Rated 5 stars *****. 2019. Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin Random House). 187 p. (Includes “Glossary” and “Author’s Note.”)
Eleven-year-old Viji and twelve-year-old Rukku’s mom was abused by her husband, but always believed him when he said he was sorry. Viji knew Rukku had special needs, and had always taken care of her older sister but, when her father hit them in a fit of rage, she knew they’d have to run away.
With nowhere to go and only a bit of money, they bus to the city where Rukku becomes attached to a homeless puppy, and they become friends with two homeless boys living on a bridge. There they build their own ramshackle tent, and the boys help her forage for recyclables in stinking trash dumps with other homeless children that they sell for pittances.
Hunger dulls their strength but, as time passes, the four forge strong bonds of friendship. Though they wind up living on a grave under a tree in a cemetery after marauding men destroy their home on the bridge, Viji tries to keep believing in her dream of becoming a teacher. Each day of looking for food in trashcans, and hoping to earn money on the dump, makes her dream seem impossible.
This moving story, based on real children’s first-person accounts, is an eye opener for many who might be unaware of the plight of over 1.8 million children living on the streets of India, working and eating from its many garbage dumps while trying to avoid abuse and slavery.
Recommended for ages 10-14.
Rated 5 stars ***** ebook. Lake Union Publishing. 2019.
A hit-and-run driver killed Chance, Jess’s 8-year-old son eight years ago leaving her devastated and feeling as if life isn’t worth living. When Jess leaves town to start fresh elsewhere, her car breaks down in a small mountainside town. There she’s invited to be a caretaker to an older woman named Lucy who has a way of knowing things that are going to happen. She believes Jess and a ghostly little boy are “loose ends,” something she has to fix.
Fifteen-year-old Star has been living on the streets for months, after running away from a foster home. When a strange older woman calls her a “loose end” and arranges for her to get a bus ticket to a small, out-of-the way town, Star is dumbfounded. When she arrives Lucy convinces her to stay for a little while. Though Star has tough street bravado, she feels herself melting into the kindnesses offered by Lucy.
In alternate voices Jess and Star tell their stories of loss and fear, with a dose of hope. Readers will become invested in their lives, hoping for their “loose ends” to be tied up so they could have hope filled new lives.
Recommended for Adults.
Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Ebook. Ballantine Books. To be published February 7, 2017.
Kailey loved Ryan, her handsome and rich fiancé who she’d been dating for 4 years. Though secretly still in love with a man from her past, they were set to marry. The day she runs into a homeless man she recognizes as Cade, the love of her life who had disappeared years earlier, her life forever changes.
Through flashbacks, readers are shown their love story, setting the stage for Cade’s disappearance and Ryan’s appearance in Kailey’s life. The more she remembers the former life she had with Cade, the more she begins to question her life with Ryan. Should she give up an old love for a new one? Could she learn to live a new life and leave her old one behind?
As Kailey debates what to do, readers easily split into Pro Ryan or Pro Cade camps. The decision is not as hard as Kailey makes it out to be; she’s just too dense to figure it out as fast as I did. In the midst of trying to understand what happened to Cade, I couldn’t figure out the point of all the “cloak and dagger” mysteries around him. “Always” was okay but was a bit too predictable, with a few too many loose ends, for me to rate it higher than three stars.
Recommended for Adults who don’t mind the occasional “huh?” thrown into their reading.
I received an Advance Reading digital copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 13, 2016. Abrams. 316 p. (Includes Glossary as well as a list of Places and proper names.)
Sungju lived with his father and mother in a fine apartment in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. His father held a high office in the army and, as devout followers of esteemed leader Kim Il-sung, Sungju and his parents had a happy, easy life. Expected to follow in his father’s footsteps, Sungju went to a very good school and studied tae kwon do with other future leaders of the military.
