Hunter LaSalle, 13, might as well be named Hunted: his foster mother, two of his foster sisters and the school bully are all out to get him. His best friend was his foster dad, Mike, and the story opens at Mike's funeral. But when a motorcycle roars through the burial service, Hunter can't shake the feeling that the rider is connected to a vision of the angel Gabriel that he had at age four. On impulse, Hunter prays to Gabriel for help out of a few jams and immediately good, nearly magical things start happening. Hunter wonders if this really is divine intervention or if he is losing it ("We all go crazy in different ways, I guess. Being religious is better than getting a handgun and shooting up the family, right?"). Sweeney (Headlock) solves the mystery partway through, but replaces one source of tension with another to keep the pages turning. The plotting doesn't quite pass the plausibility test, but Hunter is a sympathetic hero, and his honest narration and the plentiful action will pull readers through to the end. Ages 14-up. (Mar.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Guardianby Joyce Sweeney
Hunter has never had anyone to look out for him. His mother gave him away when he was young, he's never known his father, and his foster mother leaves a lot to be desired in the mothering department. So when a mysterious, benevolent force suddenly starts coming to his aid, Hunter doesn't know what to believe. Could he really have a guardian angel? Hunter so badly… See more details below
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Hunter has never had anyone to look out for him. His mother gave him away when he was young, he's never known his father, and his foster mother leaves a lot to be desired in the mothering department. So when a mysterious, benevolent force suddenly starts coming to his aid, Hunter doesn't know what to believe. Could he really have a guardian angel? Hunter so badly wants someone to care that he's willing to take a leap of faith, and more. But when he finally learns the truth about his angel, he'll have to decide whether it's the best thing that ever happened to him or the worst.
The Guardian is a masterful pairing of suspenseful, fast-paced storytelling with genuine compassion and heart; Joyce Sweeney at her best.
Hunter LaSalle, 13, is devastated by the death of his foster father, Mike. Now he and his three foster sisters are left with their avaricious foster mother, Stephanie, who is cheap with maternal affection (particularly toward Hunter, whom she physically abuses) and exploits the children. Hunter is also bullied in school and negatively singled out by a teacher. Soon after Mike's funeral, an unseen force starts answering Hunter's altruistic and vengeful prayers. Hunter suspects it might be the angel Gabriel, leaving the boy yo-yoing between renewed faith and the possibility that he's going insane. After a violent confrontation with Stephanie, Hunter's guardian angel is (fairly predictably) revealed as Gabriel Salvatore, Hunter's spying, ex-con father. Kidnapped by Gabriel, Hunter quickly learns he's traded one dysfunctional, dangerous situation for another, and must make a choice: stay or run. This problem novel isn't light fare but is still age appropriate. Hunter's narration reveals a likable, self-aware teen starved for affection. Sweeney's prose is insightful and realistic, with cleverly delivered descriptions. The peripheral characters are believable, and the religious undercurrent supports the plot. Well-paced, and with a satisfying conclusion, this book will appeal to reluctant readers and fans of contemporary realistic fiction.-Danielle Serra, Cliffside Park Public Library, NJ
“Sweeney has convincingly channeled Hunter’s teenage angst, and readers will want to see his story, with its many twists and turns, through to the end.”—The Horn Book
“Hunter is a sympathetic hero, and his honest narration and the plentiful action will pull readers through to the end.”—Publishers Weekly
“Suspenseful and unexpectedly tender, this short, action-packed thriller will be an easy sell to reluctant readers.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Sweeney’s latest is, like many of her previous, a notable choice for reluctant readers.”—Booklist
“Well-paced, and with a satisfying conclusion, this book will appeal to reluctant readers and fans of contemporary realistic fiction.”—School Library Journal
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Read an Excerpt
By Joyce Sweeney
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2009 Joyce Sweeney
All rights reserved.
I start answering the door so I won't feel invisible. It's one of the tricks I've picked up in foster care — even people who hate you will cut you a little slack if you make yourself useful.
