I LOVED this book. It is definitely my personal favorite of the 2013-14 Division I Lovelace Award Nominees. The main character is a twelve-year-old girl named Foster McFee. Foster’s dream is to be a famous baker/chef like her idol Sonny Kroll from the Food Network. (As we come to know Foster we quickly realize she has the talent to achieve her dream.)
When we meet Foster she and her mother Rayka are in a car driving without a specific destination in mind, fleeing her mother’s ex-boyfriend Huck, as Elvis impersonator who took issue with Rayka’s decision to leave him. We learn that an angry, drunken Huck broke through the front window of their apartment and physically injured Rayka. At that point Rayka hustled her daughter and as many of their belongings as she could grab into the car and drove away.
Enter the reader. Foster and her mother wind up in Culpepper, West Virginia. Culpepper is in the midst of its own growing pains: a prison has recently opened in the small town. The residents were promised employment opportunities and tourist income due to those visiting the prisoners. None of these economic bonuses have materialized. Now unemployment is higher than ever, the church building has been put up for sale and the townspeople are bitter and struggling to make ends meet.
Rayka (a singer by trade) gets a job in a hardware store. Foster quickly meets several Culpepper residents, two of whom offer her and her mother a trailer in which to live behind their house. One of Foster’s heartbreaks is that she has always had a pillowcase in which she kept the few remembrances of her father, who was killed in combat overseas. When she and her mother fled their home to get away from Huck, Foster didn’t realize the pillowcase had been left behind.
Foster is also trying to keep a secret she finds more shameful than anything else in her life. It becomes apparent to the reader that, although she will be entering 7th grade in the Fall, Foster cannot read. This gap in her education has invited ridicule from classmates and some adults alike. This one particular issue, more than any other, results in Foster’s constant battle within herself over her own worth.
The addition of a young boy whose dream is to be a documentary filmmaker and a former Hollywood star now holed up in her house in Culpepper waiting for her showbiz comeback weave a strong, funny, touching story about friendship, kindness and seeing your own true worth as a human being in this world.
A great read-aloud with enough humor to offset the serious moments for younger readers, this is a work that touched me when I read it. It will hit home for anyone who is (or has) struggled with how to define and believe in themselves. Well worth the read!