Nowhere to Call Home

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Overview

Unable to cope with the financial ruin caused by the Great Depression, Frances's father has taken his own life. Sad and bewildered, Frances cashes in the railroad ticket that would have carried her to her aunt's home, trades in her dress for trousers and a cap, and hits the rails as a hobo called Frankie Blue. With Stewpot, another young hobo, as her guide, Frankie learns to sneak on and off trains, find food, and protect herself. Then Stewpot gets sick, and Frankie realizes that the reality of life on the rails ...

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Overview

Unable to cope with the financial ruin caused by the Great Depression, Frances's father has taken his own life. Sad and bewildered, Frances cashes in the railroad ticket that would have carried her to her aunt's home, trades in her dress for trousers and a cap, and hits the rails as a hobo called Frankie Blue. With Stewpot, another young hobo, as her guide, Frankie learns to sneak on and off trains, find food, and protect herself. Then Stewpot gets sick, and Frankie realizes that the reality of life on the rails is far different from her romantic notions.

When her father kills himself after losing his money in the stock market crash of 1929, twelve-year-old Frances, now a penniless orphan, decides to hop aboard a freight train and live the life of a hobo.

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Editorial Reviews

Horn Book Magazine
Twelve-year-old Frances Elizabeth Barrow is jolted from her sheltered life by the suicide of her father in Depression-era Philadelphia. Abruptly separated from the kindly household servants-the only family she has ever known-and frightened at the prospect of living with an unknown aunt in Chicago, Frances snatches at the romantic notion of hopping a freight train and becoming a hobo. The naivet‚ of the set-up could easily have become melodramatic, but Cynthia DeFelice carefully unfolds a fairly realistic view of the grim but not always hopeless experiences of the homeless migrants of the time. Details of life in the boxcars and hobo camps abound, and believable glimpses into the lives of the many people encountered along the way reveal common threads of poverty and family dysfunction. Frances decides to travel as a boy (and later realizes the wisdom of that decision as she observes and hears the stories of some older girls among the hoboes). On her first night "on the drag," Frances is extraordinarily lucky to meet Stewpot, an experienced hobo just a few years older than Frances and glad to show a punk the ropes. Their early-winter venturing lasts only a few days but takes them all the way to Seattle, where their friendship ends sadly in the death of Stewpot from pneumonia. The theme of running away as a rite of passage plays out well, bringing Frances more painful loss but also courage and resolve as she returns to the prospect of a real home. The story is a good adventure, presenting readers with insights into homelessness quite relevant to our own time.
Horn Book
A good adventure, presenting readers with insights into homelessness quite relevant to our own time.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This realistic rags-to-riches (and back again) tale set in the time of Hoovervilles and bread lines follows a girl who takes up a hobos life. Sheltered, wealthy Frances Barrows world is thrown into chaos when her fathers factories go bankrupt and he kills himself during the Depression. When she hears a servants plan to become a hobo and ride the rails, 12-year-old Frances sees a way out of being sent from her home in Philadelphia to live with her stern aunt in Chicago. She gives the slip to the adults, cashes in her train ticket and disguises herself as a boy, leaping into a dark boxcar headed for Pittsburgh and freedom. DeFelice (Clever Crow) convincingly depicts Francess transformation to boy vagabond Frankie Blue, as well as the heroines blossoming friendship with Stewpot, the seasoned 15-year-old who takes her under his wing right from the get-go. By disguising Frances as a boy, the author cleverly evades graphic details of the dangers to frills, or girls on the move (alluding to the dangers through a few cameo appearances by other down-and-out females). Details of the Depression get more weight than character development; while readers will have a clear sense of the destitution that characterized the era, they may have less of a sense of who Frances is. Nonetheless, they will likely be relieved that she finally decides to leave a life on the streets for the safety of her aunts home. Ages 10-up. (Apr.)
Children's Literature - Jackie Hechtkopf
Once again, Cynthia DeFelice has delivered a solid, fast-paced, and compelling story that takes readers to an earlier time in American history. This book is set in the Depression era, one year after the stock market crash of 1929. When twelve-year-old Frances Barrow is suddenly orphaned by her father's suicide, she is demoralized by the prospect of living with an unfamiliar aunt in Chicago. Impulsively, she decides to disguise herself as a boy and try the carefree life of a hobo. On her first night out, she meets Stewpot, a streetwise young man who teaches her hobo language and ways. Together, they ride the rails across the majestic Rocky Mountains to a squalid Hooverville in Seattle. The trip teaches Frances that life on the road is not as glamorous as she had first believed. With its gutsy heroine and memorable characters, this vivid portrait of homelessness will complement any classroom study of the Great Depression. And like other DeFelice books, this one meets the true definition of good young adult literature-a book students will pick-up and finish on their own initiative.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-When her formerly wealthy, now bankrupt father shoots himself at the height of the Great Depression, totally naive and sheltered 12-year-old Frances becomes a penniless orphan. After hearing the kitchen staff talk about "hoboing," she decides to hop a train west rather than go to live with her unknown aunt in faraway Chicago. She disguises herself as a boy, commencing her adventure, and is lucky enough to meet up immediately with 15-year-old Stewpot, a 3-year veteran of the rails. He helps the newly named Frankie Blue (one of the servants taught her to play the harmonica-how convenient!) learn the tricks and lingo needed to survive. She also learns some hard lessons about what it means to be down and out as they travel together through the Rocky Mountains to the Northwest, where Stewpot eventually succumbs to pneumonia. A disillusioned, but newly aware Frances finally decides it is time to go to her aunt. The action is too compressed for the novel to be wholly credible, the unbelievability compounded by the rashness and unlikeliness of Frances's decision to go tramping in the first place, but the relationship that develops between her and Stewpot has a genuine ring to it. The young hobos are constantly mistreated by people as they travel from town to town and sensitive readers will feel the injustice of it. The book is liberally laced with the language of tramps that will fascinate kids. A solid edition to the growing body of fiction for middle graders set during this time period.-Carrie Schadle, Beginning with Children School, New York City
Kirkus Reviews
For readers who can swallow the notion that a 12-year-old newly orphaned girl from a wealthy, sheltered upbringing would run away to become a hobo, this is a gratifying adventure from DeFelice (The Ghost of Fossil Glen, 1998, etc.).
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380733064
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/28/2001
  • Edition description: First Harper Trophy Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Age range: 10 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 7.62 (h) x 0.41 (d)