Andrea, in the corner, watches me make my move. I call Andrea The Watcher because whenever I think I'm alone, I'll get this cold feeling, like how you know there's a cockroach in the room, and there she'll be with her bulging forehead and bland blue eyes, recording like a machine in case I do something worth reporting to Stephanie, our foster mother. The grieving widow.
Andrea has done something weird to her hair today, like she confused the funeral with a prom. It makes her forehead jut out even more. She just started high school and she's already getting the message she's not exactly a magnet for boys. She's not actually ugly, but, as a guy, I can see why she doesn't get asked out. Andrea has no mystery. That sounds stupid, maybe, but I think it's true. You can't fall in love if there isn't some kind of mystery. Have you ever heard anyone say they love soft-boiled eggs? Andrea is like a soft-boiled egg.
I open the front door and two women storm in, almost stepping on me. I have to jump out of the way. I don't know them. I don't know most of the people here, filling up our living room, sitting on chair arms and coffee tables, filling our kitchen with sweaty casserole dishes. Most of them are women. Hey, who knows? Maybe Mike had something going on.
The two women push me out of the way and make a beeline to the couch where the Widow Stephanie is holding court in her new black dress from Saks, holding a black lace hankie up to her face, saying she doesn't know what she'll do now, four kids dependent on her, no emotional support, please make all checks out to cash, et cetera. I don't know what she's talking about. Mike was the kind of guy who would have a ton of insurance and since he was a veteran of the Iraq War, she's probably got a brand-new government check coming. But maybe she'll decide four kids are too many. I'll give you one guess which one of us she'd put in a sack and drown.
* * *
I decide to sit in the kitchen for a while, poking a fork into one of the casseroles. Room temperature mac and cheese clearly spiked with Cheez Whiz or some such chemical. But Rule Number One in this house is take nourishment whenever you find it. Just like it is with wild animals. You think ravens would eat carrion if they could go to McDonald's?
McDonald's is a Mike memory. Some Saturday mornings we'd do manly things together, like pull black leaf rot out of the gutters, and then we'd head out, just us, for a plastic tray of artery-cloggers. That's what Mike called the foods he loved. He made a big mistake, as it turns out, thinking that was a joke.
I listen to the high-pitched whine and chatter in the living room, longing to hear a deep voice. An image flashes in my head of Mike, lying on the ground, having his stroke, twitching like a hot wire. Cheez Whiz rises in my throat. I put the fork down and replace the aluminum foil cover like those sheets they put over the dead patient's head on TV.
I detect motion in the doorway. My eyes flick up. It's my foster sister Jessie. Jessie is The Stalker. I have a loving little pet name for each of my three sisters. Jessie is actually the best of the bunch. Her only flaw is that she's in love with me, not because I'm all that, but because I'm a guy who's thirteen and she's a girl who's twelve and we live in the same house without being related. Jessie is fighting forces beyond her control.
She stares at me now with her earnest freckled face, twisting her fingers into weird shapes in front of her skirt.
"Hunter? Are you okay?" One of Jessie's stalking techniques is to pretend to be concerned about me. It's effective too because that's something I'm sort of starving for.
But it doesn't work today. "Go away, Jess."
Of course, she doesn't buy that. She comes closer, slowly draws out a chair. "This must be harder on you than anyone else."
I wonder what she'd do if I grabbed her and kissed her. Enjoy herself probably. "I would think it's harder on Stephanie than anybody else," I say.
"But you ..." Her clammy hand descends over mine. "You need a male role model." That's how she actually talks. Needless to say, she's the favorite of bullies all over our school.
I lower my eyebrows until I can hardly see. "Don't worry, Jess. I won't start trying on your dresses."
The clammy hand withdraws. A good stalker always knows when to retreat, so she can stalk another day. "I'll be in my room if you want to talk." She stands up, dark flowered dress swishing. I glance up to see her lifting her brown curls off her neck with one hand. For a second, she looks like a woman. It's creepy how girls our age keep morphing back and forth.
