Almost Home

4 CDs. 4:56 hrs. Books on Tape. Feb. 2017. $45. ISBN 9781524755140. digital download.
Gr 5–8—Twelve-year-old Sugar Mae Cole was named to "bring a little sweetness into people's lives," but she's finding this task more than a little difficult lately given her family's recent homelessness and her mother's hospitalization for depression. As Sugar says, "people don't understand how tiring it is to be sweet." She plans to train puppy Shush to work as a therapy dog. Sugar accustoms herself to a foster home, and her mom Reba begins therapy. The narrative and characters are emotionally complex enough to satisfy adult readers along with the intended middle grade audience, and Bauer admirably avoids all trite "very special episode" didacticism while dealing with thorny issues such as parental abandonment and alcoholism head-on. The honeyed, soothing voice of Brittany Pressley not only brings fuller life to the characters (especially Sugar and Reba) but also (in combination with Bauer's trademark mix of humor and pathos) helps make the sadder sections more palatable for listeners.
VERDICT A must-buy for any library collection. ["A memorable novel that is sure to have broad appeal": SLJ 10/12 review of the Viking book.]

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