Hartinger (Geography Club) once again gets at the heart of teen dynamics with this tale of 15-year-old Lucy Pitt, who has been in the foster care system for eight years. As the novel opens, she arrives at Kindle Home, known as the Last Chance Texaco, like "those gas stations... [that come] right before a big, barren desert." According to narrator Lucy, the group home is a kid's "last shot to turn things around" before being sent to a prison-like facility derisively nicknamed Eat-Their-Young Island. The premise is unique, and Hartinger creates a strong sense of group home life by breaking down the rules-both those the counselors enforce and those the kids uphold for each other-and with snapshots of such scenes as troubled Roberto having a "meltdown" at dinner and Lucy sorting out her feelings for a boy as she shoots baskets with counselor Leon. The author convincingly portrays Lucy as someone who wants to come across as jaded, but who realizes the run-down mansion is "almost like a real home." The future of that home is jeopardized, however, when someone starts setting neighborhood cars on fire, and the group home kids become primary suspects. While readers will easily empathize with Lucy, other elements of the novel, such as the development of her romance with Nate, a "jock" at her new school, seem fake. Unfortunately, the mystery over the car fires further derails the story from its focus on Lucy's transformation. Ages 14-up. (Feb.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, March 2004: The author writes at the end of the book, "My stint as a group home counselor was short, but long enough for me to come to profoundly respect the dedication and the great sacrifices of the adults who make careers in foster care, and the amazing strength and courage of the kids they oversee." This is the story of one such group home, known as "The Last Chance Texaco" because everyone knows if a kid doesn't make it here, the only place left in the system is the equivalent of juvenile prison. Lucy Pitt is the narrator, a foster child who has known only chaos since her parents were killed in an accident, leaving her an orphan, a ward of the state. One situation after another didn't work out and now she is in an old house meeting counselors unlike others she has known. Perhaps these adults really are trying, especially Leon, who once was a foster child himself. There is more of a family atmosphere in this place, but most of the teenagers have serious problems. Lucy is smart, but changing schools so frequently and enduring the tension of being a new girl so often, with the added shame of being a foster child, hasn't given her much of an education. She has a record of addiction to painkillers, and she has been in fights often, so she is on the edge of disaster. Other girls in the foster home are eager to destroy her and get her kicked out of the place. It's a tough situation. At school she meets a guy who she hates at first, even to the extent of getting into a brawl with him: both are put into detention and in the month-long process of having to stay after school to pick up trash, they become friends. At this point, the story developsinto a mystery: someone is setting cars on fire in the street near the foster home, all are under suspicion, and it seems the place will be closed down. Lucy undertakes the task of finding the culprit and saving the home, and her new friend from school helps her out. The denouement and the final outcome are surprising but satisfying. Lucy is a strong heroine, one YAs will quickly respect. The story is a tough one, with some strong language, but it is a believable description of what life is like in group homes for teenagers in the foster care system. KLIATT Codes: JSRecommended for junior and senior high school students. 2004, HarperTempest, 228p., Ages 12 to 18.
Hartinger, author of The Geography Club (HarperCollins, 2003/VOYA April 2003), delves into the psyche of a fifteen-year-old foster youth. Lucy knows that she is "past the Point of No Return, and no counselor or therapist or foster parent ha[s] the time or energy to spend on a lost cause." Kindle Home is referred to as The Last Chance Texaco because it is the last stop for problem teens before being sent to the high security facility called Eat-Their-Young Island. But Lucy discovers that Kindle Home is different. There is a sturdiness about the old rundown mansion and about the staff, especially Native American counselor Leon, who as a foster youth survived Eat-Their-Young Island, and Ben and Gina, the young couple who run the home. The wealthy high school students do not welcome the group home teens, and Lucy slugs Nate for his disparaging "groupie" comment. Because of the altercation, both Lucy and Nate end up on trash detail. At first a guarded friendship develops and then a romance. Lucy becomes a hero when she rescues Yolanda, who has been torching cars in the neighborhood, but she cannot save Kindle Home from being sold. Although a bit abrupt, there is a happy ending to Lucy's story when Ben and Gina adopt her. Over all, Hartinger does an excellent job of addressing the "lost cause" feelings of a teen trapped in the foster care system. Readers will root for Lucy as she fights for her new life. Offer this one to teens who liked E. R. Franks's America (Simon & Schuster, 2002/VOYA February 2002). 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; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2004,HarperCollins, 240p., and PLB Ages 12 to 18.
Ruth E. Cox
Lucy is a troubled teenager who has landed in a group home called Kindle Home, which she dubs "The Last Chance Texaco" because it is literally the last chance she will have before being sent to Rabbit Island, a high-security juvenile prison. Lucy's parents died in a car crash when she was young. Since then, she has been shuffled from foster home to foster home. Each time that she trusted someone or got close to another person, she was disappointed. Now, because of these negative experiences, she is suspicious of everyone who seems to care for her. In addition to severe behavior problems, she is addicted to OxyContin. Kindle Home turns out to be different, though. One of the counselors, Leon, was himself sent to Rabbit Island, so he knows what it's like to be in trouble. He genuinely cares about Lucy, but she cannot accept his caring. Add to this background a mystery: Who is setting cars on fire trying to get the group home shut down? Lucy finds herself in the middle of it all. The writing is crisp and fast-moving. The characters are completely believable. Hartinger is a full-time writer whose compassion and empathy for teenagers is apparent. The book is fun reading for anyone, and may be quite inspirational for a teen struggling with similar problems as Lucy and the others in Kindle Home. 2004, Harpertempest/HarperCollins, Ages 12 up.
Kathy Egner, Ph.D.
Gr 7-10-Lucy Pitt is 15 when she is sent to Kindle Home, a group home and her last chance at a semi-normal life. If she makes any errors, she'll be sent to the high-security facility known as Eat-Their-Young Island. Kindle Home is different from the other places she's lived, primarily due to the dedication of the counselors and the way in which they connect with the kids. Lucy realizes that she wants to stay there, and although she manages to weather the consequences of her own impulsive tendencies, she can't control the lack of funding that threatens the Home or the arson that is causing the neighbors to become even more leery of having such an establishment nearby. Readers will root for Lucy and come away with a greater understanding of the complexities of group homes and their inhabitants. Hartinger excels at giving readers an insider's view of the subculture, with its myriad unspoken rules created by the kids, not the system. There is a touch of romance and mystery, and while those elements may be a lure for less sophisticated readers, the memorable aspect of the novel is the way it takes readers inside a system most of them have never experienced.-Faith Brautigam, Gail Borden Public Library, Elgin, IL Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
This is teenage Lucy Pitt's last chance: Sent to yet another group home, she struggles to fit in because if she screws up here, it's off to a notorious last refuge for hopeless incorrigibles. Lucy's not one to be cowed easily-getting shunted from one foster family to another for most of her life has seen to that-and she shows herself to be smart, plucky, and resourceful. A love affair ensues with a rich guy from the local high school as the foster home is permanently closed and she and her boyfriend solve the mystery surrounding a spate of neighborhood arsons. Teens will, for the most part, root for Lucy and her exploits and boo and hiss on cue for some of the really rotten characters. Not everyone will buy all of this, though. The romance doesn't ring true, and the story's ending will strike some as corny, if somehow satisfying. The mysterious arsonist will come as a surprise, however. A fair-to-middling read for not-very-discriminating readers. Some graphic profanity. (Fiction. 13+)