CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 20 . . . . January 27, 2012
For 12-year-old Mel, “home” has always been where her mother Cecily is. Having moved around from place to place since she was a small child, Mel has never known a permanent, safe physical space that was truly “home” to her. Living a life that dips in and out of poverty and homelessness, Mel was always aware of her constant hunger, lack of money, and ever-changing living situation. When Cecily declares that they’re going “home”, Mel is confused until she realizes that her mother is dragging them back to her old home town, the place where Cecily grew up and where Mel was born.
When Mel and Cecily arrive at Mel’s grandmother Gladys’ house, their welcome is less than a warm one. Gladys refuses to open the door to let in her daughter and granddaughter, and Mel and Cecily again find themselves homeless, living out of their now broken down vehicle and depending on the local soup kitchen for food. Cecily’s plans didn’t work out the way she intended, and she reacts by taking what little money they have, spending it on alcohol, and disappearing, leaving Mel to fend for herself for days. When the local soup kitchen coordinator, Rose, a caring and trusted presence in Mel’s life, realizes that Mel is on her own, she steps in. Mel is forced to accept help from authorities and discovers that her mother was arrested and is going to jail for shoplifting. After going before a judge at her mother’s hearing, Mel is sent to live with her estranged grandmother. The story continues as Mel and her grandmother slowly begin to trust each other, and Mel struggles to find a place for herself that no longer is just about her and Cecily.
In Tinfoil Sky, Cyndi Sand-Eveland has written a highly readable, insightful, and engrossing story with a character with whom young people with similar backgrounds will identify. She is strong and capable, yet wary, vulnerable, and cautious with her trust. Mel had to grow up too quickly; her mother behaved more like a child that needed to be cared for than Mel ever did. With Cecily’s addiction problems and inability to manage money responsibly, it’s always been up to Mel to be the adult in the relationship. Mel’s voice is powerful, and the emotions she experiences are raw and fully felt by readers who won’t be able to help themselves from being absorbed into Mel’s story, still hopeful, and wanting to believe Cecily’s broken promises themselves.
However, no matter how much Cecily screws up and disappoints Mel, she is a character that is neither one-dimensional nor vilified. It is this relationship between Mel and Cecily that brings the most insight and depth to the story. Cecily is very much depicted as a woman who is travelling her own path, one that is ultimately different than Mel’s. Cecily struggles with her own demons and problems apart from being a mother of a child who has no choice but to depend on her for support. As Cecily comes to terms with her poor life decisions, she ultimately realizes that she is not the best person to be responsible for Mel’s care and upbringing, and Mel must choose for herself what role she wants to live: that of adult or child.
Filling this parental void is Mel’s grandmother, Gladys, who, after being lied to, cheated, and abandoned by Cecily--many times over many years—is distrustful, quick to judge, and slow to forgive. Mel and Gladys must work toward not only learning who each other is after so many years of being apart, but also to learn to trust each other. They must work together to peel the tinfoil off the dark and dusty windows to reveal the bright blue sky waiting for them.
An insightful book that accurately depicts reality for many children and families, Tinfoil Sky is a must-buy for public and school library collections alike. Although the novel is most suitable for older children and younger teens, it has solid high interest/low vocabulary qualities that would make it an excellent choice for older teen readers looking for an accessible and interesting story. Put into the right young people’s hands, readers will see their own experience reflected and find comfort and hope as they recognize themselves in the pages.
Amy Dawley is the teen librarian at the Prince George Public Library in Prince George, BC.
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