Posted in book reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Home Girl by Alex Wheatle

BOOK REVIEW: Home Girl by Alex WheatleHome Girl by Alex Wheatle
Published by Black Sheep on September 3, 2019
Pages: 288
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program
Goodreads
four-stars
Synopsis

This isn’t my home. Haven’t had a proper home since . . . This is just somewhere I’ll be resting my bones for a week and maybe a bit. This time next year you’ll forget who I am. I haven’t got a diddly where I’ll be by then. But I’m used to it.
New from the UK-based best-selling black British author and winner of the Guardian Children’s Book Award, Home Girl is the story of Naomi, a teenage girl growing up fast in the foster care system. It is a wholly modern story which sheds a much-needed light on what can be an unsettling life—and the consequences that follow when children are treated like pawns on a family chessboard.
Home Girl is fast-paced and funny, tender, tragic, and full of courage—just like Naomi. It is Alex Wheatle’s most moving and personal novel to date.


I received this book for free from LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This book appealed to me on so many different levels. First, the description itself got me interested. But being a foster parent I’ve become more and more interested in stories telling the tale of both those in care and their carers. So when I got the notification I’d won a free ARC through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program, I was super pumped! I just wish I’d been able to read it sooner!

Well, sort of…

I can’t get Naomi out of my head and have cried twice since finishing the book. Which is silly ’cause…fictional character!?!

Oh, well. Such is life when you live in fictional worlds, I guess. But this one definitely hit a little too close to home and forced me to deal with some of my own prejudices and issues as well.

The Story:

We’re introduced to Naomi, a 14-year-old white girl, as she’s being moved from her current foster placement. Her worker is trying to find her a new home but it’s proving difficult. While it’s not specifically addressed in the book, finding placement would be hard for no other reason than her age. But add to that she’s got attitude, a thick file, and that she’s being removed for accusing yet another of her carers of being a “prick fiddler,” and you’re looking at a kid who’s more likely to end up in a group facility than in a foster home.

It’s not right, but there it is.

So Naomi is giving her social worker a hard time while she’s trying to find an emergency placement for her. As a last resort, Naomi is placed with a black family on a temporary basis. Surprising to all…this is the best “home” Naomi has ever had and is the best fit for her. (Side note: As far as I know, we don’t have limitations or special classes or forms that have to be completed when accepting placement of a different race here. I’m guessing this is only a thing where the book takes place but it’s central to the story so felt it needed to be said here in the review.)

Colleen, her foster mom, spends hours on Naomi’s hair. She bonds with the two younger children in the house, and even when she acts up, Tony and Colleen are understanding. They don’t overreact and help her work through her issues.

And boy does Naomi have some issues! Her mother committed suicide. She was the one to find her and Naomi blames herself for not stopping her mother’s death. Afterward, she ends up caring for her alcoholic father at a time she desperately needed to be cared for herself and she had to grow up way too fast.

While I deeply enjoyed this read, it does have me questioning some of my own “issues.” The biggest one? Race in foster care. While staying with Tony and Colleen, Naomi has to deal with some prejudices about Tony and Colleen accepting a white placement when there are so many black kids who need a good home. I’m bi-racial and all of our placements have been bi-racial. While I don’t consciously think “I’m gonna say yes to this kid because we’re the same race,” I’m sure it does play a part. When we were taking time off but still receiving requests, there were times I had the thought “they’re white, someone is going to take them.”

Again, it’s not right. But there it is. I live in WV. There are a lot of white people. (And definitely more white foster parents than non-white foster parents. 🤷‍♀️)

The Characters:

People in foster care are complicated.

And I’m not just talking about the kids. The foster parents, the bio parents, the workers from every agency involved with the kids – even the judges and GALs – they’re ALL complicated. No matter how uncomplicated a life a person lived before getting involved in the foster care system (no matter how they became involved or what role they play(ed) in the system), once you get sucked in… COMPLICATED!!!

Life is a great big messy ball of one conflicting emotion and trial after another. It’s never-ending and there’s always something!

So for a writer to tackle a book like Home Girl, where they’ve got characters in every level of the system – kids, bio parents, foster parents, workers, secretaries, teachers, etc. – they’ve got to create some insanely complicated characters to deal with the complicated issues.

And I think that for the most part, Wheatle managed to do this.

I say for the most part because there were times when things were just unbelievable and characters didn’t react in a way I expected them to. Now, I understand that this is a book and part of why I love reading is that the characters get to do and say things I never could… but these weren’t always my fav characters.

For instance, while I loved Naomi, she could come across as TOO whiney and too self-involved. And the majority of other teen foster kids in the book act this way too. I know this is something that can happen with kids in care, but the opposite also happens. These kids are more aware of the world and what it can throw at them than most. So while they definitely can come across as selfish or too self-involved, it’s been my experience that kids in care (or who have been in care) have more compassion for others than those shown in Home Girl. It was kind of like the author went overboard on the “bad” kids. (Hope that made sense.)

I loved the adult characters!! Naomi’s worker was fabulous and I thought Tony and Colleen were great foster parents.

Conclusion:

Overall, I enjoyed Home Girl. It’s definitely worth the time reading. The story was great and I liked the writing, although the characters irked me at times. It wasn’t so much that it took me out of the story though, so there’s that. Since I’m one of those people who love character-driven stories and usually think the characters “make” the book, for me to say I loved it even though I didn’t love the characters is really saying something!

What do you think? Have you read Home Girl or do you think it’s something you’ll enjoy? Leave a comment below and/or find me on Twitter!

four-stars