Sunday, October 01, 2017

The Exact Location of Home

Messner, Kate. The Exact Location of Home
October 3rd 2017 by Bloomsbury U.S.A. Children's Books
ARC provided by the publisher

Kirby ("Zig") Zigonski, a friend of Gianna Z's, is both sad and irritated that he hasn't seen his father for over a year. He knows his dad is busy with business deals and travels a lot, but since his mother is in nursing school and trying to make ends meet by waitressing, it would be nice to see him. When Zig gets a GPS unit in a big box of electronics at a garage sale, he starts geocaching again and suspects that "Senior Searcher" is really his father, leaving clues for him to find. When their landlady, Mrs. Delfino, dies suddenly, Zig and his mother find that they are going to be evicted from their apartment because they owe three months of rent. After a night of sleeping in the car and showering at school, and a night with his aunt, who has an abusive husband, the two end up in a family shelter, sharing a room with two bunk beds with Heather and her young son, Scoop. It's nice because they get a meal and it's not too far away from school and his old home, but Zig doesn't want his friends Ruby and Gianna to know what has happened, so he has to put on a good front. A surprising ally is Kevin, whose family is also homeless. As a few days quickly become a month, Zig finds it harder to get by, and wants his mother to contact his father, but she refuses and won't tell him anything about what is going on. An insensitive teacher at school who makes the children take donated food to the homeless shelter doesn't help, although Zig is lucky to get a fair amount of support. Eventually, he has to come clean to his friends, and eventually, things improve a little bit, with help coming from on unexpected source.
Strengths: Messner writes a "message" book with a dash of humor and characters who have their own interests, which keeps them from being soggy and sad. Yes, Gianna's grandmother is struggling with dementia, but Gianna has her running. In The Seventh Wish, Charlie's sister struggles with heroin addiction, but Charlie has her Irish dancing. Zig still is interested in geocaching and electronics even though his family is struggling with a lot of issues. I think this is very important for children who are reading these books. People don't become their problems. They are still ordinary children who struggle with a variety of issues. It makes for a much better story, too. This reminded me a lot of Sonnenblick's Zen and the Art of Faking It, and I was glad it didn't have the fantasy element that The Seventh Wish had. I think that Messner, who writes so many different kinds of good books, may have found her "thing". Books that language arts teachers want to use as class reads that students will actually enjoy. Brava.
Weaknesses: I didn't care much for the geocaching clues and skipped over them, and the ending was a tiny bit too neat for real life. Sweet, but too neat. Also, I feel like there may be another whole book about the aunt, since her story was not really discussed much.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and it will be a popular choice. It also made me think: Am I like Mrs. Heath? I'm probably not as sensitive as I should be, but I do always have pencils and paper in the library for students who need them, as well as other school supplies. And socks. I seem to be the local supply for socks. Even if a student has an overdue book, there are about 100 paperbacks they can choose from to read. For a while, I had study table in the library for children who arrived at school very early, but that was hard for me personally and emotionally. If I had the support of the administration, and students came in to read or study and NOT play on phones, I could definitely do a better job of helping out in that way.

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