"Don't count on it," I mutter.
She swishes away, like she's sad for both of us.
I feel myself getting ready to replay Mike's stroke again, so I call up a different image. I think about The Motorcycle Man. If it can be said that anything good can happen when you're lowering a body into the ground, this would be it.
There we all were, this afternoon, trying not to hear the sound of the motorized coffin-lowering machine and Stephanie crying so loud it was like howling and suddenly: Vroom! Vroo-vroo-vroo-vroo-vroom!
We all looked up, automatically drawn to a better show. Some crazy man was riding his Honda through the cemetery.
Of course, Stephanie and her crew were horrified, hissing about respect and decency. Father Dunne took out his cell phone to call the cops.
But I was thrilled. My soul had almost been down in the grave with Mike after an hour of women crying and Father Dunne telling us that "the grass withers and the flower fades," and this guy with the big Adam's apple singing "You'll Never Walk Alone."
Suddenly, in the midst of that, something wonderful had broken through and was now making a sharp, banking turn and coming to a stop about a hundred feet away from us.
And here's the best part — it seemed like the rider was looking straight at me.
I stared back. I memorized everything, from the Gold Wing logo on the bike to his helmet — black with a mirrored visor.
I forgot to breathe and gasped. Then the spell was broken and he stomped the gas pedal and roared away, scattering all the birds in the trees and throwing up a plume of dust that hung in the air, long after the roar of his engine had faded away.
"Outrageous!" said Father Dunne, before lamely trying to finish his act in front of a distracted audience.
I thought maybe it was some long-lost army buddy of Mike's, coming to pay his last respects.
So why did I keep feeling like the guy had come for me?
* * *
"Hunter! What are you doing?"
I jump and drop the fork with a clatter. Thinking of The Motorcycle Man gave me an appetite and left me so deep in thought I had lost track of Stephanie. Usually I can follow her movements around the house by smelling the cigarette smoke.
"I was just ..." I cough.
"Eating out of a casserole dish like the filthy pig you are, right? You're an animal!" She paces the kitchen, heels making a sound like artillery fire, her beautiful heavy dark hair swinging behind her as she pivots. My foster mother is pure evil, but she has gorgeous hair.
"My husband has died. Do you realize that, Hunter? Did it occur to you that instead of sitting here stuffing yourself and contaminating our food you could be helping me? Comforting me?"
She really isn't talking to me, so I don't answer.
She picks up a cake safe from the counter and shoves it into the crowded fridge, making something in there fall over with a clatter. "Maybe you could have been putting these dishes away for me, Hunter. Did you ever think about that?"
"I ..." I pick up the mac and cheese to show my willingness to help.
"Just throw that in the garbage! You put a fork in your mouth and stuck it back in the dish! Do you think me and the girls want to eat your germs?"
I wonder about her friends in the living room hearing this. But they already know I'm her difficult child. I carry the dish toward the sink, careful not to get too close to her. Like a dog, Stephanie has an attack zone.
But I've misjudged. She lunges, grabs the dish from me. "Just throw it in the garbage! Just throw it in the garbage like everything else!" She is shrieking. The casserole slips from her hands. The smell of Cheez Whiz fills the air. Glass shards go flying.
"Oh!" Her ruby-painted claws dig into my arm. "Look what you made me do!"
"I'll clean it up. You just go back out ..."
She lets go and sits on the floor, dangerously close to the glass. She buries her face in her hands and sobs.
I feel bad for her. She's lost her husband. She gets overwhelmed with little stuff, so what is this doing to her? Cautiously, I put out my hand, hover it above her shoulder. "Stephanie. We'll be okay. ..."
She shoves me so hard, my feet leave the ground. I land on my back, feel glass dig into my shirt. Macaroni squishes under my legs. I notice it's gotten very quiet in the living room, but no one comes to help. No one ever does.
