Two white preteens—one nearly homeless, one affluent—connect in San Francisco.
Abruptly quitting her Chicago restaurant job, Jeanne Ann’s single mom, Joyce, drove the van they now live in to California and parked among the line of vans blocking ocean views for affluent residents, including Cal and his single mom, Lizzie, owner of a trendy vegetarian restaurant. With her prison record and refusal to compromise career goals, Joyce can’t find work. When money runs out, Jeanne Ann sells her beloved books. Hunger sets in; the public restroom’s cold-water tap serves for bathing. Meanwhile, socially awkward Cal pays a price for painting an unauthorized mural at his private school: working at his mom’s restaurant and attending public school. A neighbor, aware that Cal sketches the van dwellers and feeds their meters—helps him slip Jeanne Ann snacks and money. A wary friendship grows. Joyce takes a dishwashing job, Lizzie’s chef takes an interest in Jeanne Ann, and some mansion dwellers plot to evict the van-dwellers. Though Jeanne Ann’s description of food insecurity is haunting, the rambling, far-fetched plot often resembles a clever, extended elevator pitch. Despite manifestly good intentions, little light is shed on income inequality; events are too unlikely, characters too exceptional for readers to recognize or identify with. While “good” adults are interchangeable paragons of quirky wisdom, grumpy-but-interesting Joyce remains frustratingly underdeveloped.
Intermittently intriguing, this overlong, high-concept debut mostly plods. (Fiction. 10-14)