Eleven-year-old Cal Lavender had been living her life more or less happilyuntil one fateful day when her mentally unstable mother has what Cal calls 'an episode' in a public library. The librarian's phone call to the police takes Cal's mother away in one patrol car, and whisks Cal away in the back of another cruiser to a brand new life in a group home, which houses four other girls from troubled family situations. From the moment she steps through the door, proud, independent Cal insists that none of what happens to her throughout this mistaken detour is part of her 'real life,' and that she will be going home to her mother very soon. Meanwhile, as she denies her reality, Cal gradually gets to know her four roommates and their life stories, as well as the Knitting Lady, an elderly woman who shares her knitting skills and kindness with the girls. The stories she tells them about two girls from long ago are set against the present-day stories of her struggling students. These interwoven narratives give readers an idea of what life is like for children and teens who find themselves navigating through the group home/foster parent labyrinth, both in modern times and the past. As readers follow Cal on her journey they learn the emotional costs, as well as the opportunity for cultivating personal strengths, and an appreciation of everyone's innate worth, regardless of his or her current situation. Well-told and thoughtful, the story unfolds in first person through Cal's eyes. Just one word of caution: there are some words in the text that may not be suitable for preteens. 2005, Henry Holt and Company, Ages 13 to 18.
Jill Wolfson's novel (Holt, 2005) focuses on 11-year-old Cal Lavender who must adjust to living in a group home after her mentally ill mother has an "episode" while visiting the public library. Cal believes that her time at the Pumpkin House, as the group home is called, is sort of a time-out from her "real" life and that someday soon everything will go back to the way it was. At first, she refuses to believe that she has anything in common with the other girls in the home and tries to distance herself from them, but she can't pull this off for long. With the help of their guardian, an old woman they call the Knitting Lady, and the four girls living in the home, she learns that all of life's experiences help to shape who we are. The unusual mix of personalities at the Pumpkin House makes this an extraordinarily interesting story. Through her storytelling, the Knitting Lady helps the girls come to accept themselves, despite their problems. The Full Cast Family provides a splendid performance. Vaudeville style piano music punctuates the beginning and end of chapters. A good addition to middle school and public library collections.
Kathy MillerCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Cal Lavender (11) has perfected what she calls "My Face for Unbearably Unpleasant and Embarrassing Situations," which unfortunately is coming in handy following her mother's latest public outburst. While the story never gives Betty, Cal's mother, a specific diagnosis, her mental health causes Cal to be taken into protective custody until such time as Betty is deemed a functioning parent. Assuming that her stay at the group home, dubbed the Pumpkin House, is simply a detour from her real life, Cal initially resists getting to know the other girls. These include Whitney, a girl with an imaginary sister and a motor mouth; Amber, who can't stop pulling out all of her hair; and Monica, who jumps at her own shadow. The head of the group home, simply known as The Knitting Lady, offers pearls of wisdom in the form of stories, offering the girls a glimpse into each other's lives. While the odd characters are interesting, it's the smart and unique voice that makes this story shine. (Fiction. 10-14)
Wolfson paints her characters with delightful authenticity. Her debut novel is a treasure of quiet good humor and skillful storytelling that conveys subtle messages about kindness, compassion, and the gift of family regardless of its configuration.” Booklist, Starred Review
“Wolfson's first novel is a grand-slam home run. Her wonderfully kooky characters, her fast-paced, witty dialogue, and her realistic depiction of emotional growth in severely damaged children keep the reader laughing and crying on every page. In the fine tradition of Holden Caulfield and Huckleberry Finn, Cal is loveably unforgettable. Somewhere, perhaps inside of every reader, is a child who will be reaffirmed by this exceptional piece of middle school fiction.” VOYA
“Thankfully, books like Wolfson'sissue-oriented and therapeuticgive all kids an enjoyable way to begin to understand the complications of living. Her book specifically is a small miracle for how gently it exposes the wounds of being a foster kid.” Santa Cruz Sentinel