Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
At 15, Katherine is in charge of the house and her three younger siblings--the children's alcoholic, divorced mother has been in bed for weeks and weeks, and there is no outside adult to whom they can turn for help. They have good reason to conceal their troubles--while the three oldest children might be sent to their father in another state, the youngest, eight-year-old Alisa (whose father is unknown), would almost certainly be placed in foster care. New problems (broken plumbing, dwindling food supplies, forced absences from school) crop up as quickly as old ones are solved, and, to complicate matters even more, Alisa seems to be drifting away from reality as she endlessly searches for the door that will lead her into the enchanted world of Narnia. Tension escalates when a teacher sniffs out a bit of the children's predicament and threatens to intervene. Ironically, the teacher turns out to be the one person the children can trust during their most serious crisis. While the teacher's long wait before alerting authorities is not entirely plausible, the characterizations, especially Alisa's, are otherwise compelling and complex. The contemporary setting and inventive solutions to sticky conflicts (i.e., how can the children draw money from their mother's account?) keep the material fresh, and Katherine's candid narrative voice joins with skillful pacing to mark an especially auspicious first novel. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)
VOYA - Diane Tuccillo
When their divorced, alcoholic mother loses her job, Katherine, fifteen, Douglas, fourteen, Tracey, thirteen, and Alisa, nine, watch as she sinks into depression and a drinking binge lasting for weeks in her locked room. Worried about--yet more fearful of--their mother, the teens determine to stay together and prevent the local authorities from discovering their plight. They know that their father, who has a new family in another state, would reluctantly take them, but not Alisa, because she is not his daughter. Told in first person by Katherine, the story is a crusade for survival and a desperate attempt to avoid separate foster homes reminiscent of that in Homecoming (Atheneum, 1981) by Cynthia Voigt. However, unlike the Tillermans, the kids never venture farther than a local grocery store in the dead of night to get food. They are tormented by their situation and terribly afraid that someone will discover their secret. When Katherine's teacher does find out, she resists his help until the night Alisa runs away with hopes of escaping to Narnia. After Alisa's rescue, the authorities finally learn what is happening and the teens' father and his family agree to take them all in. This book packs less of a wallop than Mary Wolf (Atheneum, 1995/VOYA December 1996) by Cynthia Grant or The Facts Speak for Themselves (Front Street, 1997/VOYA December 1997) by Brock Cole, with as intense a parent-child role reversal. It is a sad, powerful, and compelling first novel that ends on a note of hope. VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Broad general YA appeal, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9 and Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
Children's Literature - Gisela Jernigan
Since Katherine's divorced, alcoholic mother lost her job several months ago, her mother has done little but sleep and drink, leaving 15-year-old Katherine in charge. Although her slightly younger siblings, 14-year-old Douglas and 13-year-old Tracey, try to help with varying degrees of success, Katherine is becoming increasingly worried about her youngest sister Alisa, who seems to be withdrawing into an imaginary Narnia-inspired world. The kids also have many practical, everyday problems to face, such as not enough food or money, and trying to hide their situation from other adults. When a shy but caring teacher of Katherine's suspects that something is wrong and tries to help, Katherine's efforts to hide their problems become even more desperate. Katherine and her siblings are very likeable characters that the reader comes to care about, and the ending is satisfying in a realistic, rather bittersweet kind of way.
An overstuffed page-turner, both melodramatic and absorbing, with a tried-and-true premise: a sibling's struggle to keep her family together despite overwhelming parental neglect. Katherine, 15, living on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., is desperate to keep her sister Tracey, brother Douglas, and half- sister Alisa, fed, clothed, and in school. Her father is far away, with his new family; her mother has been in a bedridden, alcoholic stupor for weeks. Even small tragedies an overflowing sink or a sulky heating system can completely consume the family, already coping with emotional burdens. Katherine fears the entrance of social services and the possible break-up of her family so deeply that she tells wild lies to teachers, especially to Mr. Dodgson, who seems to be trying to help her. His efforts, and hers to dodge them, combine for an explosive climax; the brief epilogue is abrupt by comparison. Alisa's search for Aslan, the lion king of Narnia (hence the title), and the three older siblings' addiction to cigarettes do not always cleave to or move along the plotline; instead, in her first novel, Quarles's strength is in conveying how it feels to be hungry, tired, and dirty, while attempting to keep up appearances. The characters in this novel are deeply flawed, yet readers will want to know, to the last paragraph, what happens to them. (Fiction. 11-13)
Read an Excerpt
Alisa's fingers were digging into the knees of her jeans. Her nails were turning white. "Is she mad?" she asked.
I looked at her, wanting to hug her but at the same time feeling a weird sense of responsibility, like I should try to be at least sort of parental. "Why would she be mad?" I asked carefully.
Alisa looked at the letter in my hands. "Well . . . what did she say?" she countered.
Smart. I didn't smile, though. "Why would she be mad, Alisa?"
She paused and then crumbled. "She doesn't believe me."
"What doesn't she believe you about?"
"Narnia." Her voice was disappearing, so I reached out and took one of her hands to reassure her. Then it registered what she'd said: "Narnia." Narnia? Was this about that letter? "What . . . ," I started, then stopped. I couldn't figure out what question to ask. "What are you talking about?"
That came out wrong. Alisa bit her lip but kept her head up. "I told her I saw the door to Narnia," she said, her blue eyes looking not quite at me but off to one side. "And I did. In the woods. I was trying to get to it, but Miss Barnes came and caught me before I could. She ran faster than me. And she yelled at me and the door disappeared . . . because she made toomuch noise. She scared it away."
"The door to Narnia," I echoed stupidly.