Tuesday, October 19, 2021


Matheson, Christie. Shelter
October 12th 2021 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Maya and her family have always struggled financially. Her mother was an art teacher, and her father was a free lance writer who had recently gotten a job working with a famous chef on a cookbook. They live in a small, rent controlled house near the school where Maya's mother taught art, but when the father is badly injured in a car accident and the house's owner gets a good offer to sell, Maya, her mother, and her young sister Gabby find themselves homeless. They are fortunate to get a place in a family shelter, but it's hard for them to get a new place. Gabby was born with many health issues and allergies, so it's hard for the mother to find a place where she can work and take care of Gabby. On the day of the story, a cold rain is forecast, and Gabby has to find her way across town to the school near her old house. She doesn't have a raincoat or an umbrella, which is a problem at her school, which doesn't have indoor hallways (which is apparently a common thing in California). She has other problems as well. Since her family could take very limited possessions to the shelter, she carries her most treasured possessions with her in her back pack. Her best friend, Abby, wants to have sleep overs, but Maya hasn't told her that her family is in the shelter. Worst of all, mean girl Sloane and her minion Madison are constantly making comments about how wealthy they are and making fun of Maya because she is not... and a school unit on helping the homeless is coming up in class. Combined with the worry about her father's health (he's in the hospital in a medically induced coma), this is a lot for Maya to deal with while she is at school. Her teachers are supportive, and the kind remarks they make or the small assistance they offer helps a lot. Maya's mother is interviewing for a job, and the family will be visiting the father in the hospital to check on his progress, both hopeful things in Maya's world, but when Sloane steals her backpack, it's too much for Maya to bear alone. Will she be able to let her best friend and others in her life know all of the difficulties she is facing?
Strengths: I'm a big fan of books that feature a location as almost a main character in the book, and I loved seeing San Francisco featured in this book! It's also a great place to highlight housing insecurity, since (by midwestern standards!) real estate is very high priced. It's good, if painful, to get glimpses  into Maya's life before her family fell upon hard times, and the details about how she navigates her new reality are helpful to know. I liked that Maya had people in her life who cared about her, and that there was some hope that the family's situation would improve. It seemed realistic that she would hide things from her best friend. Sloane's motivation for being mean was understandable, but it's still sad to think that this kind of behavior occurs. This is a short, compelling read that will be interesting to many elementary and middle school readers. 
Weaknesses: I was a bit surprised that the more well off friends or people in the school didn't give Maya's family coats or more clothes, since it was clear there were some things she needed. Perhaps it is more of a midwestern thing, but in my neighborhood, coats and outerwear were always passed around and I had to buy very little.
What I really think: It's important to have representations of children who are housing insecure, both so that those who are in the same situation can feel seen, and so that those who aren't can gain some understanding of this complex situation. This is a great addition to titles like Pyron's Stay, Fox's Carry Me Home, Stevenson's Lizzie Flying Solo, Sarno's Just Under the Clouds, Bauer's Almost Home, Messner's The Exact Location of Home, and (of course), Colley and Aust's similarly named books (both Shelter).


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