This is one of those stories you read and you wonder if it is possible it will make some child feel that their life is not so hard, that at least there is someone out there dealt a worse hand than them. But feeling this way does not make it any easier to read. In that way, it reminded me of My Cousin’s Keeper. It also makes me torn. Do I want my admittedly privileged and happily fearless girls to read a book like this, to help them understand how much they have, and to, hopefully, gain some empathy for those less fortunate? Perhaps it would help them look at the bedraggled, unkempt and uncared for kid at school a little differently? Or do I worry that a story like this will make them fearful that something as crazy and complicated could happen to them? I remember, as one of five kids, how we sometimes worried we would be left behind somewhere and have to find our own way home. Now, granted, this story makes that worry seem trivial, because the parent who leaves Liberty and her young sister Billie behind did not do it unintentionally.
There is a lot to consider in this book, and it broaches topics not often seen in middle grade stories. Right off the bat there is death and the resulting tremendous change, with seemingly promising new beginnings. But later, there is mental illness (handled in gentler terms), bullying on a brutal scale, and adjusting your point of view for some not so typical characters. The author has written a moving, heartbreaking story, and created some memorable characters in the process.
So yes, I am glad I read this book and I would certainly recommend it to others, especially anyone trying to raise an aware, empathetic and brave child in these unpredictable times. And yes, that means mine as well…from my to-read pile to theirs. Happy New Year.