Almost Home by Joan Bauer
Sugar’s life hasn’t been easy. Her father, Mr. Leeland, has gambling debts, but her mother, Miss Reba, continues to let him back into their lives, usually with disastrous consequences. The one man she could count on, her grandfather King Cole, died, but left her with great words of wisdom she can apply to everyday situations. She’s also found a mentor in Mr. Bennett, her English teacher, who realizes what a gifted writer she is, and encourages her to stay strong and go after her dreams.
When her father’s debt forces Sugar and Reba out onto the streets, the mother-daughter duo, along with their recently adopted stray dog, Shush, discover life isn’t easy on the road. They initially stay with family, but soon realize they’ve over stayed their welcome, and give life at a shelter a go. Reba believes there’s a job waiting for her in Chicago, so she packs the family up once more. However, when they get there, they soon realize things aren’t going exactly as planned.
Sugar is forced to summon her inner-most strength, and the support of a loving foster home, when Reba lands in a hospital to deal with the physical manifestations of her stress. She’s determined to keep her family together, while still trying to figure out what her place in the world actually is.
There’s no doubt that Sugar is a remarkable character. She describes herself as 12 going on 20, and that’s the best way to display her abundant maturity, even in the face of harsh situations. She’s also a talented writer, and the text is interspersed with her poetry, which acts to further develop her character, as we get keen insight into her inner thoughts and feelings. She also displays a knack for dealing with both humans and animals, as shown in her ability to convince people to help her out and turn Shush from a scared puppy into a loveable pet.
With homelessness on the rise in the United States, Bauer has definitely chosen a timely topic. By creating the story around Sugar, she shows young readers who may be experiencing similar situations that they aren’t alone, that a positive attitude and hard work can be beneficial, and that things will eventually work out, whether as they originally had hoped or not. Definitely add this title to your shelves.
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