Stephanie stands. She's a mess; raccoon eyes, hair disheveled. Her whole body is trembling. For a second, I think she might stomp me, but then she just turns and leaves the kitchen.
I lay still for a while, cuts and all. I've learned over the years the importance of resting up after things like that. After a while, I've got myself breathing normally.
I work calmly and slowly. It's good to have things to do. I take off my shirt, pick the glass shards out, take the shirt into the laundry room, and put it in the laundry sink with a presoaker.
Then I pick up all the glass and throw it out, collect the macaroni pieces with paper towels, and clean the whole section of floor with a bucket and sponge. Pine-Sol and Cheez Whiz combine into a lethal smell. By then it's time to put my shirt in the wash. I put away all the casserole dishes, which takes some time, because there isn't much room in the fridge. I also put away all the candy, cookies, and pies. In the living room, I hear the first guests beginning to leave and I hurry up a little.
Using the back hallway, I go down to the bathroom we kids all share, strip, and take a long, hot shower. For insurance, I pour half a bottle of rubbing alcohol down my back, gritting my teeth at the burn, but knowing it's for my own good. There isn't much blood at this point. None of the cuts were really deep. It doesn't matter anyway. I can't put Band-Aids on myself.
I put on a T-shirt I can afford to ruin and jeans, and then I close the seat, sit down on the toilet, put my head in my hands, and cry so hard it feels like I'm trying to throw up.
The door opens. "I see your wee-wee!"
Sister Number Three, five-year-old Drew, aka The Screamer. This is a phase she's going through now, opening the bathroom door on me. I'm hoping it's a short phase. I also wonder what kind of sadistic builder put a pocket door on a bathroom.
She stares at me now with her angel face, her big brown eyes taking in the situation, realizing her mistake. "Hunter's crying!" she screams instead. She takes off down the hall, ponytail bouncing. "Hunter's crying! Hunter's crying!"
I decide to go to bed early.CHAPTER 2
The next day is Monday and we're back to business as usual. Stephanie explained herself all day yesterday, saying she needed to go right back to work to "hold herself together." Personally, I'd like to take a day off from school and fall apart, but I know that's not going to happen.
I sit at the kitchen table, cutting a piece of toast into smaller and smaller squares with my knife and fork. Women and girls fly and flap around me in all their stages of dress and undress, and I feel like I'm looking at them from the end of a long tunnel.
"Drew, please eat something! You're going to make me late!" Stephanie is hopping on one foot, trying to pull the strap of a sandal over her heel.
Drew is using her spoon to draw circles in her oatmeal. "Can I have a banana?"
"I need five dollars," I say, trying to slip it in through the confusion. "Our class is raising money to help the Red Cross."
"Five dollars! That sounds like an awful lot!" says Andrea.
"Who asked you?" I break into a light sweat.
"Well, if you're making a donation, the amount should be voluntary." Andrea has locked on me with her bland blue eyes. "I can't believe they'd tell you an amount you have to give."
God, how I hate her. I look at Stephanie, but she's not even listening. She's advancing on Drew with a hairbrush in her teeth.
"You can sit next to me on the bus if you want to, Hunter," Jessie ventures in a low voice.
I give her a vicious glare until she drops her eyes.
"How do you get your hair in such a mess just by sleeping?" Stephanie asks Drew, brushing furiously.
"I want a banaaaaaana!" Drew screams.
"Stephanie?" I try again. "Did you hear me? I need five dollars for school today."
"I'll loan it to you." Andrea smiles. "At twenty percent interest."
"I have five dollars." Jessie rummages in her bottomless backpack. "Mom, can I give Hunter the five dollars he needs?"
I look at Jessie across the table. I do want to be grateful, but ...
"Don't give him money!" Andrea says to her. "He's always asking for money and making up stories about it. He's taking advantage of you!"
I wonder, since Stephanie isn't reacting to any of this, can she even hear us? She seems totally focused on brushing and ponytailing Drew. "Whose turn is it to make dinner?" she asks.
