“sometimes a kid has to act older than they are”
Content/Trigger Warnings: Alcoholism, talk of animal abuse, homelessness, grief, loss of a loved one, hospitalization
Dearest readers, I’m not going to lie, I got a bit emotional with this book. This touched on a lot of hard topics that I have personally gone through and I was a bit sappy. It had even more of an impact since I was reading this during the month of November and feeling a bit homesick. All of that aside, this is such a heartbreaking yet hopeful tale that everyone should take the time to read.
Almost Home follows the story of twelve-year-old Sugar who just lost her grandfather, and her alcoholic and gambling father just ran off again, and now her mother has lost their house. Leaving everything she loves in Missouri, Sugar and her mother travel to Chicago in hopes of a fresh start. Only things aren’t that simple. Things have never been more rough or difficult to handle. But with the help of a timid dog named Shush, a loving foster family, a supportive teacher, and her love for poetry, Sugar will navigate her way through her hardships with her own grace and positive outlook. She’ll soon come to terms that while she may not be able to control everything happening in her life, she can control how she reacts.
“Sometimes the best thing that can happen to a person is to have a puppy lick your face.”
I really loved the main character of this book. I loved how we got to see her talk about her hardships and talk about how hard she works. I especially loved the way she talked about her poetry and her teacher. She has a very whimsical personality in this book and an even more positive outlook. You can’t help feel a little upbeat even though the circumstances for Sugar are hard and challenging. Despite everything Sugar goes through in this book, she does her best to handle everything with that positive outlook and the wisdom her grandfather left with her. But the bit I love most about Sugar is how real she is. There’s a scene in this book where Sugar ends up talking about how it’s all too much for her and having that little part of just showing how hard she’s internally struggling really made her real for my reading experience. This is kind of the part where I became a bit emotional because in my childhood, I too had to grow up really fast and reading these bits my memory flickers to life and goes “Oh yeah, I remember the time when it was like that.” So reading how hard Sugar was trying to be positive, be the grownup, but reading how much she internalized, it really pulled at my heartstrings.
This book has so many important points especially for a middle grade book, but I think out of everything this books offers, I love how it normalizes how animals can be more than a pet and just how truly magical they really are. Our main character goes through a lot of hardship and when she receives this little puppy, it seems like she has a friend who on her side through all these struggles. Shush becomes a beacon of love, understanding, and a source of comfort for Sugar as she handles her father reappearing, her mother struggling to get back on her feet, and trying to find all the normal among all the chaos. There’s also a scene where Shush is licking Sugar’s mother’s face during a depressive episode and how it restores a little happiness into her. As the book progresses, I love how important the representation of animals become in this book and how important they become for Sugar.
Unfortunately, I did have some issues with this book. My biggest issue was things seemed to happen so quickly. While the reading pace of this book is steady, it seemed a lot of conflicts or situations wrapped up incredibly quick or resolved almost instantly. And my final issue I think a lot of readers will have with this book is nothing exciting or shocking really happens in this book. I guess my issue was it became predictable. It was obvious Sugar’s father was going to come back into the picture, it was obvious that Sugar was going to get relocated to a loving foster family (even though reality doesn’t always work like that), and many other points in the book. I feel like this book had the opportunity to be a really emotional read, really dip into reality, and this just didn’t drive it all the way home for me like other books have.
“Almost. It’s a big word for me. I feel it everywhere. Almost home. Almost happy. Almost changed. Almost, but not quite. Not yet. Soon, maybe.”
Overall, this was a good, solid story to read especially this time of year if you’re feeling a little homesick or need a reminder to be grateful for what you have. And of course, as I mentioned before, this book has so many important topics! From homelessness all the way to how we cope hardships. I find that this is a great book to introduce to children to the reality many other kids their age face and struggle with every day. I also find this to be a great book to comfort those who are going through similar situations like Sugar. A beautifully heartbreaking story that every child should be introduced to.