For 12-year-old, “fifty percent Swedish, twenty-five percent Haitian, twenty-five percent French” Felix, all of his scary stories are about the Ministry of Children and Family Development—the Canadian agency that has the power to take him from his mom and place him in foster care.
His flighty mother, Astrid (she’s the Swedish part), is both depressed and chronically under- or often unemployed. His father is mostly out of the picture. Astrid will do what she needs to, including artfully lying and stealing, to keep their heads—barely—above water as they descend into homelessness. As depicted with gritty realism, the pair has been living in a van for months, using public restrooms, and rarely having enough to eat. But Felix has two great friends, Winnie, who is Asian, and Dylan, who is white; they will watch his back whatever comes. Sadly, they have little idea of his truly dire situation since he’s so resourceful at hiding his problems in order to stave off the MCFD. When Felix is selected to appear on a quiz show, it seems as if it could offer a resolution for their troubles: Winning would earn him a $25,000 prize. Felix’s deeply engrossing and fully immersive first-person narrative of homelessness is both illuminating and heartbreaking. Although the story ends with hope for the future, it’s his winsome and affecting determination that will win readers over.
An outstanding addition to the inadequate-parent genre. (Fiction. 11-14)