I saw Joan Bauer’s new book Almost Home after having read her current Lovelace nominee Close to Famous and I snatched it off the library shelf!
Almost Home follows Sugar Mae Cole, a 12-year-old sixth grader in Missouri. Sugar and her mother Reba are struggling to make ends meet. Reba has been laid off from her full time job and is cleaning houses, but it’s not enough. Then Sugar finds out that there house is at risk of foreclosure due to Reba having taken a second mortgage in order to give money to Sugar’s gambling-addict father.
Sugar is an amazingly talented writer and has a 6th Grade teacher who recognizes it and proceeds to nurture her talents and consistently remind her of her gifts and strengths. Sugar is able to write poetry that speaks from her deepest fears, joys and dreams. This vulnerability is why her written work has such depth and resonance.
When Sugar and Reba do lose their home Sugar is too humiliated to let anyone at school know what’s going on. When they have to move into a homeless shelter that is too far away for her to continue at the same school Sugar is devastated. AS their time in the shelter stretches on Sugar notices the difference between those who give up and those who try to hold tight to some kind of dream, or hope:
The thing people don’t know, until they’ve been there themselves, is how tiring it is to be homeless. It’s always heavy on you, like wearing a winter coat in summer. It makes you look down when you walk. You’ve got to work hard at looking up.
Reba decides to move them to Chicago where she believes she has a better chance of getting a job. There their lives take a tragic turn in an unexpected direction.
Sugar’s resolve, her courage and her tender heart make her one of the most engaging, loveable and likeable heroines I have ever encountered.
Almost Home is brimming with love, heartache, courage, fear and the very palpable struggle that is the human condition. Joan Bauer says the first time she heard Sugar’s voice in her head it was part of one of Sugar’s poems:
I’m in front of you, but you don’t see me
With those words, she had me. I had to write her story, and I realized that sometimes home, a real home, is a thing you have to search for with all your heart. This girls’s got a heart big enough to carry her through.
And that is truly why Almost Home is worth the read!