Closer to Nowhere

Putnam. Oct. 2020. 416p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780593108611.
Gr 5-8–This novel in verse centers cousins Hannah and Cal. Cal is a troubled sixth grader who has been living with Hannah and her family for over a year. Cal’s mother died of leukemia three years ago, sending him to live with his father (who is abusive and experiences drug addiction) until his father’s imprisonment. Cal and Hannah share a mean alcoholic grandmother, but Hannah has had a completely different upbringing from Cal. She has thrived from a stable family, gymnastics, and dance—she isn’t thrilled when volatile Cal is thrust into her life. Told through the two tweens’ alternating voices, readers soon understand Cal’s frustration and inability to accept help, often running away in his attempts to cool down. Hannah’s jealousy of Cal receiving extra attention from her family is understandable, and readers see that even stable families have major ups and downs. The short chapters reveal each character’s personality. Cal is an aspiring writer and his chapters begin with “Fact or Fiction,” where he reveals much of what he’s thinking or experiencing. Hannah’s chapters begin with “Definition,” as she is attempting to understand Cal’s hardships and become more sympathetic to him and her own family. Hannah and Cal bond over their shared difficulties with their grandmother, and their witnessing of Hannah’s parents’ marital problems. Hopkins ends her book with a poignant note explaining how she based Cal on her own grandson, who came to live with her family after his mom (Hopkins’s daughter, who also experienced substance abuse) abandoned him, leaving him with severe PTSD. While he still has breakdowns like Cal, he has many strengths and a big heart, just as Cal does.
VERDICT Readers will root for these realistic characters, and will cheer for the growth they experience. Highly recommended.

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