Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson. Grade 5 and up. Candlewick Press, February, 2015. 384 pages. Review copy from local library.
Eleven-year old Arianna Hazard has a secret.
Ari has not had an easy life. Her soldier father died before she was even born, then her mother became sick and died just a few years later, leaving Ari and her older brother Gage orphans. Their mother had two dying wishes: that Ari and Gage would stay together, and that Ari would attend Carter Middle School like every other member of their family. While her mother was sick, Ari developed a game to occupy her time and help her cope with the upheaval in her lift. Using pictures carefully cut out of catalogs, Ari makes her own paper doll family, which she refers to as her "Paper Things."
For the last four years, Ari and Gage have been living with their legal guardian Janna, an old friend of their mother's. Ari likes living with Janna and feels at home with her; however, Gage and Janna constantly butt heads and get into heated arguments. Things finally come to a head, and Gage, being over eighteen, decides the he and Ari are leaving and moving into their own apartment. Ari is not as eager to leave, but feels she must go with Gage because of her mother's last wish, and because he is her brother and she loves him.
While Gage has good intentions, after they leave Janna's, Ari finds out that he has not been completely honest and does not actually have an apartment yet. He plans on staying with friends in the meantime, but finding an apartment proves to be much more difficult that he thought and days drag into weeks of bouncing around between friends and the teen shelter while Gage tries to find a job and an apartment. Though Ari might be a little old for paper dolls, she clings to her familiar Paper Things as a way to escape and find a sense of peace, at least for a little while. Their nomadic lifestyle begins to take it's toll on Ari; she has trouble keeping up with her schoolwork, personal hygiene, and friendships, yet can't bring herself to tell anyone what is happening in her life.
As the situation worsens, Ari is faced with a very difficult decision. Does she honor her mother's wishes at all costs and stay with her brother, or do what she knows will give her the safety and stability she needs?
I think this book was well-written and tells a very compelling story. I think it would help children to understand a little bit more about homelessness and how it could affect someone close to you without your even knowing it. It might help kids be a little more empathetic and compassionate towards those who might seem "different" and stop and think that there could be a reason behind someone's "odd" appearance or behavior. It also touches on the subjects of loyalty, friendship, civil disobedience, and how people don't have to live together to love each other and be a family. I would recommend this to a middle-grade reader who enjoys reading about other kids overcoming difficulties and obstacles and stories that allow them to "walk in another person's shoes". As with most children's literature, everything gets resolved a little too easily and neatly to be realistic, but kids can learn to deal with stark reality when they get a little older. Let them have their happy endings for now.
Where I'd Like To Be by Frances O'roark Dowell has a similar theme of children longing for parents and a stable home life who use their imaginations to help them cope.
Unhooking The Moon by Gregory Hughes also has orphaned brother and sister surviving the streets with the help of others they meet, while they search for their long-lost uncle.
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine also gives insight into what is really going on behind the main character's "odd" behavior and the issues she is dealing with at home and how she overcomes them.