"Hunter's!" Andrea cries.
Actually, it's Stephanie's turn, but I'm not stepping in that. Anyway, the refrigerator is full of casserole dishes. "Yeah, it's mine," I say to Stephanie. "So anyway, could I please have ..."
"Here!" Jessie thrusts a handful of crumpled ones across the table at me.
Andrea grabs it. "Stephanie! Are you going to let Hunter shake down his own sister that way?"
"Guys, please!" Stephanie says. "I can't hear myself think. Drew, let's go. I'm late!"
Drew starts to cry and hiccup. "I want a ba-na-na!"
Stephanie picks her up and carries her to the back door. We all pause and listen to the car rev up and head out. Then, like someone hit a button on a remote, we go back into action.
"Give me that money!" I lunge at Andrea across the table. She dangles it just out of my reach.
"Give it to Hunter!" Jessie whines. "It's my money and I gave it to Hunter!"
Andrea chuckles. "You hear that, Hunter? She talks like you're her ho."
"Shut up!" Jessie's fists are clenched and she's blushing furiously. She comes at Andrea, knocking her chair over, and they start going at it like a couple of WWE divas, only without the sex appeal. Like the heel I am, I snatch the money out of Andrea's hand and step over them on my way out.
* * *
Jessie and I wait side by side for the bus in uncomfortable silence. Andrea walks to Coral Springs High around the corner.
"Thanks," I finally say to Jessie, not making eye contact.
"You can't keep this up," she says softly.
Luckily, the bus comes. I stand back to let Jessie get on first. Not because I'm a gentleman, but I want to see where she sits so I can sit somewhere else. Also, I'm in no hurry to see Duncan Presser. If I'm a ho, I guess Duncan Presser is my pimp.
He is sitting in the last seat on the bus, grinning at me like a fat boy looks at a Thanksgiving turkey. Jessie sits near the front, looking at me hopefully. I move to the middle. It won't matter. Wherever I sit, Duncan will come to me. If I sit next to another kid, Duncan will just glare at them until they move.
I study my hands, while my peripheral vision monitors Duncan sliding in next to me. The seat groans.
"What kept you, man?" I say.
He guffaws. I amuse Duncan tremendously, but he's an easy audience. I can make him laugh by joking around, but also with easier things like blushing, shaking, crying, moaning in pain ...
"Got my money, Girl-boy?" Duncan has a whole encyclopedia of pet names for me.
I silently pass him Jessie's five dollars, knowing that by making today easier for myself, I've made next week much harder.
"Hey, very good, Lambchop! I knew you were a smart kid." He snaps the money lovingly. "I'll bet that you're smart enough to come up with ten dollars by next Monday!"
Jessie turns in her seat and throws me an anxious look. I glare at her and she whips around.
"Duncan, it was really hard to get this. I can't ..."
"Oh, yes you can! You can and you will. Just be creative, Cupcake. Sell drugs. Rob a liquor store. The important thing is to keep me happy. Remember the last time I wasn't happy?"
My right arm remembers every time it rains. "Duncan, you can't keep raising the price on me! If it was, even, like the same price every week ..."
"I don't want excuses, Fruitpie!" He grabs my jaw, jacks it up so I have to look at him. "I want cash. You make it happen. Ten bucks next Monday. Or you die." He lets go and ruffles my hair. "Have a good week!" He lumbers back to his seat. All the kids who were staring quickly look away from me. I rotate my neck checking for injuries and finding none. I get a sneaky, sudden urge to cry but I fight it off. What choice do I have?
