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For fans of Rebecca Stead and Joan Bauer comes a scrappy, poignant, uplifting debut about family, friendship, and the importance of learning both how to offer help and how to accept it. Jeanne Ann is smart, stubborn, living in an orange van, and determined to find a permanent address before the start of seventh grade.

Cal is tall, sensitive, living in a humongous house across the street, and determined to save her.

Jeanne Ann is roughly as enthusiastic about his help as she is about living in a van.

As the two form a tentative friendship that grows deeper over alternating chapters, they're buoyed by a cast of complex, oddball characters, who let them down, lift them up, and leave you cheering. Debut novelist Danielle Svetcov shines a light on a big problem without a ready answer, nailing heartbreak and hope, and pulling it off with a humor and warmth that make the funny parts of Jeanne Ann and Cal's story cathartic and the difficult parts all the more moving.---from the publisher

400 pages                                978-0399539039                              Ages 10-14

Keywords:  determination, persistence, homelessness and poverty, mothers, mother/daughter, family, friends, friendship, helping others, chef, dreams, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, 13 year old, 14 year old, If You Like Barbara Connor, If You Like

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The Westing Game meets Rebecca Stead in this scrappy, poignant, uplifting debut about family, friendship, and accepting help enough to help yourself.

Twelve-year-old Jeanne Ann has doubts when her mom spends their savings on an old orange van and bundles them off to San Francisco to chase Mom's dream of working as a chef. There, they camp on the street while her mother looks for a job she never gets. Before long, Jeanne Ann realizes that this van is the closest thing she has to a home.

Across the road, twelve-year-old Cal watches the homeless community parked just beyond his big house. Cal's mom is busy with the upscale restaurant she owns, but they've always been close--until Cal does something his mom just doesn't understand.

Then Cal and Jeanne Ann meet. Cal is too tall and too weird and too rich and wears all his emotions on the outside of his skin, and he just wants to help. Jeanne Ann is smart, she is funny, she is stubborn--hers is a royal-looking chin, in Cal's opinion--and she does not want his help.

But a quirky, meaningful friendship develops between them, and as it does, the pair is buoyed by a remarkable cast of nuanced, oddball characters, who let them down and lift them up. When Jeanne Ann's situation worsens, though, and Cal's desire to help gets the better of him, will their friendship survive? And without it, can either of them find their way through this mess? ---from the publisher

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Jeanne Ann and her mother have struggled in Chicago, with the mother working in a restaurant and Jeanne Ann spending a lot of time at her local library branch. They've always thought about going to San Francisco, but Jeanne Ann is a little concerned when they pack up in a decrepit van to drive out there to live with a former co worker of her mother's. They end up parked on the street when the van's tire goes flat, and the mother is looking for work.

Cal is very artistic, but struggles with social skills after losing his friend group, and gets in trouble for an art installation at his private school. His mother, who works in the restaurant she owns, very busy but feels Cal needs "a change of scenery" and has him working at the restaurant. Their home is right across from where Jeanne Ann's van is parked. The two eventually meet up, and Cal is very concerned, because he has watched the vans for a while and knows they are occasionally towed, especially in the first one in line, which is where Jeanne Ann's is parked.

The two have a tentative friendship during the summer. The mother's job searching is not going well, and she will not fill out forms or take certain jobs, which makes Jeanne Ann worry about her motives and planning. The friend ends up not being in town.

Living in the van is difficult, and when Jeanne Ann finds out how much rent is in San Francisco, she starts to panic. She sells all of her carefully collected books, and saves the money that appears under the van's wipers with notices to vacate the area. There is a citizens' group trying to oust the vans, led by Cal's neighbors. Another van sweller, Sandy, has a complicated relationship with this group. Cal and his mother try to help the family, but there are no easy answers.

Strengths: This was an interesting book with many levels. The juxtaposition of Cal and Jeanne Ann's lives was particularly interesting since they lived on the same street. The details of why the family ends up living in a van, and how they manage various activities is important in helping young readers understand how others may face difficulties they may not. Cal's presence makes the neighborhood initiative to remove the vans more interesting, and the fact that Jeanne Ann loves reading will immediately endear this to librarians and language arts teachers. The San Francisco setting and the different restaurants adds to the appeal of this.

Weaknesses: I wish this had been tightened up a bit-- Cal's problems at school didn't add to the story for me, and I'm still reeling from the fact that Jeanne Ann left Chicago with over $500 in library books. The notes from her librarian there were sweet, but again, could have been cut.

What I really think: This is similar to Nielsen's No Fixed Address in that the mother is having some problems, but they are not as defined or addressed as they are in that book. I may purchase, since I have been looking for books on housing insecurity, but this was rather long (400 pages) for middle school. Trust me, I wish this were not the case, but I know that when I hand this to a lot of my readers, they will balk!

Recommended by:  Karen Yingling, Library Media Specialist, Ohio USA

Read more of her reviews:  msyinglingreads.blogspot.com

 

Other reviews:

"A big-hearted novel with characters I wish were my friends in real life." --Gennifer Choldenko, author of the Al Capone at Alcatraz series

"Insightful, touching...and timely...Not to be missed" --Karen Cushman, author of The Midwife's Apprentice

"Absorbing and warmhearted...Readers will be transported" --Annie Barrows, author of the Ivy & Bean series

 

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