As 12-year-old T.J. sits in an emergency-room waiting area, wondering whether his younger sister, Angela, will survive her head injury, he ponders their miserable childhood.
T.J. and Angela are children who, far too often, have slipped through the cracks. Their irresponsible yet sometimes affectionate mother has routinely left them home alone, with T.J. Bearing the responsibility—and the worry—for looking after his little sister, while also fretting about his childish mother. Using a scrapbook, T.J. remembers a few of the good times—a summer when his mother had a kind, much younger boyfriend— as well as the last terrible months she was with them and her new boyfriend, a brutal small-time thief who physically and verbally abused the boy. T.J.’s memories, interrupted by his experiences in the emergency room, are vivid, believable and riveting, framed within the boundaries of a child’s level of understanding of what the pair went through, infused with all his guilt for failures that were actually his mother’s. Now in an adoptive home, neither child can let go of the past, but the progress T.J. makes as he waits provides a hopeful conclusion to this moving tale of neglect and loss.
T.J.’s authentic voice and the multilayered presentation of his memories, shifting between the waiting room and his past, make for a poignant, realistic tale of child-survivors. (Fiction. 11-15)