Abandoned at a desert gas station by a mentally unbalanced parent, 12-year-old Liberty uses the animal-survival strategies she’s recorded in her notebook to protect her little sister, Billie, and escape to safety.
An obsessive watcher of National Geographic’s Hunter and Hunted, Liberty sees her world in terms of predators and prey. She and her 8-year-old sister are the prey. After her mother was hit by a car and died, the photographer father they barely knew took them with him. The plan was for a work-and-camping trip, but he turned out not to be up to the stress of caring for children. Stranded in the desert and knowing what every 21st-century American child knows about stranger danger, they can’t ask for help, and Liberty’s view of the people they encounter will encourage readers to share her fears. The desert with its searing heat, stony sand, and venomous inhabitants provides an appropriate setting. Using imagery from the natural world, Liberty describes their journey, fueled by junk food and her fears. It’s not until the end that she realizes that some of these scary people were wishing her well.
Readers familiar with Cynthia Voigt’s Homecoming (1981) will recognize the gripping story arc, but for today’s middle graders, the world has sadly changed. (Fiction. 9-13)