Paper Things – A Middle Grade Exploration of Homelessness

 

PaperThings“Who do you want to live with Ari?”   11-year old Arianna Hazard is given the impossible choice some years after her mom’s death. Does she want to stay in the home of her guardian, Janna, or move out with her 19-year old brother, Gage, who assures her he’ll make them a home. He can’t. And the novel, Paper Things, becomes the story of the long haul of trying to find a place to crash and for readers to understand the chaotic, unhappy road to homelessness.

Author Jennifer Richard Jacobson, also the author of Small as an Elephant, brings young readers an accessible glimpse of the life of a girl who chooses loyalty to her brother and leaves her stable home. Who are the homeless?  Ari never thought she would be.  On page one her guardian says about her with love, “My daughter has always excelled.” After Ari leaves with Gage, they schlepp from his girl friend’s apartment to a shelter they must sneak into (Ari’s too young to stay in the shelter) to a night inside a veteran’s digs in a storage shed. In some ways Gage’s story wrenches more deeply. The burden is on him to make a home, and he feels the weight. At one point when all that’s available to them in the early hours of the morning is his girl friend’s car, Gage continues to try to bring Ari well-being. “Close your eyes and picture a little candle in your belly,” he says. “Concentrate on the flame,” he says, his voice soft and warm in the cold dark air.” It’s that night that Ari realizes what homelessness is, as the reader will come to understand. She and her brother’s new friends are homeless. “Like us, I realize.” Ari and Gage lose one option after another; Ari begins sneaking in to the school breakfast line, finds another girl without a mom and they wash up and braid each others’ hair in the school bathroom. Readers may for the first time imagine these details of a homeless girl’s life. Ari is lucky, though, and readers will also see a heroine with grit and an awareness of her choices.

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