A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
The girls try to run away several times. Much of the questionable social behavior is by their mother. In her narcissistic way, she trains the girls to focus on their looks to "catch" men. "My mother decided she wanted us all to be . . . sexbombs, each in her own way." Shelby says she practices manners from the heart, while to her mother, "manners were just a way of getting another bauble." The family picks up two hitchhikers. Shelby calls Maddie's father KIA (for know-it-all); he tries to impose order and rules on the girls.
Violence & Scariness
Maddie's father spanks her. A new boyfriend shouts at their mother and insults her; when she tells him to leave, he says, "I won't leave until I get what I paid for." (He does eventually go.)
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Shelby's mom has four daughters by four different men. She uses men to support her with gifts and money; her daughters divide them all into "minor boyfriends" and "major boyfriends" (their fathers). Their mother goes off with a car mechanic she just met, prompting Shelby's older sister to say their mom likes S-E-X.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Marilyn, 15, starts smoking when a man gives her cigarettes. She says "Good job, sweetie," when her 6-year-old sister puffs on it. Shelby makes her younger sister stop. Shelby says her mother and her boyfriends drank too much.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the family at the center of this story is headed by a beautiful single mom who seduces men for her livelihood and tutors the girls "on everything except school." A sample motherly lesson: "Feel what you will in your heart, Shelby, but catch your men with your guile." The 13-year-old narrator understands that this is shallow, but she and her three sisters still idolize their mother. At barely 13, Shelby is put in charge of her 6-year-old sister. In their attempt to stay together as a family, the girls all run away from their fathers.
Is It Any Good?
Shelby is an engaging narrator, wiser and more insightful than her mother. Her voice is matter-of-fact: "Sometimes I secretly wished my mother had loved my father. Other times I wished Lakey's father were my father. And still other times I didn't think about the fathers at all." The sisterly bond between the girls is reinforced by an invented code language and many handwritten letters while they're apart. Always vaguely embarrassed by her oddly dressed dad, Shelby's growing connection with her father is touching as they both tentatively try to understand each other.
Older readers will clearly see their mother's desperation, but younger readers may miss some of the subtleties as they view Shelby's mother through her eyes. Even the accident doesn't really change their mother; her lack of epiphany is sad but realistic. The conclusion ties up rather abruptly, but grown-up readers, at least, will wonder if returning the girls to their old life is really such a happy ending.
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