In Hale’s novel, a teacher reaches out to the children the educational system has left behind—all while desperately wanting children of her own.
After Olivia Dalton losing her job as a high school teacher, she and two other teachers were asked to take at-risk students into a special prevention program and guide them to graduation. Olivia’s big heart entangles her in the personal lives of her students, but she strives to understand the lives they live in a neighborhood just blocks away—but in a much different world—from hers. While she and her husband, Tom, struggle to conceive a child of their own (a cause of tension in their marriage), her teen students flaunt pregnancies that show someone cared about them for at least one night. Despite her cheery optimism, Olivia sees the consequences her students face; some spend time in jail, commit robberies and succumb to the violence of the street. Though the setting feels like the ’80s (Hale herself was a dropout-prevention teacher in New York City years ago) the core of the material is contemporary. As usual, the highest-risk students often need a teacher’s faith most. Hale’s use of urban dialect to represent how Dalton’s students speak feels genuine yet not condescending. Ultimately, Dalton’s respect for her students—for their music, commitment to each other and their potential to overcome disadvantages—helps reveal a cast of teens worth caring about. The authentic emotional conversations about adoption also make up for the limited details regarding the reality of that route’s difficulty and expense.
This uplifting novel of clashing cultures and faith in the underdog will leave readers with hope for troubled teens.