A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a compelling story about a girl coming of age while dealing with the aftermath of an abusive childhood and abandonment by her mother and the stress and pressures of moving into a foster family with a couple who are well-armed with good intentions, but no parenting experience. It paints an honest picture of what life is like for some abused and/or homeless teens and the results of some of the bad decisions the main character makes, and it also depicts the real dangers that a teen would face alone and on the road. It doesn't in any way glorify drinking or drugs, or even attempt to rationalize an incident of shoplifting. At one point Holly considers suicide. Teens who have not lived through similar experiences will come away with a deeper empathy for teens who have, and those teens who have lived through abuse or homelessness may come away with hope, and a deeper understanding of how they are shaping their own futures by current actions.
What's the story?
Fourteen-year-old Holly has been living in a British group home for troubled children for many years after being abandoned by her addict mother. A young couple want to become her foster parents and give her a chance at a more normal life with a new family. Holly has blocked out her childhood tragedies and believes her real mother is lost, and wants her back. When Holly finds a wig, she develops an alter ego that boosts her confidence just enough to run away to Ireland and find her mother just as she has always dreamed of. When she encounters the dangers of being on her own (men who expect sex in exchange for food or a warm place to sleep, nothing to eat, hiding her true identity), the pressure mounts even more and the closer she gets to what she thinks is home, the more she remembers about the real reasons her mother abandoned her.
Is it any good?
This is a beautiful and gritty story about the resiliency of a teen girl who has suffered greatly for the actions of a dysfunctional mother. Dowd has created such an authentic voice for Holly and nestled her narration inside a story that reveals itself a bit at a time to both the reader and to Holly herself. She finds she can no longer hide from her past; she longs for the love of her mother as any child does and is driven to find it. Holly is not only brave, she is funny and naive and hopeful, and the reader can't help but hope that she will survive and get to experience a loving family and a good life. The characterizations are rich and imperfect; although readers may predict what she finds at the end of journey, they will be surprised at how she gets there and what happens next. Good both for teens who will never experience the life of an abused child, and for those who already have.
Talk to your kids about ...
Famlies can talk about Holly's courage in accepting the new foster care placement, and what that experience would be like. They could discuss how the American foster care system works, including the challenges the foster children face and the challenges the foster parents encounter.
When does it become obvious that Holly is hiding a secret from herself?
Why does Holly create the alter ego that Solace provides? Is it the same kind of pretending that most teens do every day, in order to fit in with others?
When Holly runs away, she leaves a beloved stuffed animal from her childhood. Does that stuffed animal represent anything?
Holly has to make some difficult decisions in order to survive while she is on the road, some of which she believed she made in order to survive. Are there instances where it's OK to break the laws?
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