Where I Live

Book review by
Rachel Sarah, Common Sense Media
Where I Live Book Poster Image
Uplifting story of fearless, homeless teen in high school.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Shows the reality of homelessness and poverty. "Living homeless teaches me to lengthen and stretch all of my possessions. Stretch my bra one more wear. Stretch my sweatshirt over my hair. Stretch the theater curtains to cover my feet, keeping my body full of heat. Stretch the canned chili two more bites. Stretch my hope one more night."

Positive Messages

Reach out to empathetic adults in your community for support. Even when you're facing many setbacks and a painful past, it's OK to open up to people you trust. It's never too late to get help for your problems. It's possible to start a new life and heal.

 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Though they're not immediately aware of Linden's living situation, many of her teachers are caring and supportive. Mr. George, her English teacher and mentor, wears T-shirts that say "Love is love" and is particularly sympathetic and understanding.

Violence

Much of the violence in the book isn't shown but is described or discussed in flashback, including verbal and physical abuse. Linden describes her violent past in flashbacks, and the mean girls at school often tease her. ("I can smell you from here.") There's also bullying and racism, mostly targeted at Seung. 

Sex

Some kissing and making out.

Language

Swearing and name-calling, such as "f--k" and its variations, "s--t" and its variations, "hell," "a--hole," and "bitch."

Consumerism

A few brands -- such as Cheetos, M&M's, a Buick -- mentioned for scene setting.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A couple of detailed scenes with teen characters drinking, and references to underage kids puking. There's one scene with a teen smoking. None of it is glamorized. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Brenda Rufener's Where I Live is an intense look at the life of a teen who's homeless and desperately trying to move on from her painful past. Physical abuse occurs in a teen relationship. There are also scenes depicting bullying and racism, such as when Toby tells Seung "he should move back to his homeland" and "Go back to China and stay away from my girl!" The violent passages aren't so graphic as to be hard for sensitive readers to get through. The book offers an honest look at how a young woman can end up without a home. None of the drinking or smoking is glorified. Swearing is frequent and includes "f--k," "s--t," as well as "a--hole," and all of their variations.

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What's the story?

No one at Hinderwood High knows that Linden Rose has a dark past or a big secret. She's homeless, living in the halls and dugout of her small-town high school, and she's good at keeping this on the down low, even from her best friends, Ham (who's gay) and Seung (who's mixed-race Korean and white). No one in the newsroom where Linden is the school's blog editor knows what she's hiding. Her goal is to graduate and go to college, which is why she's working two jobs and doing everything she can to keep her grades up. The basics are a struggle: taking a shower, not falling asleep in class, and keeping the contents of her backpack a secret. When Linden discovers that a classmate's boyfriend is abusing her, she worries for her but also knows what it's like to desperately hold on to a secret.

Is it any good?

This heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting debut novel captures the depth and ripple effects of homelessness. The subject matter is heavy but important, especially because there are so few mainstream stories about homeless teens. That said, the subplots here -- such as a classmate whose boyfriend hits her and a friend who's coming out -- are often disjointed, making the narrative arc quite challenging to follow.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Where I Live deals with a homeless teen. Have you ever read a novel about a high schooler who doesn't have a home? How is homelessness usually portrayed in movies and TV?

  • After reading this story, do you find yourself having more empathy for people in real life who are homeless?

  • Many young adult novels deal with physical or mental illness. Which others have you read and liked? What's so compelling about these topics?

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