Meet the Author

Cynthia DeFelice is the highly acclaimed author of eight novels for young readers, including The Ghost of Fossil Glen, which received a starred review in SLJ and a boxed review in Booklist, and The Apprenticeship of Lucas Whitaker, which was named an ALA Notable Book and a SLJ Best Book of the Year.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

With a start, Frances Elizabeth Barrow awoke from a sound sleep. She sat straight up in bed, her heart pounding unpleasantly. A noise, a loud one, had awakened her. But what, she wondered groggily, had it been? Some part of her brain recognized the sound, but in her muddled state of half sleep she couldn't quite place it. The longer she tried, the more unsure she became about what it had sounded like, or if she'd even heard it at all.

She rang the bell, and Mrs. Bailey, the housekeeper, soon peered in the door. In answer to Frances's question, she said, "It was nothing, miss. Go back to sleep." But her voice shook, her face was pale, and her smile looked ghastly in the dim light of the hallway.

When Mrs. Bailey's footsteps died away, Frances looked at the clock and saw that it was close to midnight. She got out of bed and peered down the corridor. Lights shone from her father's wing of the house. She wanted to go ask him what the noise was and why Mrs. Bailey had acted so peculiar, but she didn't. Father didn't like to be disturbed at night. He didn't like Frances disturbing him at any time, for that matter.

She shut her eyes and listened hard. At first she heard only the ticking of the grandfather clock on the landing and the occasional creak of the big old house's woodwork, but then she detected muffled voices coming from the direction of her father's rooms.

A knock at the front door made her jump with surprise. She hurried to her bedroom window. A police car and an ambulance were pulled up in front of the house, their lights flashing eerily through thedrizzle. Running to the top of the stairs, Frances saw Gordon, the butler, in the foyer.

Frances had never before seen Gordon wearing anything but his proper suit and tie. But there he was in pajamas, dressing gown, and slippers, his hair rumpled from sleep. He opened the door to admit three men, two of them in policemen's uniforms. There was a short discussion before the men, accompanied by Gordon, began climbing the stairs.

"Gordon, what was that loud noise?" Frances asked. "Where's Father?"

"Miss Frances!" exclaimed Gordon. Usually so composed and dignified, the butler looked startled and ill at ease. "You — you should be in bed, miss."

"But what has happened?" Frances asked.

"You wait, miss," Gordon said. "In your room. Mary or Mrs. Bailey — someone — will come and..." His words came out disjointed and choppy, then trailed off. He added, with a desperate, pleading note in his voice, "Please, miss."

Frances was so taken aback by Gordon's odd behavior that she stepped aside at the top of the stairs to let him pass. The three men nodded to her grimly as they, too, walked by. They headed down the corridor toward her father's rooms, and Frances stood frozen with uncertainty and dread.

She didn't want to disobey Gordon, but she couldn't go back to her bedroom and wait. She had to know what was happening now. After a moment of indecision, she began running down the hallway toward the lights and the sounds and stopped at the door to Father's sitting room.

There the servants — Mrs. Bailey; Mary, the housemaid; Bridget, the cook; even Junius, the stooped old gardener who had been with the family since Frances's father was a boy — were gathered, along with Gordon. The door to her father's bedroom was ajar; Frances could hear the other three men talking in low, urgent voices.

Before the servants saw her, she had a moment to observe their faces. They looked frightened, she thought. She was beginning to feel frightened herself. Their talk stopped when they saw her.

Frances asked the only question she could think of. "Is Father ill?"

Mary gasped and covered her face with her hands. Bridget turned a deep red, and tears squeezed out of the corners of her eyes. "Oh, the poor, wee lass," she whispered. Mrs. Bailey, the housekeeper, stared fixedly at the wall. The others looked down at their feet.

At last Gordon cleared his throat and said, "No, miss. That is..."

