Title: The Echo Park Castaways
Author: M.G. Hennessey
Genre: Juvenile Realistic Fiction
Number of Pages: 208
Back when I read The Other Boy last year I knew I needed to keep track of what this author wrote next. M.G. Hennessey has a gift for tackling serious issues while still making the reader feel full of hope at the end. The Echo Park Castaways is about three foster kids who run away from home in an attempt to reunite their new foster brother with his birth mom.
I fell in love with all these characters and I wanted so badly for them to succeed and find a place where they would be cared for and loved unconditionally. Unsurprisingly, even though the foster children who have been placed with Ms. K have a lot in common, they don’t generally see eye to eye on much of anything.
Vic has ADHD and is living in an elaborate fantasy world, where he and his deported father are secret agents. Nevaeh plays babysitter and cleans up after everybody; she is afraid if she doesn’t force herself to be the adult in the household she’ll be sent to live somewhere else. Mara is sweet but basically doesn’t speak, she clings to Nevaeh like Nevaeh is her mother and sucks her thumb.
When Quentin shows up at the household, the others are frustrated by the complications that follow. Quentin has Asperger’s Syndrome and refuses to cooperate or even remove his shoes and backpack, he speaks in TV commercials to calm himself down and has loud, stim-filled meltdowns. Quentin wants to get back to his mom ASAP and he even seems to know where she is, for various personal reasons the other kids agree to help him even if it means they risk being rehoused by their depressed and unmotivated foster mother.
The story is told through multiple perspectives from all of the kids (except Mara) and I think the author did a great job of giving them unique and engrossing voices. I wasn’t too sure about the chapters from Quentin’s perspective at first (initially I felt they were a little cliché) but I ended up being won over by the end.
Some of the things that happened to the kids strained credulity (would someone as vulnerable as Quentin really be dropped off at school like a parcel with *no* support or back-up plan?) but there were so many beautiful moments between the kids and I loved the way they played off each other and their strengths and weaknesses.
There was enough sadness to lend authenticity to the narrative but that sadness never became overbearing. By the end you couldn’t help but root for these characters and be awed by how they struggle to overcome their difficult lives, not only by being strong but also by being kind, even when the world seems to offer only heartbreak.
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