The oldest of nine children—soon to be 10—16-year-old Becky Miller is a hard-working farmgirl who dreams of becoming a globetrotting travel writer. As of yet, the only traveling she’s done is through reading, and she has little enough time for that: Her father is a humorless man who believes that work comes before education, and when she isn’t doing chores for him, she’s got her hands full with her younger siblings.
So when she accidentally burns down the family barn, she doesn’t wait for her father’s inevitably violent response: She takes her mother’s advice and leaves home. Rather than just spending the night at a friend’s house, though, Becky goes a step (or five) further: She hops a train, destination unknown. Her Grand Adventure derails almost immediately when she finds an infant in the train car—no note, no food, no diapers—and before she knows it, she’s a homeless single teen mom. She and Baby Girl disembark near a small town in Georgia to buy supplies with Becky’s rapidly dwindling savings, and before she knows it, she has a job. Now all she has to do is find a place to live….
The storyline itself, though comfortable and comforting, isn’t anything new: A Young Person With Potential is embraced by a Quirky Small Town, Creates Family and Finds Love. It’s Becky’s voice that makes Lisa Colozza Cocca’s Providence work. She’s tough and honest; craves affection but is understandably guarded; she’s prone to quoting her father but hasn’t adopted the entirety of his philosophy. She’s practical, but has dreams; she’s generous and tenacious; she’s funny, awkward, creative, reliable, independent and sweet. Though her situation is a very different one, she feels like a direct descendant of another stubborn farmgirl: D.J. Schwenk, of Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s Dairy Queen.
Her relationship with Rosie, the octogenarian who hires her, is especially well-drawn. Rosie clearly sees much more about Becky’s situation than Becky realizes, but she plays her cards carefully, treats Becky as an equal and earns her trust before she offers help beyond employment. Despite being a pretty great judge of character, Becky’s first impressions of people in town aren’t always accurate, and seeing various crusty masks peel back to reveal decency and kindness gave me a fiesta of warm fuzzies.
Even with all of the quirk, with the fairy-tale (ish) storyline, and with the statistically unlikeliness of Becky and Baby Girl’s happy ending, there’s plenty of realism in Providence: the idea that despite all the wanting in the world, you can’t save everyone from unhappiness; the complexity of relationships and emotions; the realities of caring for an infant. That last one is especially well-done, in that Cocca provides details about illness, about lack of sleep, about financial burden, about child care, about endlessly changing diapers, about any number of other difficulties involved in having a baby…but not in a Scared Straight way. Becky adores Baby Girl from the moment she finds her, and there’s never even the slightest suggestion that she won’t fight tooth and nail to keep her.
The only flaw—and in such a conversation-heavy book, it’s especially unfortunate—is that much of the dialogue feels stiff and scripted. Even more unfortunate—especially in a young adult book—is that the dialogue between the teen characters is the most stilted of all. But! While that’s a significant problem, while it’s not a perfect book, the strengths more than outweigh the weaknesses.
On the spectrum of books about Creating Family, it’s not as strong as Sara Zarr’s How to Save a Life—few are—but it’s likely to appeal to a similar audience.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or running the show at her local library, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while rewatching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.