cover image The Leaves in October

The Leaves in October

Karen Ackerman. Atheneum Books, $13.95 (117pp) ISBN 978-0-689-31583-1

This message-heavy novel attempts to explore the desperate realities faced by a homeless family. Unfortunately, Ackerman ( Song and Dance Man ) consistently fails to move the plot and characters beyond superficial, flawed bibliotherapy. She spins a tale straight out of current newsmagazines: unskilled and undereducated parents wed too young and their marriage cracks under pressure. Here, the unemployed father, Poppy, is left alone with two children, nine-year-old Livvy and five-year-old Younger. Most of the story's action takes place within the walls of the Fourth Street Shelter for the homeless in an unnamed city. While the novel strives mightily for realism, many important issues are never fully addressed. Livvy and Younger live in the shelter for more than five months, yet a social worker doesn't enter the plot until late in the novel, when Poppy considers placing the children in foster care while he takes a construction job. The book's most disturbing aspect is its simplistic ``happy'' ending--a highly romanticized view of what most people would consider neglect. Novels that address the lives of homeless children are needed, but this is not a good one. Ages 8-12. (Mar.)