Saturday, April 02, 2022

A Duet for Home

Glaser, Karina Yan. A Duet for Home
April 5th 2022 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

June and her sister Maybelle have been struggling since the death of their father in an auto accident, mainly because their mother has shut down. She stops going to work, and authorities arrive at the family's apartment to evict them. June is given a slip for a homeless shelter, helps pack their belongings, and is soon at Huey House in the Bronx trying to understand what is happening. Her mother's primary language is Cantonese, so June interprets a lot. Family counselor Mrs. G. is helpful and kind, but the director of the shelter, Mrs. McMillan, is not. One of the shelter rules is "no musical instruments", but June is determined to hold on to the viola her father gave her. Luckily Marcus, one of the staff, makes sure it is safe and manages to get it to the family's room when Mrs. McMillan isn't looking. We also meet Tyrell and Jeremiah, who have been living in the shelter with their mothers for three years. The two are very close, and often pull pranks on Mrs. McMillan. One of these goes wrong and sprays June and Maybelle with cranberry juice, but the boys feel bad and do apologize. June and Maybelle get transportation back to their school in Chinatown, but must get up at 5:30 a.m. and endure the long bus ride. Their mother is still very remote, but Mrs. G. helps the girls get settled in. The boys help June find a place to practice her viola, and one of the older women in the building managed to get June an audition with a woman who lives next door and teaches strings. Domenika is brusque, but when Maybelle settles down a dog she is pet sitting, she reluctantly agrees to teach June. When Tyrell accompanies her and mentions that he has always wanted to learn to play the violin, he gets instruction as well. The homeless shelter is under a lot of pressure to move residents out of the shelter into more permanent housing, both to make way for other families in need but also to lower the number of homeless residents in the city. Vouchers are being made available, but these are often applicable only in undesirable housing that is substandard or far from public transport. When the children find out that the new city policies are going to affect them, they decide to speak up. Will they be able to make a difference?
Strengths: The note at the beginning of the book describing Ms. Glaser's early work experience with New York's largest provider of transitional housing was very interesting. "Writing what you know" is always good advice, and A Duet for Home has a lot of good details about June's experiences, having to travel back and forth long hours to school, getting involved with the community at Huey House, and getting help from Mrs. G., as well as information about the politics of homelessness in a big city. The addition of June's love of music, and her continued interest despite her difficulties, adds an interesting layer. Tyrell and Jeremiah are great friends, and it was interesting to see the differences in their experiences at the shelter. Giving the children agency to gather information about the suspicious motivations of the shelter leaders and to complain to public officials will go over well with young readers who are interested in activism. The city setting is well described, and readers of Glaser's The Vanderbeekers will enjoy another perspective of New York City. 
Weaknesses: While it's great to think that public officials would listen to children and change policies, it seemed a bit unlikely. There are a lot of complicated issues at work that aren't so easily resolved in real life. 
What I really think:It's interesting to see the evolution of books dealing with homelessness. A small sampling includes Bauer's Almost Home (2012), Balliet's Hold Fast (2013), Aust's Shelter (2014), Messner's Exact Location of Home (2017), Stevenson's Lizzie Flying Solo (2019), Pyron's Stay (2019), Svetcov's Parked (2020),and Matheson's Shelter (2021). More recent titles are starting to address the political implications of homelessness and not just the experience of the family. I think we will continue to see more of this in middle grade literature. 

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