A PIECE OF HEAVEN by Sharon Dennis Wyeth


Age Range: 8 - 12
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A spirited African-American girl finds refuge from the chaos of her life in her summer job cleaning out the cluttered backyard of a singing teacher. Haley’s 13th birthday is marked by two events: finding a job and her mother’s nervous breakdown. Having left Haley and older brother Otis with a kitchen full of groceries, their mother commits herself and withdraws into her treatment almost completely. Haley manages to convince herself that she and Otis can get by; after all, both of them have summer jobs. But then Otis is arrested, his mysterious summer job being fencing stolen goods, and a reluctant Haley is caught up in the social-services net. Throughout, her yard job and the relationship she establishes with the singing teacher sustain her. Wyeth resists easy answers; even as neighbors and social workers come together in a potentially mawkish ending, the mother remains hospitalized. Haley is a delight: she’s tough, proud, and childishly enthusiastic about her new thesaurus (“GET LOST, FUNKY FOULNESS!” she shouts at a boy who bothers her in the park). Secondary characters are less well-developed—the singing teacher in particular is almost too good to be true—and plot developments are often predictable (the reader sees Otis’s trouble coming a mile off, for example). Haley’s straightforward, ingenuous narration carries the book, though, which distinguishes itself from others about urban families in distress by its convincing evocation of Haley’s bewilderment and anger at her mother’s depression, and her desperate desire to create some order in her life. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-679-88535-8
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2000


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