Thirteen-year-old white Minto learns the hardships of life in a Canadian shantytown while on the run with her infant nephew.
After helping her sister with an unplanned home birth, Minto’s connection with her nephew, Stevie, feels special. So she’s especially horrified when family problems spur her parents’ decision to enter Stevie into the foster-care system. Minto kidnaps Stevie and takes refuge in Shacktown with Dawn. Dawn, motivated by her own negative childhood experiences as an Ojibwa child in the foster-care system, provides shelter but is soon pulled away by her own family emergency. Alone in the shack, struggling to provide for herself and Stevie, Minto gets some assistance from the ethnically diverse Shackers. But Minto also witnesses the dark sides of homelessness, including drug use, mental illness, and prostitution. Soon disaster strikes when an unstable Shacker kidnaps Stevie. Recovering him (with the implausible assistance of Dawn’s untrained dog as a tracker), Minto realizes that she and Stevie must return home. Richardson tells the story in Minto’s voice, which is characterized by heavily fragmented sentences, and her habit of dropping syllables (“ ’round”; “ ’fore”) is a narrative style that some may find distracting. Such issues as Minto’s attraction to both a female and a male Shacker are left largely unresolved.
Minto’s narration never quite develops the expected emotional resonance considering the novel’s introduction of difficult subject matter. (Fiction. 12-16)