“It’s like trying to save the Titanic by bailing water with a teaspoon.” That’s how Annabelle regards her life ever since her mother’s hoarding took over the house and her father left.
The stuff is piled everywhere in the white family’s house: old milk bottles, stacked by long-ago expiration dates; egg cartons; ceiling-high piles of newspapers sorted by weather forecasts; and broken toys in huge mounds in Annabelle’s 10-year-old sister Leslie’s room. Her older brother’s room is stacked with exercise equipment and paint cans. Only Annabelle’s room is clean, but she keeps it that way by exercising a calming, obsessive ritual of prowling the exterior walls searching for potential maternal stashes. Annabelle’s managed to keep word from spreading, but finally Leslie waves the white flag by notifying their distant, controlling grandmother, who immediately intervenes by moving in and launching a running battle with Annabelle’s mom. Twelve-year-old Annabelle’s smart, perceptive voice is fresh and realistic, alternating between plucky determination to keep her broken family running and a vulnerable undercurrent of believable despair. Her evolving relationship with a classmate provides a tender counterpoint to her heartbreaking home situation. Well-drawn and sympathetic characters (even, eventually, Annabelle’s parents) drive this immersive tale that concludes with a satisfying but plausible hint of hope.
Although broken parents are common fodder these days, this debut story is a standout. (Fiction. 9-14)