Twelve-year-old Sugar Mae Cole has had to act older than her age ever since her beloved grandfather died, and her father abandoned Sugar and her mother, Reba, yet again. But when they lose their house, Sugar must summon additional strength as she and Reba face homelessness. “Before all this happened/ I wasn’t brave like I am now./ I didn’t know I could take care of my mother/ or pee by the side of the road/ and not get my underpants wet,” writes Sugar, a talented poet. She relies on her poetry, along with support from a loving foster family and a favorite teacher, when the stress of their circumstances drives Reba to a serious breakdown. Bauer (Close to Famous) explores a timely issue through the eyes of a resilient girl—the kind of heroine so familiar to Bauer’s fans. Sugar’s anger, fear, humility, and resolve are portrayed with insight and compassion. Bauer also brings moments of levity and hopefulness to the story, which she peppers with a cast of thoughtfully crafted personalities. Ages 10–up. Agent: George Nicholson, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Almost Home by Joan Bauer
"Sugar's voice is convincing, both as storyteller and young writer; her natural good humor shines through what could be a sad story indeed. Quirky supporting characters—both human and dog—add to its appeal. Sugar...will win readers hearts." —Kirkus, starred review
"sure to inspire" —Library Media Connection, starred review
"Bauer's trademark humor lightens the serious subject matter, while Sugar's frank honesty will give young readers a glimpse at a situation affecting a growing number of children." —Booklist
“Sugar's anger, fear, humility, and resolve are portrayed with insight and compassion.” —Publishers Weekly
“a memorable novel” —School Library Journal
“Almost Home… skillfully tells the tale of precocious and street-smart Sugar Mae Cole.” —New York Times Book Review
“While Bauer fans will definitely want to get their paws on this one, there's plenty of realism here to draw a wider crowd.” —BCCB
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. Newbery Honor winner Bauer (Hope Was Here, 2000) has created one of her strongest young women yet in the character of Sugar, writer of thank-you notes and poetry, dog-walker, parent-educator and trust-trainer. Her chronological first-person narration works, with notes, emails and poems to document the pain of dealing with an unreliable father, the difficulty of leaving a familiar home and beloved teacher, and the conflicted feelings of a child in a good foster-care situation. Sugar's mother, Reba, has trusted her gambling husband too many times. Can Reba develop the strength to resist him? Luckily, this resilient child has always had the support of other adults: first her grandfather, King Cole; then 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, both as storyteller and young writer; her natural good humor shines through what could be a sad story indeed. Quirky supporting characters--both human and dog--add to its appeal. Sugar, with her natural gift for rubbing down imperfections, will win readers' hearts. (Fiction. 9-13)
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—When Sugar Mae Cole is given a small, discarded puppy named Shush, she decides that he will become a helper dog. And help he does throughout her ordeal of losing her house, her mom's spiraling depression, moving from a small Missouri town to Chicago, and living in foster care. Sugar appreciates the importance of writing, which she learned from Mr. Bennett, her slightly eccentric but astute and talented sixth-grade teacher and from her mom, who has always emphasized the importance of writing thank-you notes. Her narration effectively includes her poetry, emails, thank-you notes, and reflections to reveal a resilient, thoughtful girl. As her name suggests, she tries to bring "a little sweetness into people's lives… [but, she knows] sweet doesn't mean stupid." Her philosophy, that if one "looks hard enough, there's always something to be grateful for," is especially hard to abide after her grandfather dies and her father takes off again, leaving a huge gambling debt. The conclusion is hopeful and satisfying. Though Sugar is still in a foster home, she and Shush become catalysts that empower Reba to stand up to her twice-ex-husband, help friends revitalize a business, and more. In her correspondence with Mr. Bennett, Sugar begins to feel ready to start a new life in seventh grade. Told with humor and pathos, the narrative is full of quirky, likable characters, all of whom are three-dimensional. Sugar's writing is sophisticated and touching, appropriate for a child who is thrust into an adult role. Altogether, a memorable novel that is sure to have broad appeal.—Maria B. Salvadore, formerly at District of Columbia Public Library
Read an Excerpt
I had a long night. I kept getting out of bed and walking through the house, remembering when we moved here after Reba and Mr. Leeland got divorced the first time. I was in second grade, and King Cole and Reba scraped together all they had and bought this house together. We were so proud to have our own little place. We painted the front door emerald green. It wasn’t the best paint job, but I remember going through that door and feeling my life was fresh and new and all the shadows from Mr. Leeland’s gambling were behind us. King Cole and I painted the wooden fence white and we fixed the cement steps. Reba and I planted peonies in the garden, and she repaired the rips in the screen door with clear nail polish. Mr. Leeland lived with us a few times, but he never stayed for long. He only cared if there was food and beer in the refrigerator, but me, Reba, and King Cole took care of this house with everything we had.
How could we be losing it?