Excerpted from The Guardian by Joyce Sweeney. Copyright © 2009 Joyce Sweeney. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Joyce Sweeney's new novel centers on Hunter, a teenage boy who has been in foster care his whole life. Now that his faster dad has died, he and his foster sisters are under their unstable foster mother's guardianship. His only shred of hope is when he sees long-haired, motorcycle driving man that he is convinced is the same man that came to him when he was four and told him he was his guardian angel. When things start changing for the better and his prayers begin to be answered, Hunter is sure that finally someone cares about him. But is his guardian angel really what Hunter hopes he is? I thought this was a fantastic novel!!! Joyce Sweeney so perfectly weaves the story Hunter so that he is real to the reader. I cared immensely about everything happening to him. All of his foster sisters and even his foster mother were starkly contrasted and made to be three-dimensional - honest and raw in their portrayal. Hunter's voice was spot on, and Sweeney's writing style was poetic - yet managed to never be long-winded, but instead suspenseful and gripping. My thoughts and reactions mirrored Hunter's. I felt like I was alongside him at every triumph, every fall. I was hooked. From the moment I opened it, I could hardly put it down. She does the unexpected - she surprises you, yet satisfies you. She haunts and disturbs you, yet inspires you. I cannot rave enough. All I can say is make sure to buy it or check it out from your library - because it is worth every second of your time. (I love reading! To read more of my reviews, if you're interested go to my blog: http://bibliophilesupportgroup.blogspot.com/)
The Guardian By Joyce Sweeney Pub. Date: March 2009 3 out of 5 stars PG-13 - Violence and Profanity Recommended Hunter knew he would be okay, physically and mentally, when Mike was around. But now Mike has passed away, leaving his short-fused wife sole caretaker of four children, 3 daughters and 1 foster son. Hunter's mere presence could throw her into a violent rage. As his number of bruises skyrocket, his life takes an unexpected turn for the better. A mysterious force has begun to act on every prayer of Hunter's. Is there really such a think as a Guardian Angel? Or has Hunter finally gone crazy? The Guardian's plot was built on an interesting idea that didn't drag on. Every event ran quickly to the next. The family was a mess of odd characters. Hunter had my sympathy from the first page. His foster mom appeared to hate him and threw him off when she showed even the slightest compassion. She was very hard to pin down. All of his sisters were realistic and the youngest one was adorable. The dialogue was straight and to the point. The Guardian is going to be most enjoyed by middle school boys. The Guardian is a book worth your time, even though it seems over edited. Date Reviewed: March 30th, 2009 For more book reviews and book information check out my blog at www.inthecurrent.blogspot.com
Hunter is a 13 year old living with his abusive foster mother and three sisters. Things were going pretty well for him until his foster father dies. His foster mother becomes INCREASINGLY more abusive towards him, the bully at school raises the weekly fee, and because he can't stand it anymore he prays to that guardian angel he saw when he was four. But did he really see him? Is he imagining things or is his guardian angel really solving his problems? But do guardian angels seriously email people and scare a girl half to death? Hmm...curiouser and curiouser don't you think? I really liked this book! I would say it's a quick, light read, but even thought it's 177 pgs long, there is nothing light about it. It can get intense, unpredictable, crazy, and even pull at your heart strings at times. Many of the things that happened I just could never have predicted! It was just so surprising and sad!!! I really, really REALLY wanted things to end differently for him, but oh well. You will feel so sad for Hunter and by the time you've read the first ten pages, you'll be cheering for him and wanting him to just be happy. Trust me, it may start out slow but it gets intense then you just don't want to stop reading until you're finished and you find out what will happen with Hunter. I highly recommend this book so go out and get it now! Enjoy. :) From inside the book: The distant growl of a motorcycle engine wakes me up and I wonder if I'm going crazy. That's something I actually worry about a lot. Dr. Phil did this whole show on what kind of kids are prone to turn out bad and it was my biography. ..but when she says this, it's as if she reached into my chest and grabbed my heart. YOU WILL ENJOY READING THIS BOOK IF YOU LIKE: -reading about foster kids -guardian angels -awesome covers (If you notice on the back there are tire tracks!) -unforgettable stories -motorcycles -California -Florida -unpredictable stories -humor -psychos -evil people -page turners -tvandbookaddict.blogspot.com