Written by Sarah Sullivan
In this heartwarming look at a pre-teen’s life, Sullivan asks the questions “What is a home?” and “What is a family?” The answers are satisfying and, at times, surprising.
Eleven-year-old Arlo, an orphan, lives with and gets along well with his maternal grandfather, Poppo. Poppo’s memory is failing from an unnamed form of dementia, and Arlo is trying to hold his family together. He’s heard terrible things about foster care and Poppo refuses to tell him anything about his surviving paternal grandmother, Ida. When Poppo suffers a stroke, Arlo panics and sets off to find his grandmother. Amazingly, he’s able to travel 350 miles and locate a woman he has no memory of. Full of twists and surprises, this is a fun read.
The author does an amazing job of getting inside a young boy’s mind and showing why he takes the steps he does. Many of the other characters are well-developed and believable. Poppo and Ida are lovable. Arlo’s friends, Sam and Maywood, are crazy and loyal. Bernice and Tyrone, who help Arlo on his journey, are the right mix of gullible and incredulous. Mr. Garringer, who tries to take Ida’s house, is delightfully evil. Steamboat the dog is more entertaining and a bigger help than he has any right to be.
Fourth graders and older should be able to follow the story independently and should understand the feelings of wanting to belong while still determining their own destinies. In her Author’s Note, Sullivan lists several resources related to her inspiration for the book, for further reading activities. Both the author’s, http://www.sarahsullivanbooks.com, and the publisher’s website, www.candlewick.com, give further information.