cover image A Finders-Keepers Place

A Finders-Keepers Place

Ann Haywood Leal, Holt, $16.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8050-8882-3

As she did in Also Known as Harper, Leal plumbs the dynamics of an economically stressed family pushed to the edge in her sophomore novel, set in the 1970s. Forced into maturity and responsibility beyond their years, 11-year-old Esther Page and her younger sister, Ruth, are barely holding their lives together. Their unpredictable and moody mother, Valley, sleeps for days at a time and then gets "notions"—spurts of irrational behavior (most recently, she decided that they should live simply, like the Amish, and began throwing out their possessions). Sometimes Valley works as a temp, but she neglects the children, and the family lives in poverty. Esther and Ruth spend their time Dumpster-diving for food and clothing, and attending services at various churches, hoping to find their father, Ezekiel, a preacher who left seven years earlier. When Esther receives a note of concern from her teacher, she works harder than ever to keep their lives a secret. Leal excels in pithy characterization, mainly through spot-on dialogue, yielding sympathetic characters, a gripping plot, and no shortage of heartbreaking moments. Ages 9–12. (Oct.)