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Saturday, January 9, 2016

Paper Things, written by Jennifer Richard Jacobson. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $19.00 ages 10 and up

"Reggie gives a little salute, and I race back to the studio. I'm nearly there when I realize that I didn't even think to offer Reggie any of the change I'd collected today. Sure, I'd been searching extra hard to make up for the money I'd given him earlier this week, but the least I could have done was give him some of what I'd found today. After all, nobody was throwing bricks at my head ... "

Both parents are now dead, and Ari and her brother Gage have been living with Janna, a friend of her mother's, since their mother's death four years ago. Gage and Janna are like fire and water - they don't get along living in the same space. To get out from under her roof, Gage lies about having his own apartment and takes Ari to live with him there. The truth is that the two are moving from place to place, always in search of a something permanent.

Ari is a brilliant student whose grades are slipping because of the disruptions in her days. She may not get the chance to attend a school for the gifted if things don't change. Gage is doing the best he can, but it isn't enough to keep them from being homeless. There are many clues to the desperation and hopelessness that the young girl is feeling; no one seems to pick up on them. She is divided in her loyalties - wanting to trust Gage with her welfare and safety. She is also missing Janna and the stability that she provides.

The first person narrative brings immediacy and strong sympathy for Ari. She is conflicted and it is evident. Luckily, there are others in her life who offer kindness. Ari uses the imagined family she has cut from magazines to bring warmth and comfort as she tries to deal with loss. The game assures that she does not feel hopeless. She is doing her best to live up to her mother's dying wishes; a place in Carter middle school and making sure that she and Gage stick together. The stress is immense. Her life is not as it should be, and it is evident to her classmates when her hygiene is an issue.

It is a story that is both sad and hopeful; unfortunately, it is far too common. There is great love, bravery and an acceptance that something must be done to change the trajectory of the life that Ari and Gage are living. If you teach middle graders, or have one in your house, this is a story that needs to be shared with them.

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