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All That's Missing

All That's Missing

by Sarah Sullivan

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When his grandfather’s dementia raises the specter of foster care, Arlo flees to find his only other family member in this genuine, heartening novel. Arlo’s grandfather travels in time. Not literally — he just mixes up the past with the present. Arlo holds on as best he can, fixing himself cornflakes for dinner and paying back the owner of the corner


When his grandfather’s dementia raises the specter of foster care, Arlo flees to find his only other family member in this genuine, heartening novel. Arlo’s grandfather travels in time. Not literally — he just mixes up the past with the present. Arlo holds on as best he can, fixing himself cornflakes for dinner and paying back the owner of the corner store for the sausages Poppo eats without remembering to pay. But how long before someone finds out that Arlo is taking care of the grandfather he lives with instead of the other way around? When Poppo lands in the hospital and a social worker comes to take charge, Arlo’s fear of foster care sends him alone across three hundred miles. Armed with a name and a town, Arlo finds his only other family member — the grandmother he doesn’t remember ever meeting. But just finding her isn’t enough to make them a family. Unfailingly honest and touched with a dash of magical realism, Sarah Sullivan’s evocative debut novel delves into a family mystery and unearths universal truths about home, trust, friendship, and strength — all the things a boy needs.

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—For months, orphaned 11-year-old Arlo Jones has been fending for himself while keeping his maternal grandfather's dementia a secret. But when Poppo is sent to the hospital after suffering a stroke, Arlo's future hangs in the balance. Afraid of being placed in foster care, the boy embarks on a furtive journey to track down Ida Jones, the paternal grandmother he's never met. Because of age-old tensions between Poppo and Ida, Arlo feels trepidation at the idea of coming face-to-face with her. Sure enough, Ida is crotchety and delivers several heedless and nasty barbs about her daughter-in-law, Arlo's mother. Perhaps because he has little choice in the matter, Arlo looks beyond his grandmother's initial inappropriateness and gradually realizes that she has his best interests at heart. Despite clichéd secondary characters and a disjointed subplot involving mystery and magic realism, Sullivan artfully captures Arlo's feelings of uncertainty and his fervent wish to create a stable home life for himself. Additionally, the author's handling of Alzheimer's disease and its devastating effects on families is compelling. Recommend to youngsters who appreciate traumatic fiction with positive outcomes, but also steer them to Cynthia Voigt's Homecoming (S & S, 1981), which tackles similar territory far better.—Lalitha Nataraj, Escondido Public Library, CA
Publishers Weekly
Eleven-year-old orphan Arlo’s life with his grandfather has been tricky for some time: Poppo’s memory isn’t what it used to be. The situation worsens after Poppo has a stroke, and Arlo is forced into a children’s shelter. Determined to find his one living relative, a grandmother who hasn’t seen him in nearly a decade, Arlo hops a bus to Edgewater, Va. But his grandmother, Ida, turns out to be pretty “prickly” (“Poppo was in danger. And here Arlo was, 350 miles away, staying with a woman who was supposed to care about him but who seemed to have the heart of an armadillo”). Slowly, Arlo makes a friend—a girl named Maywood—and patches together the history of his fractured family. Meanwhile, a suspicious realtor is aggressively attempting to purchase Ida’s house. In a novel laced with mystery and a hint of the supernatural, picture book author Sullivan (Passing the Music Down) creates a strong small-town atmosphere through Edgewater’s citizens, young and old. A quietly affecting coming-of-age story about finding family and confronting change. Ages 8–12. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
It’s rare to find a quiet, reflective middle-grade novel with a boy as the main character, and rarer still to find one this satisfying. ... With touches of magical realism, and a crime caper thrown in for good measure, this gentle book explores how every family has some question nobody wants to answer.
—Cleveland Plain Dealer

Sullivan’s debut novel beautifully balances the big issues in Arlo’s life with his smaller, more immediate concerns: his dog, an adventurous friend, and the magic of a wooden eagle carved by his father. The characters’ race is often left ambiguous, allowing readers to envision for themselves. Filled with heart, this will appeal to fans of Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie or Eva Ibbotson’s One Dog and His Boy.

