In an unnamed city, the son of drug-addicted parents finds a loving foster home, then loses everything.
Part of the publisher's Gravel Road line, which produces a junior version of “urban street lit” aimed at reluctant readers, the book is attractively packaged with a photographic cover, a small trim and plenty of white space on its pages. Sentences are short and vocabulary simple, but narrator TJ's voice is expressive, even though some complexity is sacrificed to move the story forward. TJ's ambivalence toward his family is clear from the first evocative scene, in which a fight between 5-year-old TJ and his father ends in laughter. His relationship to the Hillside Vipers, a gang that recruits TJ when he is 13, also rings true: TJ joins the gang because he is afraid not to. The emotional center of the book is Miss Dixie, the boundlessly warm proprietor of a group home where TJ lives after the state separates him from his family. Although the redemptive relationships TJ builds at Miss Dixie's are compelling, Miss Dixie's promise that TJ “will always have a place here” seems hard to believe, given how many young people need foster care.
Despite a few oversimplifications, this is a thoughtful and accessible story about the many meanings—positive and negative—of family. (Fiction. 12-15)