cover image Just Juice

Just Juice

Karen Hesse. Scholastic Press, $15.95 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-590-03382-4

Like her Newbery Award-winning Out of the Dust, Hesse once again celebrates a child's ability to extract beauty, pleasure and even signs of hope from her harsh surroundings. The opening image of Ma ""spreading grape jelly so thin on the sliced white bread you can hardly find the purple"" gives readers an immediate, vivid impression of the Faulstich family's poverty level. The simple, honest narrative of nine-year-old Justus (""Juice"") Faulstich matter-of-factly expresses her plethora of concerns: Pa is out of work again; Ma is pregnant and keeps having dizzy spells; and she herself has to repeat third grade because no matter how hard she tries, she simply can't learn to read. On top of that, the family must come up with back taxes amounting to $1000. The outside world may be cold and cruel (""Poor as Job's turkey, that's what the church ladies say we are""), but Juice doesn't let it overshadow the warmth of her home: ""We might not belong to anyone else in this whole world. But us Faulstiches, we belong to each other."" Hesse's poignant story of a family faced with seemingly insurmountable hurdles is filled with small triumphs and momentary insights. Juice's resourcefulness and faith in her father set him onto a vocational path, but also lead her to the realization that, as she learns to read, she may have to leave him behind: ""Pa and me, we've been careful tiptoeing around this particular secret. But I can't let Pa's half of the secret keep me from doing something about mine."" This brave heroine will pass the torch to readers everywhere; her courage is infectious. Ages 8-10. (Nov.)