________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 21. . . .June 12, 2009.


Home Free. (The Gutsy Girl Series).

Sharon Jennings.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2009.
152 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 978-1-897187-55-5.

Subject Heading:
Orphans-Juvenile fiction.
Best friends-Juvenile fiction.
Bereavement-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Tanya Boudreau.





I had done it. Asked a question she wasn’t going to answer. So I started talking again. “For a long time I didn’t know what my mother’s name was. I mean, I knew people called her Marjorie but one day I suddenly realized that she had a name like I did, and she wasn’t just Mother. So I asked her, ‘Is Marjorie your name?’ And she said ‘None of your business.’ What is it none of my business? My mother says ‘None of your business’ all the time. When I grow up I want to know why.”

“Rita,” said Cassandra Jovanovich.


“My mother’s name is Rita.”

She said it in such a strange way, like…like the name was something bad in her mouth and she had to spit it out. And I knew I couldn’t ask her why.

“That’s a nice name,” I told her. I tried to make myself look all sorrowful and deeply understanding and considerate and thoughtful. “It sounds Spanish.”

“I hate it.”

Well, I wanted to ask a question.

Good thing we were at the bookmobile.

In Mrs. Gowdy’s writing club, 11-year-old Lee is learning how to be an honorable writer. Home Free, Lee’s first story, is about the summer she became friends with Cassandra, a girl who reminds Lee of her favorite heroine, Anne of Green Gables. Lee’s mom is likely to Sniff and say writing is a waste of time, but Lee’s story is wonderful. She’s included embellishments and truths just as she was taught, and she’s incorporated instances of happiness and sadness into her plot. A devoted user of the dictionary, Lee also uses interesting words in her story, such as rapacious, sully, mortified, and perseverance. These words appear italicized in the text, and their definitions follow.

     With Mrs. Gowdy and Cassandra in her life, Lee will always have good stories to tell. Lee may be an inspiring writer and a frequent visitor of the library bookmobile, but she also spends a lot of her time daydreaming about orphans. From the books she’s read, she believes they must lead fascinating lives and go on great adventures. Orphans also appear to have more freedom and fewer worries than Lee. Lee is always being told by her mom what good girls do and how young ladies act. Her mom wants her to marry young and work a few years as a nurse or teacher. Not only does Lee long for more freedom at home, but she desperately wants to meet her kindred spirit, just as Anne Shirley was lucky enough to do in Anne of Green Gables. When Cassandra Jovanovich moves next door to Lee for the summer, it appears that might just happen. Cassandra has red hair like Anne, a fancy name Anne would admire, and she’s an orphan. When they meet, Cassandra is willing to go to the library with Lee, listen to her talk about her former best friend Kathy, and help her write a play, but she will not talk about being an orphan, not even when Lee confesses a secret. By the end of the summer though, Cassandra does open up, and Lee finally realizes what being an orphan means to Cassandra.

     Both girls in this story gain the courage to do daring things. They do ignore a rule about no skinny-dipping, but, by the end of the book, they learn to trust themselves enough to ask for what they want, talk to the people they want, and dream the dreams they want.

     Set in the time when the Beatles were on the radio and bottles of pop cost pennies, Home Free explores the themes of friendship and parental relationships. Lee’s story will resonate with many young girls today. She shares her story in such an honest way that it’s easy to feel a rapport with her right from the start.

     The little thrill I would feel when reading a Judy Blume book returned when I read Home Free. Lee’s story should sit front and centre in a “Gutsy Girl” display. Both Lee and Sharon Jennings were brave enough to write something that is so relatable to many girls this age. My only suggestion to improve the book would be to change the cover. It needs to be more interesting and colorful.

     Sharon Jennings has a Master’s degree in English and two diplomas in Speech Arts. She has worked as an editor and in publishing. Sharon has written over sixty books for children including No Monsters Here, Into My Mother’s Arms and When Jeremiah Found Mrs. Ming. She lives in Toronto.

Highly Recommended.

Tanya Boudreau is a librarian at the Cold Lake Public Library in Cold Lake, AB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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