Dial. Feb. 2020. 400p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399539039.
Gr 4-7–It is the summer between sixth and seventh grade when Jeanne Ann’s mom spends their savings on an orange van and drives them from Chicago to San Francisco, chasing a job as a cook. But when they get there, they learn the job doesn’t exist, so they park on the marina and the van becomes their home. In the beautiful house across the street from their parking spot, 12-year-old Cal’s privileged life seems a world away. But well-intentioned Cal, haunted by his failure to help another neighbor experiencing homelessness, is determined to bridge the distance between him and Jeanne Ann. His efforts to befriend prickly, defensive Jeanne Ann proceed in fits and starts as Cal helps her in ways that feel right to him, without fully understanding her circumstances. When the city’s aggressive parking enforcement and the Marina Beautification Committee come after the row of parked vans and the community their residents have formed, Cal knows he must help Jeanne Ann—but if Jeanne Ann doesn’t want his help? Told in alternating perspectives, this tale offers a timely look at homelessness in California and depicts an unusually complex friendship, but also stumbles significantly along the way. Jeanne Ann’s anxiety, confusion, and anger are visceral, but the motivations of other characters are less well developed, particularly the adults experiencing homelessness. Limited information about Jeanne Ann’s mother makes her seem irresponsible and erratic for much of the book, and another major character’s voluntary homelessness is inadequately explained. Cal’s well-intentioned overtures often feel patronizing, and the ending is implausibly optimistic.
VERDICT Not recommended for most collections.

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