Where the Heart Is
What worked: I love Knowles writing something fierce. Her books, especially this one, feel comforting and warm. Knowles tackles contemporary issues like homelessness, body changes, and fear of the unknown in a way that isn’t preachy at all. She’s this generation’s Judy Blume.
Knowles nails the emotional struggles a young teen has with changes that happen around her. The scenes that show Rachel’s fears of being homeless are very genuine. She dreads the changes and battles the fear she might lose her friends too.
There’s one scene where Rachel talks about how her mother goes through a box where ‘rich people’ leave clothing. When I was in my teens this very thing happened with me after my father loss his job. I especially remember having to wear a bathing suit that someone else tossed out.I still remember the embarrassment and how ashamed I felt. Knowles shows a similar reaction with Rachel's fear that someone might recognize a used bathing suit on her.
Another big part of this novel is the changes happening within Rachel. She doesn’t understand at first why she can’t feel more than friendship toward Micah. Then when she’s around Cybil she feels a stirring of something and she’s not sure what to call it.
Engaging coming of age tale of a girl who steers through changes around her that involve not only the financial difficulties of a parent losing their job, but the changes going on inside of her. Realistic portrayal of a family losing their home and moving into lower income housing.
Rachel sometimes complains about details of her impoverished upbringing in a way that may be enlightening to some readers. While I raised my daughters in a neighborhood where children ride beat up bicycles and shopping at the thrift store is what everyone does, and I frequently make a mean scalloped tuna and saltine casserole, this will be completely alien to some very fortunate children.
This hits that hard-to-define sweet spot of sad but hopeful books that my students enjoy. The sense of place and cover are great, and I can see this being very popular! Pair this with Tyre's Hope in the Holler, Applegate's Crenshaw, Braden's The Benefits of Being an Octopus or Jacobson's The Dollar Kids.