For a moment, Frances felt like stamping her foot and shouting. Why were the servants acting as if they'd lost their senses as well as their powers of speech? "Father!" she called. "What has happened?" She rushed toward the bedroom door, but, after just a few steps, she found herself lifted up into Junius's warm embrace.

"No, Miss Frankie," he said. "You don't want to go in there."

Junius was the only person who called Frances Frankie, and he did so only when Father wasn't around. Father didn't approve of nicknames, saying they were for the "lower classes." He said that Frances had been given a perfectly good name when she was born, and he expected people to use it. But Frances loved being called Frankie.

She almost smiled —until she looked into Junius's face and saw the anguish in his eyes.

The uneasiness that Frances had begun feeling when she'd first awakened fluttered in her throat. She buried her face in the front of Junius's bathrobe, wishing that she could stay right there, with Junius's arms around her and his hands gently patting her back, and never, ever have to listen to whatever it was he was about to tell her.

"Frankie, Frankie, Frankie," he murmured soothingly. "Something bad has happened, Frankie, and I need you to be as strong and brave as you can be. Can you do that for old Junius?"

Frances shivered. Without looking up, she nodded.

"You come on with me, now," he said softy.

Nowhere to Call Home. Copyright © by Cynthia DeFelice. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 12 )
Rating Distribution

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(9)

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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2007

    I loved this story

    This book was great, it tells the true meaning to be lucky. I recommend this book to anyone who loves to read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2007

    A reviewer

    This is the best story I've read! You always want to read on once the action starts. I'm not a big reader and I read almost 150 pages in one day! This book is great for anyone.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2007

    No.

    Bad Book. Really Boring. No stars at all, but you have to pick one!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2007

    Read This Book NOW!!!

    If you love adventure books this book is for you. I read it for a book report at school and my eyes did not leve the book. When I was not reading I was thinking of what was going to happen next. The cover may look dumb but the book is not. All Ages!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2006

    Nowhere to Call home

    Francis Barlows father has commited suicide, and she now must make a choice, go live with her aunt in Chicago, or take off the dress and trade it in for a hobo outfit of freedom. She has chosen the life of freedom. She feels like she has stuck to the rules to often, and she is ready for the wild life. But when she tries to scramble into her normal life, but can she? I loved this book because it gave you enough maturity to handle. I think it is appropriate for all ages and I would suggest it to anyone.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2006

    Good Book

    This story is about a girl in the Depression, who pretends to be a boy hobo when she loses her dad because he kills himself because he went bankrupt. She runs into trouble and other hobos on her way to live with her aunt in Chicago. I liked when she was in the boxcar full of oranges. I did not like it when a friend of hers dies of a bad sickness.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2006

    Girl Decides to run away and becaome a Hobo

    What I liked about this book was that it had great voice and distinct details. I really felt like I was watching what was happening. For me, wanting to be a writer when I'm older, this book has inspired me to try harder on my writings and I believe I can be a great writer if I do so. The only problem is that I have much to learn before I can make decent stories. What really caught me was how Frankie was willing to go to get Stewpot, which is was what a true friend would do. Since this book was so good, I can't wait until I read another book by Cynthia DeFelice

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2006

    Best Book Ever!

    'Nowhere to Call Home' was a book that you would want to read in one day. It was different about the way that people thought about money, because there was no money to go around. The main characters, Stewpot and Frankie Blue, were a great team because they worked to get where Stewpot wanted to go. But when they got there Stewpot died. My favorite part of the book was when they were describing the way they jumped onto a moving box car. At first, Frankie Blue thought that it was imposible because she was thinking, How do you lift youslef up? She started with Stewpot helping her up, but when Stewpot started getting sick, she helped him up. In conclusion, this was one of the best books I have ever read in my life. The day I started it I finished it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2004

    gotta read this book

    Your book was too exellent for words,and it made me cry for days.Frances an 12-year-old millonare is brave,independent,and caring.It must be depressing to see 2 men she loved die in one life time and this is coming from an 11 -year old.Your book made me love reading and i hope you write more novels like this one. It wasnt mundane either

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2004

    little reader

    This book was tuching for most ages. I loved that book I could not but it down. When I read it out loud the old people loved it to. They gave me how they saw it back when they were little. Thanks for the great book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2001

    GREAT GREAT, GOOD GOOD GOOD

    A great story! A real page-turner with a down-to-earth-feel that draws you into the story and captivates you without. A great accomplishment by DeFelice! It's the perfect story for anyone who enjoys a story, you don't even need to like books to love this. Two Thumbs Up!!!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2001

    One of a kind

    This intriguing book has captured my mind in so many different ways. The horrible living styles and so many homeless people really does capture the time period of the Depression.This is an excellent book that I would recommend to all ages over 12. The obstacles that Frances has to overcome makes this book so interesting I didn't even want to put it down. This book was also very informational about the Depression era and makes me think how lucky I am. This book is one of a kind and anyone who reads it won't be disappointed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2000

    A Great Read For Anyone!

    This is an excellent book, and I would recommend that people from 12 and up read it. This is a perfect example of what it was like in the Great Depression and how hoboes used to live. If you read this book, you will not be disapointed by it

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