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Lock and Key
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that teen characters in the book deal with physical and mental abuse by their parents, but it's not sensationalized and the focus is on the psychological after-effects. Teens' coping strategies include drug and alcohol use and running away. The importance of family and friends is strongly emphasized. Inspired parents and teachers can use this book to talk about a wide variety of issues, such as abuse, teen sexual relationships, and drinking -- and who they count in their own "family."
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
When Ruby's single mom takes off a few months before Ruby's 18th birthday, she lives alone in a roach-infested house without running water, hoping to stay under the radar until she's a legal adult. Instead, a social worker sticks her with Cora, the older sister she hasn't seen for 10 years, now a lawyer married to a rich Internet entrepreneur. Despite her new posh surroundings, Ruby always wears the key to her old house on a chain around her neck as a reminder of her difficult yet more familiar old life. She slowly starts to lower her emotional defenses, reconnecting with her sister, making friends with another girl who doesn't fit in at school, and crushing on Nate, the cute, popular boy next door who seems to have a perfect life. It's only when she gets to know Nate that she realizes he might have secrets of his own to unlock.
Is it any good?
Teens will respond to Ruby's first-person voice as she struggles with all the changes in her life, even positive ones. Handed $200 and sent to the mall, Ruby is just anxious with what would seem to be teen heaven. Extensive dialogue exchanges give a sense of immediacy and connection with the characters. The child abuse isn't sensationalized; she focuses on the psychological damage, not the physical violence.
Some of the author's imagery (especially the key metaphor) lacks subtlety; secondary characters seem created to make a point, rather than as real people (Ruby's brother-in-law, while endearing, is simply too perfect); and several plot developments feel contrived. Still, the writing is higher quality than you'll find in many popular young-adult books, with lovely phrases and surprising bits of humor.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about books about abuse. Why might this book be appealing to kids from difficult homes? Do kids from functional families have something to learn from Ruby's story?
The author has written several popular books for teens, including Just Listen. What is appealing about her books? Why do they resonate so well with teens?
For kids who love coming-of-age stories
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.