In 1997, his father was kicked out of the army for unknown reasons. Forced to move to the slums of the town of Gyeong-Seong, life rapidly deteriorated. With hunger as their constant enemy, his father, soon followed by his mother, left in search of food. At the age of twelve, Sungju was left to fend for himself.
In his own words, Sungju tells how he learned to survive on the streets of various cities for four years with his gang of street “brothers,” despite starvation, beatings, and imprisonment. The story of their friendship and love, along with Sungju’s musings on governmental policy, hope, and Korean legends are woven together to create a powerful story of survival that will tug at reader’s heartstrings.
Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.
Rated 1 star * ARC. Published April 12, 2016. Abrams.
Vivian was 15 when her 17-year-old sister Audra disappeared. She knew Audra was unhappy with society, technology, school, herself, her parents and life in general but always knew they had a special bond like Beezus and Ramona in Beverly Cleary’s old books. She was sure Audra would come back for her. When Audra finally returned to get her, she had a friend named Henry who knew all about how to forage and live in the woods.
Now a threesome, Vivian has to get used to sharing her sister while also learning Henry’s rules and ways of homeless life. Though she misses her parents, she loves Audra, and will do anything for them to stay together as a family.
I thought this book was very strange. Vivian’s notebook was weird as well as the fact that both she and her sister’s disappearances didn’t merit much police attention. It was also strange that her parents didn’t seem too affected, and that they were able to hide in plain sight and survive as street urchins for so long. As I forced myself to keep reading I kept thinking, “thank goodness I didn’t actually have to pay for this book.”
Though I didn’t care for it, I’ll leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.
Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. DCI Lorraine Fisher #2. 2015. Crown (Random House.)
Detective Inspector Lorraine Fisher planned to have a nice vacation with her sister Jo and nephew Freddie in her childhood country home. Though surprised to find Freddie moody and uncommunicative, she brushes off Jo’s concern he might be suicidal because their neighbor Simon and 5 others killed themselves 18 months earlier. Jo is certain the recent suicide of Dean, a homeless teen motorcyclist, would lead to more suicides.
When an autistic neighbor shows her a drawing he made of the accident, showing there had been two people on the motorcycle when Dean died, Lorraine’s interest is piqued. Soon Lenny, another homeless teen, commits suicide and Freddie disappears, leaving Lorraine to find out what happened. What she doesn’t know is that someone has been very clever and will stop at nothing, even murder, to keep secrets hidden that will turn the town upside down.
This whodunit kept me biting my nails and sitting on the edge of my seat in anticipation as Hayes cleverly dropped clues about various key characters. Just when I was convinced I knew what happened, she threw a very clever curveball that left me scratching my head in disbelief. Hayes is an author who does not disappoint, and I look forward to reading more of her books.
Though this book was the second in a series about Detective Lorraine Fisher, it stands alone as each book has its own storyline.
Highly recommended for Adults.
Rated 4 stars **** ARC. Published July 28, 2015. MIRA.
Heidi and Chris Wood had a good marriage until cancer and the loss of her future family took away her dreams. She immersed herself in caring for others through charitable work, longing for the closeness she used to have with her only daughter Zoe who was now a teenager and confided only in her best friend Taylor.
Chris and Zoe were used to Heidi’s many lost causes, but were still shocked when she invited Willow, a homeless teenager, and her baby Ruby to live with them. Willow is very secretive about her past, and the Woods don’t press her, but are sure she is hiding something. However they soon find out the biggest secrets may be those you tell yourself.
“Pretty Baby” was definitely a page-turner as Chris, Heidi and Willow told their stories, but I felt the author did an injustice to Zoe. She picked at her food, barely ate, and was always cold, all signs of anorexia. I thought Heidi’s best friend Jennifer might have noticed something and was trying to talk to Heidi about it, but Heidi was in her own world. Zoe was left to drift at the edges of Chris and Heidi’s worlds; while I felt her obvious need to be noticed should have been one of the stories explored in the book.
Despite this observation, I highly recommended this book for Adults.