Gr 7 Up—For years, Roonie has been taking care of her little brother, Daniel, as their mother spirals deeper and deeper into the New World Society. While their mother prepares for Departure Day, the day Society members will be taken up by aliens to another planet, Roonie uses the income from her after-school job to purchase food for the family. In desperation, she reaches out to her estranged father for support. Reconnecting with her father proves unexpectedly disquieting, as he shares with Roonie information that her mother has withheld. However, when her father announces his desire to assume custody of her and her brother, Roonie resists. She assumes life will return to normal after an anticlimactic Departure Day, only to learn that the family's problems are bigger than she realized. In the tradition of Cynthia Voigt's Homecoming and Margaret Peterson Haddix's Don't You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey, Roonie is a teen thrust too early into adulthood. The stress she experiences is palpable as she single-mindedly strives to care for Daniel, the one person she allows herself to love. Years of living on the edge with her irresponsible mother have drained her so emotionally that when she meets Carol, her father's new wife, she is taken aback to realize the woman radiates happiness, and she no longer knows how that feels. VERDICT With an engaging plot premise, a strong, flawed heroine and a touch of romance, this book will fly off the shelf.—Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District, Lancaster, PA
After Rooney's mom loses her job and dedicates herself to Departure prep, Rooney tries to keep her family afloat as she enters her senior year of high school.
Per her mom's insistence, Rooney learns more about the Next World Society's mission to leave Earth on Nov. 17 for a planet free of humanity's environmental disasters. All of this serves to highlight that Rooney can't rely on her mom in the here and now. In her desperation, she reaches out to her estranged father, who now wants custody of her and her little brother, Daniel. Meanwhile, Daniel begins to show an interest in the cult, and Rooney finds herself more alone than before. The aftermath of Departure day leaves the NWS in tatters, and Rooney and Daniel face an uncertain future—although fortunately they receive help from Rooney's teacher Mrs. Fisher, a Ghanaian immigrant. In her weighty debut, van Dam weaves an emotionally charged tale of betrayal, broken familial bonds, and redemption. Crucially, the author succeeds at zeroing in on Rooney's love for her brother and her resentment toward her mother. This focus, however, falters at times thanks to a lukewarm, predictable romance between Rooney and her best friend, Mercer. Aside from Mrs. Fisher and some racially diverse NWS members, Rooney, her family, and Mercer are all presumably white.
A strong portrait of family dynamics. (Fiction. 12-18)