What did you worry about in 5th grade? Homework and grades? Friends? What others thought about you? Imagine being homeless at that age and worrying about where you would spend the night or what you would eat, or where you would take a shower or wash your clothes? What if your friends started to complain that you smelled bad, or that your hair looked greasy? How would you even do your homework when you have to spend the evening looking for a place to stay?
Before she died, eleven year-old Ari's mother wanted two things for her: that she get into the middle school for gifted students, and that she and her brother, Gage, stay together. But when Gage's run-ins with their guardian, Janna, get worse, he moves out – and Ari chooses to stay with him. The problem is that Gage doesn't actually have an apartment. He's 19 but is having trouble getting a job because he doesn't have an address. Instead, they end up 'couch surfing' at various friend's places, like Gage's girlfriend Chloe (and her roommates), or being snuck into a shelter where neither of them are the right age. They even end up spending a night in a rented storage garage and in Chloe's car. But it's hard to get homework done when you're moving back and forth every night, and Ari's grades are slipping and she's no longer at the top of her class. Worst of all is that she's too afraid to say anything to her friends, and she worries that her clothes aren't clean and that she sometimes smells bad. The dream of going to Carter seems to be slipping away from her.
by Jennifer Richard Jacobson is a very well-written and heartfelt book, but I'll be honest: it made me very uncomfortable. So uncomfortable through the first half, that I didn't enjoy reading it. It's written for middle-grade kids and shows a side of life most will (thankfully!) never see but does it in a good way – I don't think parents need worry about anything inappropriate or the way it ends. But it really highlights some of the challenges of normal things like school under such hardships. It's not preachy but it shows other homeless people in a very sympathetic light (without touching on causes of homelessness like mental illness and addiction). By the end I really liked the book a lot, but it was still an uncomfortable read. (I received an advance copy from Amazon Vine.)