Friday, December 18, 2015

Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Eleven-year-old Ari moves out of Janna's house with her 19-year-old brother, Gage, who says he has a job and apartment. Janna is her guardian and argues with Gage. The two have lived together since Ari and Gage's mom passed away, but the two fight incessantly. Ari, loyal to family, follows Gage as he strikes out on his own. He says he has an apartment but when it is obvious he doesn't, Ari still follows him as they live homeless for  six weeks while he tries to find a job. The character arc and development carry a messy plot along in an engaging story that presents homelessness in a tamed down if somewhat inauthentic way. It makes the book appropriate for younger readers and deals with friendships and stigma that comes from being different.

While Ari is a well fleshed out character the relationships between Janna and Gage are somewhat fuzzy making Gage's decisions questionable and out-of-character at times. Ari is the star of the show and she shines as she tries to decide between living with her brother on the streets or being with Janna with a roof and stability. The author does a good job capturing middle school and how peers ostracize each other for clothes, hygiene, and looks. Ari has ratty shoes and greasy hair at times that makes her a target for bullying. The complication of Ari hiding her homelessness notched up the tension and kept me flipping the pages.

Ari and her brother hop from one friend's home to another sleeping anywhere. When they end up in a car one night and Ari's grades have been slipping she slowly begins to question if their choices have been the best or if her brother is just being stubborn. This part of the story was more authentic for me than the Reggie part. His homelessness and airplane business seem contrived to just move the plot forward. Also the relationship between Janna and Gage needed more development to give understanding as to why Gage would even take Ari from that situation. The explanation for Gage taking Ari was that their dying mother's last wish was that they always be together. This seemed weak as anyone with half a brain would know that a mother's last wish would not be to have her children sleeping out on the streets when they have a roof over their heads.

The ending is a bit pat. Kids will like it because everyone is happy but what bothered me was the quick resolution between Gage and Janna and Ari being empowered and reaffirmed by being in the media. I was pulled out of the narrative and felt like the author was teaching me a lesson. Not that it isn't a good lesson about acceptance and tolerance. All the same it made the plot less authentic. While I like the writing I think the story has too many miscues that keep it from being as strong as it could be.

3 Smileys

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