Author: jen white
Publisher: New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2015.
Genre: Middle Grade fiction
Audience Age: 9-13
Themes/topics: Abandonment, resourcefulness, courage
Opening Sentences: Survival Strategy #1: FAKE IT
FAKE IT. That’s definitely number one in my notebook. All people do it. Faking it could save your life.
Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Liberty writes those words in her notebook as she tries to appear brave to her eight-year-old sister. They are in a situation in which it’s very hard to appear even “almost brave.”
After the death of their mother, their estranged father has come and picked them up to take them to live with him. He stops to get gas in the van, and while the two girls are in the restroom, he drives away without them. Liberty and Billie are on their own, out in the desert. They don’t know anyone. They can’t get their mom’s friend, Julie, on the phone.
Being abandoned is not a joke. But Liberty has to make sure her little sister doesn’t realize how very serious it is.
Liberty has to fake it, pretending she knows what to do. She has to work out how she and Billie can survive, and can somehow get back to where Julie lives. And she has to keep Billie’s spirits up while doing so.
She keeps herself as calm as possible by reciting facts about wildlife that she has written in her notebook. She expands her notebook to include survival strategies for abandoned girls, as well as the wild animals that fascinate her. She becomes as watchful and as resourceful as those animals as she and her sister make their way through the desert.
Along the way, they meet some unusual people, some helpful, some decidedly not helpful. Liberty has to keep adding to, and revising, her survival strategies, sometimes in ways that surprise her. (And no, I’m not going to tell you what those ways are.)
The reader has to keep turning the pages – this is not a book to be read leisurely. It is one that practically demands that you keep reading one more chapter. The reader grows along with Liberty, and keeps wondering right until the end of the book, whether the girls will make it back safely. (And no, I’m not going to tell you that, either.)
I highly recommend this book. And I recommend that you ensure that you have time to read it without having to set it aside very often, because you’re not going to want to.
For Further Enrichment: The author’s website, jenwhitebooks.com, gives a tantalizing taste of the book, posting the first chapter and a teacher’s guide to go with it.
There are photos of some of the places mentioned in the book, and if you click on the photo, you’ll learn more about the place.
You can find an excellent review of this book at Project Mayhem.
Availability: Readily available. Ask at your local bookstore, or order from an independent bookstore like Hicklebee’s in San Jose, California.