, works for the CDC in Atlanta, and travels to Tanzania. Upon her return she starts the Lost Boys Foundation, funded by the Fonda Family Foundation, before disbanding it in turmoil. Williams remains unfulfilled until she finally realizes that her desire to help others was her "misdirected desire to save [herself]." Though she can be a difficult and occasionally unsympathetic figure, throughout Williams exposes American class and race tensions, having experienced both the luxury of white privilege and the bleakness of ur-ban poverty. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

Williams was a child of Black Panther-era Oakland, with its countercultural challenges to the racial status quo. Her father was a Panther who served time in prison, her mother eventually succumbed to drinking and withdrew from family life, and her sister died a violent death. Traumatized by poverty and neglect at 16, Williams took the opportunity to flee to Santa Monica to live with Jane Fonda, whom she'd known for several years through a summer arts camp. What followed was an extraordinary life of wealth and privilege as she was incorporated into the lives and families of Jane Fonda and Ted Turner. An adventurer and idealist, Williams went on to travel to Africa, start a foundation to benefit the Lost Boys of Sudan, hike the Appalachian Trail, and work for six months in Antarctica, all the while testing herself. But her greatest challenge awaited her back in Oakland. Could she ever reconcile with her biological family and somehow blend them into her eclectic life? Williams' memoir explores both broad social dichotomies and the longing for the closeness of family ties.--Bush, Vanessa Copyright 2010 Booklist

Kirkus Review

A tender memoir of love and redemption. Born during the civil rights movement to Black Panther Party parents, Williams (Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan, 2005) grew up in a tough neighborhood of Oakland, Calif., where "the world was caught up in a swirling storm of violence, revolutionary zeal, sexual freedom, and creative expression." Her father was in and out of prison, her mother struggled with alcoholism, and her older sister became a prostitute, so when Williams was raped, she felt it was almost destiny, that she "had been subtly groomed to be a victim all [her] life. . .I believe I experienced a feeling almost of relief, that this unavoidable event had finally caught up with me." Then actress and activist Jane Fonda stepped in and gave the bright 16-year-old girl a new life. And for 30 years, Williams avoided looking backward to her birth mother and rough beginnings. She worked in Morocco, Tanzania, Antarctica and Alaska. She hiked the Appalachian Trail and mingled on movie sets with Fonda's co-workers. And yet, she never felt quite at peace, as she was still full of repressed anger over the neglect and abuse she received as a child. She struggled "to keep the beast caged" and writes of her feelings in her 40s, "I was an emotional chimera of a two-year-old and a sulking teenager, extremely sensitive to even the most benign criticism or perceived insult." Her anger went outward toward everyone, including Fonda, who had provided so much for Williams. However, Williams' anger could only last so long before she realized she needed to change. In heartwarming prose, the author explains how she eventually reunited with her siblings, their children and finally her birth mother. A compassionate tale of soul-searching and family love.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.



For years I kept my family life a secret from Jane. She knew that I came from a Panther background , but she knew nothing of my mother's drinking, my shrinking family. When I was thirteen that finally changed. The first person I told my full story to was one of my camp counselors. The camp counselor told Jane. Jane asked me if what she heard was true, and for the first time I opened up to her about everything that was going on back in Oakland. Soon after telling her this, Jane invited me to come live with her year-round in Santa Monica. I did not ask my mom's permission. I just left. It was a normal thing in my family to be here one day and gone the next. From my small, run-down house in Oakland, I moved to Jane's hacienda surrounded by flower gardens and avocado trees. Landing on the moon would have been less disorienting. She sat me down soon after I arrived and said, "I see you as my daughter now. If you want, you can call me Mom." I also had new siblings, a brother named Troy, and two sisters, Vanessa and Nathalie. Jane became my greatest friend, my cheerleader, and a dedicated mother. Despite being a busy actress and activist, Jane was home most nights and often cooked dinner for us. Everything was new. Even something as seemingly simple as dinnertime was fraught. I had to prepare myself each night for my confrontation with "white people food"--some of it good (baked Alaska), some not so good (artichokes). And I was shocked to learn that people could disagree or dislike one another and still be civil. Excerpted from The Lost Daughter: A Memoir by Mary Williams All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.