Rummanah Aasi
  I've had books by Joan Bauer on my to be read shelf for quite some time. It's not until finishing and loving Almost Home did I realize how much I am missing by not picking up her books sooner. Don't be fooled by the book's adorable cover, Almost Home addresses serious issues but it also features a very strong and likable heroine named Sugar Mae Cole and a wonderful uplifting story of hope and resilience even when facing the darkest moments in ones life,

Description: When twelve-year-old Sugar's grandfather dies and her gambling father takes off yet again, Sugar and her mother lose their home in Missouri. They head to Chicago for a fresh start, only to discover that fresh starts aren't so easy to come by for the homeless. Nevertheless, Sugar's mother has taught her to be grateful no matter what, so Sugar does her best. With the help of a rescue dog, Shush; a foster family; a supportive teacher; a love of poetry; and her own grace and good humor, Sugar comes to understand that while she can't control the hand life deals her, she can control how she responds.

Review: Almost Home is a moving and powerful story of a young girl who overcomes adversity. Through months of homelessness and her mother's breakdown, sixth-grader Sugar Mae Cole and her puppy, Shush, demonstrate what it means to be sweet and resilient. It only took me just a few pages to love and root for Sugar, the writer of thank-you notes and poetry, dog-walker, parent-educator and trust-trainer who is forced to grow up quickly despite her very young age. Through her first-person narration with notes, emails and poems we are introduced to Sugar's family problems: an unreliable, gambling addict and alcoholic father and her enabling mother who has low self esteem and acts like a child. In addition to the problems at home, she is faced with the fact that she is homeless and without the support of her beloved teacher.
  While these serious topics could easily make Almost Home dark and filled with melodrama, Bauer addresses many important and sensitive issues with grace and frankness. Through her wonderful and heart wrenching poems, Sugar tries to sort out her own mixed emotions about how her life is unraveling right before her eyes. Thankfully, Sugar has adult role models who support her and give her glimpses of light in her dark world such as her grandfather, King Cole; Mr. B., the sixth-grade teacher who encourages her writing and stays in touch; and, finally, Lexie and Mac, experienced foster parents who provide a safe haven but know when to let go.
  Sugar's voice is convincing and realistic, both as storyteller and young writer; her natural good humor shines through despite the dark undertones of her story. There are many times when Sugar's poems or internal dialogue had me choked up with emotion and wanting to grab her from the pages and give her a hug. I'm grateful that Bauer did not shrink away from approaching tough issues and offers a great opportunity for a discussion. Quirky supporting characters, both human and dog, add to the book's appeal. Sugar is a very strong heroine that will be admired by both young and adult readers alike.

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: Mature themes such as alcoholism, gambling addiction, depression, and domestic abuse are addressed in the book. Recommended for strong Grade 5 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Also Known as Harper by , How To Steal A Dog by Barbara O'Connor, Waiting For Normal by Leslie Connor, Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voight, Hound Dog True by Lisa Urban, and Keeping Safe the Stars by Sheila O'Connor
3 Responses
  1. As long as the dog is okay, I can take the dark parts that come with it. It does sound like a good book, but I'm not sure if it is something I would want to attack right now. Will have to put it on the list for later. Great review!

  2. This sounds like such an emotionally intense read, Rummanah. I'm already feeling a little choked up, and I haven't even read the book yet! I love that the author handles some tough issues in a realistic way that enables discussion.

  3. Aylee Says:

    Aww the cover immediately caught my attention in my reading because I LOVE reads that feature pups. That said, I'm even more pleased to hear that this wasn't just some cutesy read, despite what the cover might indicate. I definitely prefer deeper stories. So glad to hear you loved this one so much, Rummanah! Thanks for the rec.

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