This very intense story tells what happens to a girl who loses her family when a strong tornado hits her city in Elizabeth, Missouri.
Jersey Cameron, 16, lives with her mom, 5-year-old stepsister Marin, and stepdad Ronnie in a town where tornado warnings are fairly common. Residents often practiced for what to do when the sirens went off, but as Jersey says later, “. . . we’d never – not once – discussed what to do after.” For some people, the tornado is only the beginning of the pain and heartache.
When the tornado hits, Jersey is home alone and goes to the basement. She later finds out her mom and Marin are among the 129 dead. Ronnie eventually comes back to the wreckage of the house and takes Jersey to stay at a motel, but he is emotionally devastated, and decides he cannot take care of Jersey. He drives her three hours away to the home of her father’s parents, people Jersey didn’t even know existed. She had not previously met her dad, Clay.
Clay and his wife are mean drunks, and their two girls are even more vicious. Clay’s parents – ostensibly Jersey’s grandparents, aren’t much better. Clay’s sister is the only one who even shows a spark of humanity, but she has her own burdens, and not much time for Jersey. Jersey runs off and begs her BFF Dani back in Elizabeth to ask her mom to come get her, but Dani’s mom calls Ronnie instead.
Ronnie comes to pick up Jersey, but won’t take her back himself. This time he delivers her to Jersey’s mom’s parents. Jersey had always been taught by her mom that they were “the enemy,” and Jersey had never met this set of grandparents either. Barry and Patty seem to be warm, loving people, but Jersey feels that even being nice to them would be a betrayal to her mom. In fact, loving anyone seems like something Jersey never wants to risk again. She is filled with confusion and guilt and rage, and she is scared and lonely and tired all the time.
As time passes, however, Jersey starts to see that the truth isn’t always black and white, and what her mom told her was only one side of the story. And her grandparents have infinite patience, even when Jersey herself knows she is being “unfair, and selfish and ugly.” She is somewhat astonished to observe that her grandparents seemed to understand what she was going through, and “they’d acted like… family. Like they were offering a place to belong. I just had to take it.”
By the end of the book, Jersey is starting to realize that “family” has to do with “what was in your heart.” Her grandparents’ hearts were open. If Jersey wanted family again, “all I needed to do was open up and let them in.” She is beginning to think that maybe she can.
Discussion: This book will be very helpful to kids who feel betrayed by people they thought they could trust. When a child is abandoned or mistreated or shocked by finding out unpleasant truths, who can help the child cope if the very people who are supposed to be the caregivers aren’t available? How can the child overcome the anger and grief? For all those who have been victims of disasters, divorce, abuse, abandonment, or other situations causing profound emotional dislocation, this story will make them feel less alone.
Evaluation: This is a sad but hard-hitting and very realistic seeming story that ends on a hopeful note.
Published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2014