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Sunday, February 17, 2013

three little words, written by Sarah N. Harvey. Orca Book Publishers, 2012. $12.95 ages 12 and up

"Sid climbs the steps to the front porch and pauses with his hand on the worn brass doorknob. After a day in the sun with Chloe, all he wants is quiet and solitude, but if there's a guest in the house or a new kid, he's going to have to suck it up. Megan raised him to be polite. You don't have to say much, she told him over and over when he was growing up. But you do have to be polite."

Sid has been living in a warm and loving foster home since he was a little boy. He likes his life, and he doesn't yearn to be with his birth mother. When his mother disappears, Elizabeth, his maternal grandmother, asks for his help in finding his stepbrother. Sid feels the need to help. He knows it won't be easy, and he's right!

Elizabeth is a surprise to him. She is educated, a television icon, and smart. She welcomes Sid with open arms and helps him come to know more about his mother. She is a talented artist with mental health problems that are difficult for her to control; she often goes off the medication that makes her more stable. Wain is a young boy on a path to big trouble, acting out and often running away from those who care about him. He is hurt. He is angry. He is bent on being his own person and balks at control of any kind. Sid uses his smarts to find his brother.

His birth mother is still AWOL, so Sid invites Elizabeth and Wain to come home with him, knowing that Megan and Caleb will welcome those in need, just as they welcomed Sid so long ago. Elizabeth settles in quickly, while Wain continues on track to being a big 'jerk'. Megan recognizes the lonlieness that Wain is feeling and knows that he can be a good person though it rarely shines through in his actions.  The opportunity comes for Sid to finally meet his birth mother. Everyone recognizes that she needs time to get her life under control, in hopes that Wain will come back to live with her. In the meantime, Wain will continue to live with Sid, his foster family and their newest charge, Fariza. She is a little girl who does not speak due to the family trauma that sent her to foster care.

Though the issues are heartbreaking...neglect, abuse, abandonment, mental illness and the fight to find a better path for a young, struggling adolescent, it is a hopeful story that will give readers many opportunities to think about the issues presented, the characters portrayed and the paths to be taken to a better life. I admire the way Sarah Harvey uses the title's 'three little words' to preface each new chapter.

The characters are wonderful and well-drawn, giving readers a clear picture of both households and how each one is affected by the events that are part of their daily lives. Sid uses his creative skills to draw daily happenings while he searches for his half-brother, and helps Fariza find a voice through story. Megan and Caleb nurture their charges with compassion and understanding. Chloe's exuberance is a perfect foil to Sid's need for peace and quiet daily. She provides a bit of needed humor along the way. Each has a unique voice and plays an important role in the unfolding drama. Again, the setting itself seems like a character that soothes with a peaceful calm that envelops those living there.

Families come in all shapes, and this book is testament to that. Sid is a good kid whose upbringing with loving, confident foster parents is evident in the way he handles the situations he faces. He is strong, reliable and makes a difference to those he meets. Ultimately, his story gives us hope.

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