Thursday, September 13, 2012

Review: Almost Home

Almost Home
By Joan Bauer
Expected publication September 13, 2012 by Viking Juvenile

Sugar's life isn't perfect: her father is mostly absent and her mother clings to the idea that he's a good man deep down. But she loves her mother and she is really excited about her sixth-grade teacher. Unfortunately, things are about to get worse - they are so far behind on their mortgage payments that Sugar and her mom are being evicted. Now, Sugar feels like she's wearing a sign that says "HOMELESS GIRL." Can she stay sweet in the face of an awful turn of events?

I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I don't think I've ever read Bauer before. Her books have always looked and sounded appealing; she's just one of those authors I've never gotten around to. I received a digital galley of her newest book recently and eagerly started my first Bauer experience. I'm pleased to say it went well. Bauer has crafted a truly lovely narrator - Sugar Mae Cole. Sugar is sweet (as her name would suggest, but she really is) and optimistic, a gifted poet and a girl old before her time. She sounds authentic as she deals with the tragedy that has become her reality - a shifty, good-for-nothing father, a depressed mother who puts her faith in the wrong man, and the loss of her family's home. Though she struggles, she sees the positive and the surprise arrival of a puppy named Shush help Sugar find some comfort as the life she knows crumbles. This is a book about so many things: homelessness, troubled parents, children who must grow up too fast, the bond between pets and their owners, and finding the sweetness in life. Bauer puts all these things together beautifully in a novel that is appealing, easy to relate to, and incredibly powerful and relevant in today's society. Homeless families make up an increasing percentage of the homeless population in America and kids need to be aware that some of their classmates might be living Sugar's situation. Similarly, the experiences of homeless kids are just as valid and should be reflected in youth literature. I know I've never read another book featuring a young homeless protagonist, but I am glad I have now. One of the things I really liked about this is that Sugar's mother isn't a terrible parent - she has that same sunny optimism that makes her believe Sugar's father will, in fact, be different this time around. And every time he disappoints her, he chips away just a bit of her shine. But otherwise, Sugar's mom is crazy about her daughter and trying her best to make a good life for them. I thought it was great that Bauer didn't just make Sugar the victim of two terrible parents - it adds depth to the story as Sugar tries to understand her mother's unwavering faith in her father. Bauer's novel is heartbreaking but also spirit-lifting and I think kids will appreciate and enjoy reading Sugar's story.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy provided via NetGalley.

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