Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!
Our Neighbors to the North have such a strong young adult and children's lit game that I'm always happy to read offerings from Canadian publishers. Most of the books I find are easily accessible to American readers.
Synopsis: Jayce Loewen at sixteen is more annoyed than concerned that her four-year-old sister's care is being foisted on her - again. Her mother - who has hustled forever, working two jobs, is home from work with a nagging cough which has plagued her for weeks. Mostly, Jayce is concerned with is how often caring for Joelle makes her late for school, makes her look different from the other students in her friend group, and racks up the detention hours. But - Ellie's happy little world is rocked by angry words and impatience, so Jayce reins in her annoyance - after all, it's not Ellie's fault. It's easier for Jayce to be resentful of her mother - and her rock band father, who has popped in and out of their lives for years - and to ball up all the rest of the feelings and shove them inside.
When she discovers her mother has lung cancer, Jayce shoves down panic on top of resentment. She has to cope, obviously. Ellie needs something to be normal. But, with school pushing from one side, and the lack of funds for necessities like food shoving from the other, Jayce knows she needs real help... or a miracle. The rock star should have some answers, right? Finding her father - with a little help from a new friend - turns out to be a shock, and a disaster. Jayce realizes she and Ellie can't make it alone - and it turns out, they don't have to, if Jayce can accept a helping hand.
Observations: Though Jayce is depicted as a sixteen year old, her behavior and interests are very young for sixteen. This book may work for readers who struggle but want "older" books than many of the typical offerings for reluctant readers. This is a simple story - no romance, very little strong language - which introduces the idea of sisters experiencing tragedy, and how it brings the family closer.
As an interesting aside, this story highlights the job of caretakers to both the elderly and the ill. Very rarely do YA books depict teens as caretakers, and I found myself wishing for more of a glimpse of Kurt's daily life with his grandmother. Jayce was able to ignore the physicality of her mother's illness until it was smacked upside her head, but I found myself wanting more of her reality.
I picked this novel up because I am fond of books which are about a "family of choice." When her other bestie is too caught up in her personal drama, Jayce chooses Kurt to be her new best friend, and in essence finds Ellie a brother. Kurt, with whom Jayce is affectionate, and who kisses her on the cheek, is never anyone but a boy who once sat with her in detention, who then became a friend. It seems more than a bit disingenuous that Jayce never even thinks of Kurt at all romantically - there are a number of ways to discuss male and female friendships or even a lack of chemistry in a realistic fashion - but instead of allowing Jayce to make a thoughtful choice of how she would keep this friendship, it felt like her hormones were just erased. Romance seemed a complication the author didn't want to deal with, so it was eliminated with no discussion, which feels like an opportunity lost to me. Nevertheless, this novel will work well for older middle grade and younger YA readers as a simple tearjerker. The novel is a good jumping off point for discussions of privilege and class difference, as well as healthcare options, as the relative poverty in which the Loewen family lives affects a lot of the choices and opportunities that they make.
Conclusion: A hopeful journey from resentment and loss - Jayce begins to appreciate the choice of opening her heart to family, no matter what they've done.
I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publishers. After 1/28/17, you can find IF THIS IS HOME by Kristine Scarrow at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!