Marla and Gottfried Hemmings have raised five children and find themselves wealthy in their retirement years after trading in potato farming for real estate development. Each of their children has left the nest – and none of them come home any more. Marla blames Gottfried; Gottfried blames Marla.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the story, five teenagers are being raised with varying levels of success by their parents. They are estranged cousins, the next generation of the Hemmings family.
Malcom, a spoiled brat, is facing down having to live with Marla and Gottfried after his Dad dies of cancer. No more weekend trips to Jamaica to see his girlfriend, no more take out, just Marla’s loveless home cooked meals, over which he has no control.
CanIHelpYou? is in the process of getting as far away from her racist
parents as she can, as fast as she can, on the back of cash made selling drugs. She does this using a clever code system while on the clock at the fast food drive through she mans, all while falling in love with her best friend.
Loretta spends her days hiding from her abusive father, while training her flea circus for their opening acts. She has other dark secrets, too.
The Shoveler tries to help his flaky, lazy mother survive by taking any job she can. Shoveling, painting, whatever – he’ll do it. His only hope is that they can stay in the same apartment long enough for him to graduate, buy a car, and get away.
The Freak begins the story. She physically flickers from place to place – appearing and disappearing in ways completely beyond her control. Or can she?
A complex, slightly fantastical story emerges as the characters live adjacently but separate from each other. The stories converge one crazy spring, when the darkness lifts, intriguing old secrets (and new ones) are exposed and reveal a bigger story, and decisions are made. No one is quite who they seem to be, but by the end, they all know who they want to be – and who they don’t want to be.
The resulting story is well worthy of the Printz Award. This is one of my favorite books of the year, and I can’t wait to read it again from the beginning.
Trigger warning: this is a young adult story told by extremely authentic teenage voices. There is plenty of dark content, racism is a strong theme, and sexual content and drug use content are prevalent. Read with care.