When twelve-year-old Sugar's grandfather dies and her gambling father takes off yet again, Sugar and her mother lose their home in Missouri. They head to Chicago for a fresh start, only to discover that fresh starts aren't so easy to come by for the homeless. Nevertheless, Sugar's mother has taught her to be grateful no matter what, so Sugar does her best. With the help of a rescue dog, Shush; a foster family; a supportive teacher; a love of poetry; and her own grace and good humor, Sugar comes to understand that while she can't control the hand life deals her, she can control how she responds.(goodreads summary)
Sugar Mae Cole is finding it harder to keep her head up these days. Her on again/off again father has racked up so much gambling debt unable to repay it and leaving her mother Reba, unable to manage the finances. When he decides to come around, he is full of empty promises and Sugar does not believe or trust him. In the meantime, Sugar meets a girl who insists she take care of her puppy because her father will take it to the pound. The puppy also has been mistreated by him as well. Soon after, her mom receives an eviction notice on the home they both live in and are forced out onto the street by weeks end. They move in with Reba's cousin who soon makes it known that she feels they have places for "people like them" and asks her to leave. A move into a shelter is tough on Sugar and Shush but she is determined to make the best of it. When Reba learns of a job opportunity in Chicago to clean houses, she decides to relocate them. Unfortunately, the job did not pan out and Reba falls into a depressive disorder, entering into a hospital and leaving Sugar and Shush to seek shelter at a foster home. Luckily, she does have her old English teacher Mr. B back home, who encourages her via email to be strong through her writing to help her with her feelings. All the while, Sugar tries to keep her spirit up and dreams alive of having her mother back and a place to call home again.
I believe I have several favorite middle grade authors and Joan Bauer is right at the top! In this book, she captured the voice of Sugar beautifully and gave her a sense of strength during very difficult times. Having a father she could not trust because he gambled money away or was either drinking to much, Sugar desperately wanted Reba to realize how bad he was for them. At times I felt she was older and wiser beyond her twelve years, realizing that some children need to do this in order to survive whatever challenges they face. There are several topics explored throughout the story such as gambling, drinking, absent parent, animal abuse, homelessness, depression and teenage drug use/death. Each one is written tenderly and with compassion and letting the reader know that, "hey it's out there and people do face difficulties like this everyday". Great areas for opening up a conversation. Sugar cared immensely for Shush's well-being as he was such a nervous puppy at every noise or drop of a hat. It was only one of the things that came naturally for her. She was also a very talented writer of poems which were inspiring and written with such heartfelt words about her feelings and situation that it touches the heart. She was encouraged by her former teacher who was a strong support role and I liked how that character was included. Her mother promised to make things right again and Sugar held on to that hope but also realized she liked being at the foster home. The foster parents of Lexie and Mac, along with the neighbors and new friends, really helped with Sugar's adjustment. At every turn of the page, I kept anticipating things were going to get better and I liked how the author gave me that sense of hope right along with Sugar. Both my daughter and myself loved this story (along with the cover). It opens the eyes of its' reader to the people who are in need and also got me thinking, how would I or my children handle this situation if given? I could only hope I would have the strength and resilience that Sugar had to keep me going. I think this is a "just right book" for a mature/strong 10 year old reader - 13.~
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Close to Famous by Joan Bauer
Title: Almost Home
Author: Joan Bauer
Pub. date: September 2012, Viking Juvenile
Genre: realistic fiction, middle grade
Hardcover, 264 pgs.