Replacement Child - a memoir New York Times Bestseller

Judy L. Mandel was born into a family crippled by grief. But it would be years before she would discover the shocking circumstances of their loss.

In her award-winning memoir, Replacement Child - now a New York Times best seller - Mandel tells the true story of a horrifying accident: A plane crashes into a family’s home, leaving one daughter severely burned and another dead. The death of the child leaves a hole in the family that threatens to tear it apart. In an attempt to fill the painful gap, the parents have a “replacement child.”

This powerful tale of love and lies, family and hope, is an intimate account of being brought into the world to provide “a salve for the burns.” As a child, Mandel unwittingly rides the deep and hidden currents of her family’s grief - until her discovery of this family secret, years later, changes her life forever, forcing her to confront the complex layers of her relationships with her father, mother, and sister.

Replacement Child

Judy Mandel tells the story of being the child brought into the world to provide “a salve for the burns.”

Judy Mandel is the replacement child for her sister who was killed. It would be years before she would understand how the tragic accident that happened before she was born shaped her life and her relationships.

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Praise for Replacement Child

Publishers Weekly “. . . Mandel explores how a freak accident altered the fate of her family… By cleverly shifting between recent years and the day of the crash, Mandel weaves together chapters of real and imagined scenes building to the inevitable.

Kirkus Reviews calls Replacement Child “. . . dramatic and resonant.”

“Judy Mandel has transformed her story into a riveting work that touches on the dynamics of all troubled families. She offers an in-depth lok at what it means to grow up a replacement child, an issue never before addressed in memoir, while lifting the veil on the secret nature of grief and the far-reaching effects on tragedy. Her stark honesty and gripping prose make this book a page-turner, with all the tension of a well-crafted novel.” - Kaylie Jones, author of Lies My Mother Never Told Me

“This touching tale of healing and understanding explores the sometimes unconscious expectations of love. . .”
Hartford Magazine

An Excerpt Replacement Child - a memoir

The Elizabeth Daily Journal, Wednesday, January 23, 1952

28 Perish in Airliner’s Fall on Williamson Street Homes . . .

ELIZABETH, N.J.—Elizabeth’s second aviation holocaust in thirty-seven days today had claimed at least twenty-eight lives . . . The ship plunged into the two houses near the southeast corner of South and Williamson streets at approximately 3:45 PM. Before firemen could subdue the roaring, orange flames that leaped nearly 100 feet into the rainy sky, three dwellings and a garage had been destroyed and a fourth house was damaged severely. Nearly a score of persons were homeless.

Killed on the plane were Captain (Thomas J.) Reid and all twenty-two others aboard. Police . . . announced the following list of Elizabeth persons missing and feared dead:

DONNA MANDEL, 7 years old, 310 Williamson Street . . .

The hospitalized Elizabethians and their condition at 8 o’clock this morning at St. Elizabeth Hospital:

LINDA MANDEL, 2 1/2, of 310 Williamson Street, “poor.”

MRS. FLORENCE MANDEL, 35, her mother, shock and burns of both hands, “fairly good.”

. . . Mrs. Mandel picked up Linda, her clothes afire, and rolled her down the stairway to the street, her husband Albert Mandel said. Mrs. Mandel, her own garments ignited, attempted to struggle back into the house to seek Donna but was restrained by an unidentified man.


I was born of fire.

The flames licked my mother’s kitchen clean.

It happened at 3:45 PM on a foggy winter afternoon—January 22, 1952.

The American Airlines Flight 6780 that crashed into my parents’ home at 310 Williamson Street was the second of three crashes in Elizabeth, New Jersey, within three months. Newark Airport was just three miles from their apartment.

I never met my sister, Donna. My other sister, Linda, was burned nearly to death. I was conceived as the salve on the burns, to fill the abandoned chair at the gray Formica table. My place in the family was cauterized by the flames.

This is the story of my family’s trials and triumphs as a result of a tipping of fate, and my own struggle to live up to the role burned into my psyche from the time my mother first dreamed me up as her salvation.

Learn more about Judy's book, White Flag.