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Etched In

Regina Calcaterra’s memoir, Etched in Sand (HarperCollins, 2013) is an inspiring and triumphant coming-of-age story of tenacity and triumph.

Regina Calcaterra is a co-founding partner of a 100% woman owned law firm Calcaterra Pollack LLP. Her painful early life, however, was quite different. Regina and her four siblings persevered an abusive and painful childhood only to find themselves faced with the challenges of the foster-care system and intermittent homelessness on Long Island. A gut wrenching and gripping story, Etched in Sand chronicles Regina’s rising above her past, while fighting to keep her brother and three sisters together through it all.

Beautifully written, with heartbreaking honesty, Etched in Sand is an unforgettable reminder that regardless of social status, one can rise above their past if they have the desire and the determination to succeed.


The middle of five children, Regina, and her siblings, Cherie, Camille, Norman and Rosie were born to the same mentally ill abusive and neglectful mother but all different fathers. Their mothers mental illness, and fathers abandonment, contributed to the families instability. They would constantly move quickly shifting from houses and apartments to trailers, homeless shelters, cars and the streets. Regardless of where they lived, the older siblings would work to make each place they lived a home for the younger siblings. Through Regina’s experiences Etched in Sand chronicles how the siblings lived on the fringe of society as they struggled to survive. All the while avoiding the authorities by keeping a pact that it was better to stay together on their own then be separated and placed in foster homes.

Through Etched in Sand Regina shares the scrappy survival instincts, mishaps, adventures and unbreakable bonds of a group of voiceless parentless siblings.

"Riveting reading from start to finish."

"Courageous and Fascinating...We all have to believe [and] at the end of this unforgettable book, readers will."


Etched in Sand takes the readers through Regina’s experiences in and out of foster care until she ages out at the age of twenty-one. It then moves through her adulthood while unfolding long held family secrets. Themes that are highlighted throughout include:

  • Optimism
  • Resilience
  • Perseverance
  • Self-Determination
  • Impact of kind acts on children in need
  • Vital role of the public library system, public education and the public university system on impoverished children
  • How educators can forever impact transient children
  • Helping those in need so they can one day give back
  • Role of goal setting
  • Determination to succeed regardless of social status
  • Child hunger, poverty, abuse & homelessness
  • Ability of children to cope
  • Sibling bonds
  • Forever parenting older foster children
  • Risk of homelessness for young adults aging out of foster care parentless
  • Foster care system generally
  • A child’s right to now their parentage
  • Breaking the cycle of abuse and homelessness

Teaching & Book Club Guides for Etched in Sand

College Study and Teaching Guide Samples

St. Petersburg College produced an excellent online study and discussion guide for when they chose Etched in Sand for their 2015 all campus reads event. Find it here.

Suffolk County Community College adjunct professor Pam Losquadro produced a chapter by chapter freshman reading class teaching guide where many class hours are dedicated to Etched in Sand. Find it here: etched in sand guided reading questions.

High School Study & Teaching Guide Sample

Lacey Township High School educator Marisa Campbell developed a guide for when she teaches Etched in Sand to her high school students. Find it here. See the final product of some of the assignments that Lacey Township High School students created here.

Teaching & Book Club Guides for Etched in Sand

Etched in Sand1. What was your perception of children on the fringe before reading Etched in Sand? How has it changed? Do you think we, as a society, have the responsibility to reform the welfare system that looks out for them?

2. How does Calcaterra present the dynamic between her siblings and their mother? How does that dynamic shift throughout the book?

3. Are the harrowing stories of abuse and poverty that Regina grew up with in Etched in Sand accessible? How so?

4. “‘I’ll get you back!’ she’s screaming through the car window, but not because she’s lost what matters most to her. It’s because she’s lost her meal ticket.” Regina’s first criticism on the welfare system is wondering how the government can keep giving her mother cash without ever checking where she spends it. How does this tie into Regina’s decision to dedicate her life to public policy?

5. How does the author present the social workers, foster parents, and teachers trying to “help” kids like Regina? Is she critical of them? Why can’t they help a child living on the fringe, like her?

6. Do we feel sorry for Regina and her siblings? Why?

7. What is Regina’s relationship with religion? Is it significant that she does not believe in a god who would allow such terrible things to happen to children, yet collects Jesus figurines for comfort?

8. What roll does literature play in Regina’s life? What about the women she idolizes, like Amelia Earheart? How do these strong women highlight the persistence in Regina’s personality that lets her become so successful in light of the desolate childhood that she had?

9. “Norman and Rosie have always been ‘the kids,’ because they’re ‘the kids’ to our mother. She’ll say, ‘Who’s taking care of the kids?’ and I know she means Norman and Rosie. I have never been a kid.” Considering the adult way that Regina takes responsibility over her younger siblings and the rare but rich moments they enjoyed when they were safe together, did Regina have a childhood? Did any of her siblings? How does this end up tying into the difficulty they have reuniting with Rosie years later?

10. Did Etched in Sand change your idea of childhood, and of family? Did it make you realize something that you perhaps took for granted?

11. What is being a “mother” in Regina’s eyes? Is she a mother? Is Cookie?

12. “To me, being a foster kid is a little bit like being a dog.” What is the author’s attitude towards foster care? Do you think her portrayal is fair, given the fact that she included the first foster family she lived with, who actually treated her quite well?

13. Regina was incredibly quiet in school when she was young. How did she go from “sending signals to others to keep away from [her] so they never find out the truth about [her] life” to publishing a memoir about her entire story?

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