Thursday, November 09, 2006

Review: Shelter

I had a lot to do this morning. I'm preparing for a conference, writing an abstract for another conference, working with e-mail accounts, scheming for the next two The Edge of the Forests, organizing Cybils lists, etc. It was not the morning to pick up Shelter, by Beth Cooley. Shelter is an unputdownable novel. Two hours later and here I am with a review.

Lucy Durbin had it all, even if she didn't know it. She lived in a comfortable home, attended a swanky school, shopped for fun with her wealthy friends, and took ballet lessons. She had the life of your typical privileged American teen.

Lucy's life changes virtually overnight. Her father dies in a car accident and her stay-at-home mom discovers their financial stability was only a mirage. There's a mountain of debt, no life insurance, and a huge mortgage. Soon Lucy, her mother, and five-year-old Jimmy are on a quick downward spiral which ends at St. Agatha's shelter.

Lucy tries to resent her mother, but it's impossible. Cindy Durbin is more lost than her daughter is. She has no education, has never worked a day in her life, is used to a comfortable lifestyle, and worries especially about little Jimmy, who is small for his age and has been very coddled as the youngest child.

Living at St. Agatha's are women and children down on their luck. There's a high school dropout with a young child and a woman whose boyfriend was arrested for a meth lab in her basement. A Romanian mail order bride arrives after climbing out her bathroom window.

Lucy is a wonderful character with a compelling voice. As the eldest child, one who has to help her mother more than she should, she's hardworking and determined to make it. Here's what she thinks after her sixteenth birthday celebration in the shelter:
  • "I lay awake for a long time thinking about the day. Being sixteen really meant something. It meant more than just being able to drive or get a job. It meant taking charge of your life. Or screwing it up. At sixteen Crystal was pregnant, Jan was dealing, Tina was on the streets. I might be in a shelter, but I wasn't messed up. I could make things happen. Good things."

Lucy does make good things happen--for herself and for her mother. Jimmy actually thrives in his new environment, allowed to grow up for the first time in his life.

Shelter is technically a Young Adult novel, but the content is tame enough for readers as young as eleven. It's a beautifully written novel with a very important message. But, don't get me wrong, Shelter is not a preachy novel in any way. It shows, rather than tells, that anyone is just a step away from bad luck and the collapse of their comfortable life. What you make of that luck is what matters. Lucy accepts help, finds friends and compassion in places she least expected it, and discovers herself in return.

Shelter will be released on November 14.

ETA: Isn't this a great cover? It really draws you in and it fits the book perfectly.