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PRAYING AT THE SWEETWATER MOTEL

April Young Fritz, Author
April Young Fritz, Author . Hyperion $15.99 (266p) ISBN 978-0-7868-1864-8
Reviewed on: 09/15/2003
Release date: 09/01/2003
Paperback - 266 pages - 978-0-7868-5495-0
Prebound-Sewn - 978-1-4177-2256-3
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Sarah Jane Otis, the 12-year-old narrator of Fritz's (Waiting to Disappear) affecting if

uneven novel, understands why she, her mother and sister have to leave their alcoholic father and their Georgia home, but that doesn't make the process of resettling in a new state (Ohio) any easier. Besides missing her father (who wasn't always abusive), Sarah Jane longs for her grandmother, her grandmother's horse and her best friend. Meanwhile, Sarah Jane's mother can't afford a new house, so they end up living at the Sweetwater Motel, where the Otises get reduced rates in exchange for cleaning rooms. Taunted as "Motel Girl" by kids at her new school, where the only friends she makes are fellow outcasts—Fredericka (Fred), who is no taller than Sarah Jane's four-year-old sister and who is an accomplished shoplifter, and Arthur, a tall, skinny boy with "a bad case of pimples,"—Sarah Jane increasingly misses her father. After a surreptitious phone conversation, during which he begs for a second chance, she runs away to reunite with him. The conclusion is rushed, but the set-up believably captures the protagonist's changing emotions: her initial relief in escaping her father, her disappointment in her family's reduced circumstances, her longing for what she left behind and her final, desperate attempt to regain what she's lost. Her peers may be too neatly categorized as nerds and snobs, but Sarah Jane emerges as a complex, sympathetic heroine struggling with hard truths. Ages 10-14. (Sept.)

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