Katherine Tegen Books, 2008
Thank you to Joseph for this recommendation.
Dwight, twelve-year-old Addie's ex step-father, moves her and her mother into a beat-up trailer in urban Schenectady. Dwight has custody of Addie's two little sisters since he is their biological father, but cannot get custody of Addie, even though they both would prefer that. Mommers is mentally ill and goes off on tangents, often leaving Addie to fend for herself. Luckily she makes friends with Soula at the Mini-mart across the street and since Soula is undergoing chemotherapy treatments, the two begin to depend on each other. After a disastrous winter concert, Addie must give up her beloved flute and because of a learning disability, struggles in school even though she works very hard. Addie has a tricky school year of visiting Dwight and her sisters at their warm upstate home and trying to hide the fact that she is often without food or supervision in her day-to-day life in the trailer. Finally, a tragedy bursts the whole situation wide open and decisions must be made about Addie and her future.
Leslie Connor is my new favorite author that I should have read, but haven't. I loved this book so much and never wanted it to end. Addie is such a richly drawn character that readers will feel as if they know her personally. I wanted to reach into the book and pull her out and move her into my home. There are many students who will relate to Addie's story and find courage in her struggles and final resolutions. Those who can't relate will, perhaps, be kinder to that child with shabby clothes who struggles with reading. Readers will also come to love the minor characters, particularly Soula, and experience the power of community. Connor realistically portrays adults as flawed, but most, with one notable exception, can be trusted and counted on. The ending is a happy one for Maddie, though Mommers is not miraculously cured, showing that sometimes things don't work out exactly as we would like, but there is hope and healing. The upstate New York setting is carefully drawn and relatable to me as the home of my youth. One criticism is that I listened to the audio, which featured a reader with a southern accent, which I found distracting and jarring. Yes, Schenectady may feel culturally like the south, but people talk decidedly different. Kids who love realistic "problem novels" will devour this story and perhaps delve into some of Connors other titles, which are also great. Give to fans of One for the Murphy's and Out of My Mind.