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"Homesick" by Kate Klise

I don't want this blog and its infrequent postings to be negative. I want to celebrate the good books in children's literature and formulate some thoughts about why they are good.

But I read Homesick by Kate Klise, an author whose books I usually like, and I'm bothered by it. So much so that I'm not sure if I can or would recommend it to kids. But maybe I read it with too much of an adult's eye or too much of a present-day eye. I'm not sure.

This partial description from the book jacket sums up the book's conflict fairly well:
[Benny's] mom leaves home after a fight about a mysterious splinter that is supposedly part of an important relic. Benny's dad has always liked clutter, but now, he begins hoarding everything from pizza boxes to old motorcycle parts.
Have you watched any of those so-called reality shows about hoarders? Benny's dad would be a candidate for one. He saves everything. And pretty soon, their house and yard are populated by junk and rats and roaches. Benny's clothes are dirty and his dad feeds him expired food to save money. He doesn't work, so Benny pays the phone bill from his own earnings at a local ramshackle radio station. At one point, Benny's teacher writes him instructions on how to wash clothes and gives him gifts of deodorant and other necessities.

Maybe because the story takes place in the 1980s... Maybe because it takes place in a town with only 29 houses (Dennis Acres, Missouri)... Maybe because reality television as we know it today didn't exist then... but, hello, child abuse, anyone? His dad feeds Benny popcorn for dinner each night. They can't use the sink. His dad takes all the inside doors down so he'll have more room for stuff. He even piles used band uniforms in Benny's bathtub. Where's the social worker? Why is no one tracking down mom? (She calls from Louisiana from time to time to check on Benny.)

Then two seeming acts of God take place. First, a local teacher enters the town in a contest for America's Most Charming Small Town -- and based on the teacher's inaccurate portrayal and drawing of the town, it wins. The townspeople are promised some of those new computers everyone is talking about. Oh, but what to do with Benny's house? The town people plot to get his dad out of the house for a few hours so they can clean up.

In the midst of the cleanup, though, the town gets hit by a tornado. And every house is demolished. Well, that solves that problem, no?

Benny's dad, who tried to run back to his house to save everything is arrested and taken to a hospital so he can receive proper treatment. Benny winds up rescuing a classmate's mom. And instead of giving the town new computers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is going to rebuild all the houses based on the teacher's delightful (if false) drawing of the town as it never was.

Benny's mom comes back. She'll stay in Dennis Acres for a little while (she says). Dennis dad is now taking medication (Prozac, I think). The townsfolk believe he won't go back to his old ways. And Benny finds the girl he has a crush on likes him too.

I like happy endings as much as the next librarian. But this is just too far-fetched. And I really hate the idea that a little pill will solve all of Benny's dad's problems.

Kids may find Benny's dad funny -- he dreams of a world where computers are all connected (a plan one teacher calls the computer nougat). And he plans to built a miniature computer that will act as a phone, a computer, a calculator, a camera, etc., all in one. Ha.

I think I would have liked to see this topic of mental instability, child abuse, and quirky small town characters taken on in an YA novel and much, much more seriously. As it is, Homesick ails.


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