by Bridget Farr
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
Pavi Sharma, 12 years old, is finally in a foster home that feels more home than foster. (Her dad is out of the picture and her mom has some undisclosed mental illness – possibly bipolar disorder or something similar.) Pavi gets along really well with her foster brother, Hamilton, who is in the same grade at school (and many of the same classes), and her foster mom, a single mother and a teacher in the same town (possibly the same school?) seems pretty great. Pavi even sort of gets along with Hamilton’s best friend, Piper, at least most of the time. And she’s got a steady business advising newcomers to Crossroads, the foster care nonprofit that she’s passed through before and knows all the staff. Her clients gain her insider knowledge on the foster home they’re heading to before they get there, and they repay her in school supplies and Hot Cheetos. But when Pavi meets a 5-year-old girl heading to Pavi’s first traumatic foster home, she feels compelled to intervene – even if it means dragging along Hamilton, Piper, and her newest client, Santos, and letting her schoolwork slide, in addition to putting everyone in danger.
I loved Pavi. I loved irrepressible, loyal Hamilton and sullen Santos and even obnoxious Piper. I thought it was very realistic that Hamilton and Piper didn’t know anything about what foster care was like. If I were to knock any points off my rating, it would be for a White author writing from the perspective of a POC. But… Farr’s partner appears to be Indian-American who grew up in the foster care system, so I’ll give her a begrudging pass on that front. I liked that the danger Pavi put herself and others in was realistic and also that it turned out okay (in a not-totally-realistic way). Mostly when tweens keep secrets and try to do things themselves, it feels a little contrived. It feels like they are just stubbornly asserting their independence. But with Pavi, she believed Meridee was in real, actual danger and she told a trusted adult who brushed her off, so she really felt she had to take matters into her own hands. I also enjoyed that Hamilton’s mom had strict rules about him being on social media, and that Piper’s parents did not, and how the kids navigated that (and I was especially impressed by Hamilton’s integrity in general and in that area in particular). As for trigger warnings – the traumatic foster home involved animal abuse and dogfighting.
by Nicole Panteleakos
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
12-year-old Nova is missing her sister, who promised to return before the space shuttle Challenger launches with Christa McAuliffe aboard. As Nova and her newest foster family count down the days until the launch, she writes her sister letters, telling her all about her new family, her new school, and how much she’s looking forward to seeing her sister again. The letters are never mailed, and even if they were, they’re illegible – Nova is autistic and nonverbal (though she can talk a little and make herself understood at times) and her writing “looks like chicken scratches.”
Nova’s foster parents are the only ones outside of her sister who ever knew how smart she was, how she can read and has a rich inner life. She’s obsessed with astronomy and could have answered questions from her special astronomy elective teacher if she’d had a way to communicate. One of her special ed classmates speaks sign language, and I found myself wondering why Nova didn’t. But it’s 1986 and it’s enough of a challenge to get the school to realize she can read.
Nova and her sister had previously lived in many different foster homes since being taken away from their mentally ill mother (possibly schizophrenia is hinted at) when Nova was 5. Their grand plan was to run away once Bridget turned 18 and could take care of them. But now Bridget is gone and Nova doesn’t know where. When the launch comes and goes (with disastrous results), Nova finally comes to terms with the truth about where her sister has gone and what it means for her.
Panteleakos is a special ed teacher with experience in the foster care world. She has a list of credentials as long as my arm and also did a ton of research with other experts. However, she is not herself autistic, and in light of recent scrutiny surrounding the ASD community, I have to remain skeptical unless a member of that community endorses this book.
The other caveat for me was that I would have liked the full lyrics to David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity,” which she quotes throughout the story (sometimes creating significant parts of the plot), which I only sort of know, and which was running around in pieces in my head the whole time.
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
This is my favorite kind of book: a few strong themes running throughout, a nice character arc, and ties up neatly in the end. Seventh-grader Holling Hoodhood is neither Catholic nor Jewish in his Long Island suburb in 1968, meaning that on Wednesday afternoons he is the only kid in his class who does not leave early for CCD or Hebrew School. Instead, he stays the extra couple of hours with his teacher, whom he is sure hates him for making her stay as well. However, as the year progresses, it turns out she doesn’t hate him after all as they study Shakespeare together. Meanwhile, Holling’s sister (whose name, Heather, is annoyingly revealed in such a way that’s supposed to be super meaningful but fell flat for me) declares herself a flower child and runs away with her boyfriend, but not long after calls for bus fare home. While she and Holling have a typical sibling relationship while under the same roof, he sends her the money and goes to meet her bus, which strengthens their relationship. There are a few funny, action-packed scenes involving the class rats who escape their cage, and the Vietnam War affects everyone, including teachers and a Vietnamese refugee student. Holling and his best friend also each start dating, which is all very rated-G. My favorite part of this book was that Holling’s sister keep slamming her door and blasting the Monkees (among other 60’s bands – but I have an affinity for the Monkees).
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
Jackson Hurd’s family takes in a foster boy, Joseph Brook, a couple of years older than Jack. At fourteen, Joseph’s problems seem to have started when he fell in love with a wealthy girl and got her pregnant. Now living a couple of hours away from his abusive father, Joseph’s main goal is to find his baby daughter. All anyone at school knows of Joseph is that he has a daughter and did time for trying to kill a teacher, but Jack and his parents slowly earn Joseph’s trust and hear the whole story. It was a little unbelieveable how Jack and Joseph take to each other, but it was also so sweet that I suspended my disbelief. Joseph also takes to living on a farm and helping with the twice-daily milkings with very few problems. The ending is a tear-jerker and comes at you fast since it’s a slender 180 pages and is a quick read.