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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Keesha's House, written by Helen Frost. Farrar, Douglas & McIntyre, 2003. $9.50 ages 14 and up

"I sleep in my sleeping bag in a room
with a lock in the basement of the place
on Jackson Street. And I feel safe.
If Keesha wants to talk to me, she knocks
first, and if I want to let her in, I do.
If I don't, I don't. It's my choice."

Keesha is just one of the seven troubled teens who find safety and solace in Keesha's house. Actually the house belongs to Joe, an older man whose own troubled past was assuaged by a loving relative. With her death Joe inherited the house and has given it over to Keesha, who provides a place for those who need it. She is a teen herself, but holding her life together after leaving a home filled with drinking, death, physical abuse and hopelessness. She is mature, forthright and 'never going to live like that'. Keesha provides friendship, support and does not judge. Visitors can stay for a night or a extended time, whatever they need. Other teens find their way to her house, in an attempt to deal with the problems plaguing them.

Jen is pregnant, afraid to tell her parents and wondering if her boyfriend will support her and their baby. Jason, the father, is an up and coming sports star with his sights set on college, not teen parenthood. Harris discloses that he is gay, and has been kicked out of the house by his father. Dontay's parents are in jail and he has been moved from one foster home to another. Katie fears the sexual advances of her stepfather, and Carmen is struggling with alcoholism.

Are you thinking teen soap opera? too many issues?

That is not the case. Helen Frost, in her first novel, explores in poetic forms (sestina, sonnet) the anguished lives of these teens; yet, she gives them clear,
and poignant life through her so skillfully chosen words. They are young people worthy of our admiration and hope for their futures. We also hear from the adults in their lives...teachers, parents, grandparents, foster parents, and Joe. The voices are so authentic.

I love that there are more writers using the 'novel in verse' as a way to tell their tales. They make exceptional stories more accessible to those readers reluctant to read longer novels, and they show us that the power for telling them comes from the heart, no matter the form. Every new book I read from Helen Frost leads me to find another. We are blessed to have such amazing people telling powerful stories for a young adult audience, and for everyone else who wants to read a heartfelt, hopeful book.

"There's light ahead of me as I walk on
into my senior year. I wasn't sure
about going back, but Katie said, If you're
about to quit, The Jerks will think they won.

She calls them that -The Jerks- like Dontay calls me son
when he gives me fake advice: Stay pure,
son, in thought word and deed. We'll find a cure
for you someday.
I laugh. It's all in fun.
If people we're supposed to count on can't
(or don't) support us, it's up to us to find
the friends who can and do."

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