There’s no pretension in this simple but deep story... A playful air of mystery hangs over the second half of the novel, and there are even tinges of a good ghost story... Art history buffs will especially appreciate the fact that the final reveal involves a long-lost painting, but the carefully detailed development of a boy learning how to deal with being caught in-between will appeal to a wide range of readers.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (starred review)

Some suspense, much heartache, a few tears, and smiles all tie together nicely in the end to create an outstanding debut novel.

Children's Literature - Greta Holt
Arlo takes care of his grandfather, not the other way around. Poppo is losing his memory. He dumpster dives, forgets to pay the grocer, and calls Arlo “Frankie.” When Poppo must be hospitalized, Arlo is forced to spend the night in a shelter, where he is terrorized by a bully. Arlo decides to escape. He travels many miles in search of a long-lost grandmother on his father’s side. He has no parents because his mother and father were killed in an automobile accident years ago. Poppo and Grandma Ida have not spoken since. Sullivan’s story shows a lonely but resourceful boy tackling every obstacle in the way of a forever home. Concepts of what home is, where we belong, and what it takes to make family happen are recounted quietly but firmly. Arlo is determined, if sad. He gains friendships and battles those who would hurt his home. This is a graceful read, containing pathos, a little magic, and victory. Reviewer: Greta Holt AGERANGE: Ages 8 to 12.
VOYA - Valerie Burleigh
This novel, the first by Sarah Sullivan, takes us into the world of eleven-year-old Arlo. In his world, keeping everything together is paramount. No one can know that his Poppo is acting strangely, especially his teacher. If she finds out, what will happen to them? As things slowly unravel, Arlo finds himself living with a grandmother he does not ever remember meeting. Sullivan's style of writing makes this novel an easy read. The story flows along with pacing that is sure and steady and contains foreshadowing chapter titles. Arlo earns the reader's sympathy and admiration from the very beginning as he continues to try to make sense of a world without his parents. In fact, he knows very little about his parents since the two families have bad blood between them. Day by day, he tries to take care of his grandfather, yet the reader has a sense of dread that all will not be right for very long. His attempt to find a safe place where he can feel accepted is heartbreaking. Equally as heartbreaking is watching Arlo realize that he has to let go of all he has known and move forward. While Arlo's story is the one readers are living, they are also introduced to secondary characters in small towns that are just as real and lovable: Maywood, a young girl he befriends; Steamboat, the lovable dog who lives with his grandmother; Matthew who tells him stories from his dad's past; and Grandma Ida, who finds a grandson she has not seen in nine years on her doorstep. Young readers will root for Arlo and his happy ending in this coming-of-age story. Some suspense, much heartache, a few tears, and smiles all tie together nicely in the end to create an outstanding debut novel. Reviewer: Valerie Burleigh
Kirkus Reviews
After his maternal grandfather and guardian has a stroke, Arlo, an 11-year-old orphan, runs away from impending foster care to the home of his prickly paternal grandmother. In this family-lost-and-found story with a mystery element and a touch of the fantastic, Arlo moves in with his grandmother Ida, who, because of a familial estrangement, is a stranger to him. Despite her crusty demeanor, Ida is not unhappy to see him, and slowly, she and Arlo forge a connection. Ida is the best realized character in the book, more empathetic than her practical and resourceful grandchild, and the pain she tries to conceal under her hardened exterior is palpable. Although the main thrust of the tale involves the making of a family, a second story thread concerns Ida's home. A mysterious man is anxious to buy it--why? How Arlo and his new friend Maywood thwart the buyer, who turns out to be an art thief, rounds out the tale; although this plotline is intriguing and moderately suspenseful, it requires a lengthy setup, and the embedded supernatural element seems tacked on, giving the material a lumpy feel. Still, patient readers will root for this youngster as he works to create a place he can call home. (Fiction. 8-12)

Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Sales rank:
550L (what's this?)
File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

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Meet the Author

Sarah Sullivan is the author of Dear Baby: Letters from Your Big Brother and Passing the Music Down. This is her first novel. Sarah Sullivan has an MFA in writing for children from Vermont College and lives in West Virginia.

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