A young boy and his sick mother find family and refuge in Idaho.
“My mom’s sick. She needs help. I don’t know where she thinks she’s taking us, but we will probably die together there” is what young Jacob Lance wants to tell strangers at the Sacramento bus station. He has followed his silent mother there, who is later revealed to be suffering from severe clinical depression, and accompanies her as she wordlessly purchases tickets to take them both to Shoney, Idaho. Once they arrive in the small farming community, she wordlessly leads them to the house of Old John and Gert, their last living relatives and the first family Jacob has ever known. The gruff Uncle John spends more time with cows than people, but he quickly reveals a soft understanding and love for his nephew. Jacob helps John with the cows, becoming familiar for the first time with manure and early mornings, while his mother begins her slow recovery. Meanwhile, Jacob finds the small rural school quite different from the city life he knew. In particular, a spritely girl with yellow hair named Lace catches his attention and starts showing up at the dairy every morning, despite Uncle John’s assessment that the girl “runs wild around town like a stray cat.” As Lace and Jacob’s bond grows deeper, she begins to spark new life in the boy’s mother. This stirs both hope and jealousy in Jacob—just one of many complicated and deeply nuanced conflicts to arise as these two young people confront mental illness, death, and the failings of their caretakers. Like Sharon Creech’s classic YA novel Walk Two Moons, which handles similar issues against the stark backdrop of the American West, this book does not shy away from tough subject matter or wrap up the tale with a tidy, perfect conclusion. Anderson (Joey and the Magic Map, 2013) gives readers two fully realized central characters who deal with sad, painful events as best they can, sometimes even wrongly, creating a story about extraordinary childhood struggles that feels very powerful and very real.
A poignant tale of friendship with realistic and admirable young characters facing some of life’s most difficult and complex issues.