CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 11 . . . . November 16, 2012
The third time her stepfather hit her, Maddie ran away. She has spent the last few weeks fending for herself, sleeping in boxes, then at the Pax House shelter, until she meets Q. Though she is wary at first, Maddie is drawn to Q, and he to her, partly out of necessity, and partly out of mutual respect and attraction. Maddie knows that a life on the streets is not sustainable. But she has a plan save money, get a job, go back to school, become a doctor.
One day, Maddie meets a young mom and her three young children in line for the showers at Pax House shelter. Maddie befriends them, and when they meet up again a few days later, the boy’s dad asks Maddie if she’ll watch the oldest while he and his wife take the other two to the doctor. Dylan’s parents don’t come back. And they’ve packed his pyjamas and toothbrush in his plastic bag.
The next day, Q finds both a job and a small apartment for them to stay in. With an address, Maddie can get a library card. She has been going to the library every day to study in preparation for returning to school. She begins to feel herself changing; she isn’t the person she was when she ran away, and she isn’t the person she was a few weeks ago when she met Q. She doesn’t know who she is yet, but she senses it’s all going to be okay. It is Maddie’s sense of surety and optimism that guides her throughout the novel. As she and Q slide into a comfortable relationship, and they struggle to be caregivers to Dylan, difficulties begin to mount. Q is doing the best he knows how to provide for the ