A teen’s struggles with homelessness become more complicated when her mother disappears.
Mattie Rollins, a mixed-race (black/white) 16-year-old, does all she can to take care of her 6-year-old sister, Meg, while their white mother works and attends school. Sharing an apartment with their mom’s boyfriend helps to make ends meet, but that changes abruptly when he beats their mom during a fight and they are forced to flee, ending up living in their car. Mattie tries hard to keep her grades up and remain focused, but the indignities of their situation interfere with normal life, especially when Jack, a white classmate, tries to make a connection. Jack is persistent and eventually becomes an important friend. The girls spend their after-school time in the public library. When their mom doesn’t pick them up one evening, Mattie is distraught, but she puts on a brave face for Meg, even panhandling to get bus fare. Finally, she realizes her mother didn’t just leave them but is in danger. This stark look at the problems of one vulnerable family drives home how difficult life can be for young people on the street. Mattie is smart and resourceful, fortunate to find allies, and still has difficulties. The story portrays a system that is unforgiving of bad luck and the poor decisions of a single mom without extended family.
Straightforward prose and sympathetic characters serve the narrative and arouse empathy. (author’s note) (Fiction. 12-18)