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Pavi Sharma's Guide to Going Home

Book review by
Joly Herman, Common Sense Media
Pavi Sharma's Guide to Going Home Book Poster Image
Wry story of foster kids looks at tough and tender truths.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Pavi's intimate knowledge of the foster care system is something that she outlines for her "clients." She understands how the system works, and she helps kids navigate the ropes. Some mention of historical Texans like Davy Crockett, Sam Houston and Stephen Austin while the kids are doing research projects.

Positive Messages

Going through hard times can make you a stronger, more resilient person. People can surprise you by changing for the better. Some people really want to help others in need. Kindness toward others can change a life for the better.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The adults in this book are pretty aware of what's going on in the kids' lives around them, but they don't always step in when needed -- or else they can't reach the kids emotionally. Pavi's foster mom, Marjorie, avails herself to Pavi without forcing her to try to connect or to be someone she's not.

Violence

Pavi's experience in foster homes put her in contact with a family that hosted dog fights in the backyard. She witnessed her puppy being mauled by another dog and killed. She has flashbacks of neglect and poor care.

Sex
Language

"Crappy," "Jesus."

Consumerism

Hot Cheetos are Pavi's go-to food when she's nervous, so there's a lot of mention of them. She barters her services for Hot Cheetos, Ticonderga pencils and Sharpies. Sprite, Google, Snickers, Macy's, Crock Pot, University of Texas, Kool Aid, YouTube, Pinterest, Rollerblades, "Annie," 7-Eleven, Tootsie Rolls, Barbie, Ziploc, Target, Jell-O, Harry Potter books, Aretha Franklin, Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink beer at dog fights. Beer cans on the ground at the Nickerson's house. Pavi remembers her mom smelling like cigarettes and sour milk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Pavi Sharma's Guide to Going Home, by Bridget Farr, is a story about surviving the foster care system, as told by a seventh-grade kid who lives in Texas. Pavi Sharma has bounced around a few foster care homes, and though she's landed in a good and safe situation with a single mom named Marjorie and a boy named Hamilton (who happens to be a classmate), she's haunted by memories of neglect and abandonment. Pavi has taken to consulting other foster kids about making good first impressions and doing research on the foster placements. She can be hardened to people's good intentions, saying things like: "Adults don't believe kids." and "Adults have caused all the problems I've ever had." In one foster home Pavi was exposed to the violence of dog fighting and saw her puppy being mauled by another dog and killed. In another she was told she doesn't have any friends or any family by a friend of a kid. And she believes from experience that it's "especially hard to find forever families for black and brown kids." Kids manipulate and bribe a small child with candy under the pretense of protecting her. Adults drink beer at dog fights. Strong language includes "crappy" and "Jesus."

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What's the story?

In PAVI SHARMA'S GUIDE TO GOING HOME, teacher Bridget Farr's debut novel, Pavi has a side hustle advising fellow foster kids on how to get the best out of foster care. She tells them to practice their "Front Door Face," which is the first impression their future foster parents will have of them. She bribes a case worker for information with Snickers bars at the shelter where kids stay before they're placed with families. Then she researches the families, consulting with the kids about the best way to get in good with the families, or else what to watch out for with the less-than-optimal situations. When she sees a little girl about to be placed in a home where she had spent a horrible year, Pavi takes matters into her own hands, trying to prevent the child from experiencing the trauma she faced there. Plans are hatched, rules are bent, and truths twisted in an attempt to help a foster kid. But how far is too far? 

Is it any good?

This fast-paced and engrossing story features a main character who's had her share of hard knocks. Pavi Sharma's Guide to Going Home introduces a smart if jaded, clever if exhausted, hero who would rather build skills of self-reliance than be tossed about in the unknown seas of foster family life. She keeps her sad past at bay by helping kids navigate the foster care system. This very act, writing down detailed notes about each kid on her clipboard, doing internet searches about their placement families, getting paid in junk food and markers makes Pavi immediately likable and relatable. Who doesn't love a kid with a side hustle? 

Though the other characters in the story aren't crafted with quite as much depth as Pavi, her big feelings of sadness, abandonment, and never truly fitting in feel universal enough to carry the book. The plot is engrossing and harrowing, but the adventure could have been detailed a little more to achieve the resolution that Pavi deserves. In this case, more would have been more. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about social media sensations Pavi Sharma's Guide to Going Home. Hamilton is done up in Goth make-up on Piper's YouTube channel and becomes an overnight sensation, then kids show up to school wearing the same make up the next day. How much do you think kids are influenced by social media influencers? 

  • Even though Hamilton is unwilling to take off his shirt for the filming of a YouTube make-up demonstration, his friend pressures him into taking it off and being filmed. How do you think he should have reacted? Would you let yourself get pressured into doing something you didn't want to do on social media if it would make you popular?

  • Pavi's foster mom Marjorie has rules about using social media-- like getting a parent's approval before posting a picture or video online. Does this make sense for seventh graders? Why or why not? 

Book details

Themes & Topics

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