“I’m too busy surviving to play.” So says 12 year old Sugar Mae Cole, somewhere in the middle of Joan Bauer’s latest YA book, Almost Home. So are many of us in this day and age. But Sugar’s predicament is that she finds herself homeless. Things get worse when her mother, Reba, is sidelined by depression and Sugar is put in a shelter.
However, things look up when her social worker places her with a loving family and Reba starts to rebound. There’s always the specter of another fall as Reba tries to reconnect with her drunk, gambling, deadbeat husband, Mr. Leeland. But….
Some authors are grand storytellers and Joan Bauer falls into that category. Stories with a message: strength. Bauer’s characters are always strong. Her stories are always strong. Bauer has created some unique characters like Sugar’s ever wise grandfather, O. Kingston Cole (King Cole) whose memoir, full of philosophical sayings, Sugar continualluy quotes, Mr. B, her old English teacher, and Lexie and Mac, a loving couple who take in children in need.
In a talk last year to librarians, Ms. Bauer said she always wants to leave a message…that you can do it, if you want. You can rise from adversity and go forward. There is no better way to get that message across to teens (and adults) than through a Joan Bauer book. Teens may or may not relate to homelessness, but they’ll certainly relate to Sugar Mae Cole and her dog, Shush. So, if this doesn’t convince you, just look at that cute puppy, presumably Shush, on the cover of Almost Home. That should dig at your heart strings.
Any Joan Bauer book is the perfect read for a middle grader and his/her parents.