Thursday, July 04, 2019

Echo Park Castaways

Hennessey, M.G. The Echo Park Castaways
July 2nd 2019 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Neveah has been in the foster care system her whole life, and has seen less than optimal placements. That's why she's glad to be with Mrs. K. The house is fairly organized, there is always food, and no one is mean to her. Mrs. K., however, has struggled since the death of her husband and is not very interested in being involved with the children, so a lot of the care of the younger Mara and Vic falls on her shoulders. She's okay with that-- if she can help Mrs. K. out, her place is secure, and she can make it through the four years of high school and get into college on a scholarship for foster children and become a doctor. When a new child, Quentin, is added to the mix, things start to get complicated. It's difficult enough that Vic deals with his grief by pretending to be a spy, and that Mara rarely speaks, and is more fluent in Spanish, but Quentin is on the autism spectrum and has a lot of different behavioral issues than Neveah has seen. When Vic promises Quentin that they will go find his mother, who is ill and in the hospital, Neveah panics when all three younger children are gone, and follows their trail from Echo Park to Torrance, California (about twenty miles) on a variety of buses and trains. She catches up with them eventually, but the trip in general does not go smoothly. The children find out some secrets, narrowly escape tragedy, and bond in a way that makes them more of a family. They also finally get through to Mrs. K., who realizes that she must move beyond her own difficulties to care for the children.
Strengths: I love Neveah's attitude about life! Things are great, but they could be worse, and if she works hard enough, things will get better! I wish more middle grade characters embraced this philosophy! Vic's spy interests seem a bit quirky, but are well described, Mara's silence is understandable, and Quention's depiction is realistic for a child on the spectrum with few life experiences. Their adventure to Torrance is also portrayed realistically, with enough challenges to make it interesting, but with no horrible consequences. I enjoyed this one a lot.
Weaknesses: Ever since Linda Mullaly Hunt's One for the Murphy's, I've been careful about books involving foster care. There were portions of this that seemed odd to me (Nevaeh describes the people who foster children as either very religious, in it for the money, or old, and she describes a placement where children were forced to make dog beds after school each day before being fed.) I'm sure there are horrible foster parents out there, and since Hennessy works with children in foster care in LA, so I will assume she knows more about children in the program than I do.
What I really think: I wish the cover were a little better, but I think this book will circulate with my readers who like problem novels. This author's other book, The Other Boy does well. Definitely purchasing.

Ms. Yingling

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