Paper Things

384p. Candlewick. Feb. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763663230. LC 2014944677.
RedReviewStarGr 4–8—This gentle depiction of homelessness follows Arianna Hazard, a fifth grader who bounces between friends' couches and a shelter while struggling to hide her situation from classmates. Ari and her beloved 18-year-old brother Gage live with Jana, a caring but strict foster parent, until Gage decides they should strike out on their own. He plans to find them an apartment; when that doesn't work out, Ari and Gage spend months staying with Gage's girlfriend or buddies, or sneaking into a juvenile shelter on nights when couch surfing isn't an option. Ari has many of the same concerns as her other fifth grade classmates—getting a leadership role at her school, finishing her homework on time, maintaining her friendships—but her living situation makes everything more difficult. Ari's friendships are strained, and her grades slip as she tries to navigate homelessness. Everything becomes challenging, from personal hygiene to getting to school on time. Since her mother's death four years ago (her soldier father was killed before Ari was born), Ari has hoped to fulfill her mother's dream and go to Carter Middle School, a school for gifted students. However, the dip in her grades—and a detention for trying to revive elementary school traditions against the principal's wishes—may ruin her chances. Ari finds comfort in a "family" cut out from catalogs, her "paper things." This novel will engender empathy and understanding of a serious and all-too-real problem. Jacobson's story is poignant but never preachy. While the ending won't come as a surprise to many readers, this is a sweet and touching portrayal of a resilient young girl.—Miranda Doyle, Lake Oswego School District, OR
After nineteen-year-old Gage and eleven-year-old Ari leave their overbearing guardian's home, they scramble for a place to stay. Ari hopes to earn a place at a school for gifted students, but keeping up with schoolwork becomes problematic. She seeks comfort in her Paper Things, an ideal family cut out of catalogs. This poignant view of homelessness deftly shows how easily it can happen.
Before her death four years earlier, Ari and Gage's mother had urged them to "stay together always." Now it has been two months since nineteen-year-old Gage and eleven-year-old Ari left their overbearing guardian's home to strike out on their own, and the challenges of finding a permanent job and stable living situation have frayed Gage's confidence. As for Ari, she hopes to earn a place at Carter, a middle school for gifted students, but as the two scramble night after night for a secure place to stay, enough sleep, clean clothes, and decent food, keeping up with her schoolwork is becoming problematic. Deeply ashamed of their couch surfing and occasional nights in shelters, Ari does her best to present a normal face at school; however, her increasingly disheveled appearance and attempts to avoid detection result in heartless teasing from classmates and hurtful misunderstandings with friends. As the goals of having a real home and attending Carter begin to seem more and more remote, the increasingly emotionally fragile Ari seeks comfort in her Paper Things, an ideal family and their belongings that she's cut out of catalogs, even though she knows she's too old for paper dolls. In this poignant view of one child's experience with homelessness, Jacobson deftly shows how easily it can happen, an insidious downward spiral with heart-wrenching consequences. monica edinger

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