Placed in foster care, 10-year-old Sara wrestles with the meaning of family, loyalty, and love.
Although two years younger than developmentally delayed Anna, Sara attempts to care for her older sister in their rat-infested home, teaching her everything from how to fill their empty stomachs by slowly eating paper towels to how to elude the foster-care system. Abandoned by their mother and left with their alcoholic father, a drummer in a rock band who is often away, the girls eventually are discovered and placed in a series of temporary foster homes. Sara tries desperately to stay together, but Anna, angry, biting, and mute after previous abuse in foster care, is placed in a therapeutic institution. Sara struggles with conflicting feelings about her family. The story is an achingly sad one, although a first best friend, learning to read, and stray cats help turn Sara’s life around—albeit very quickly. The book is replete with symbols, from stray cats to a dead rat named Hope that the sisters bury. Flights of lyricism and sentimental platitudes at times seem beyond a 10-year-old’s grasp in this first-person narrative. Still, the sisters’ plights are riveting; the happy ending implied in the title mitigates the sadness.
Written from debut novelist Castleman’s childhood experience of adoption from an orphanage, this title offers much fodder for discussion. (Fiction. 9-12)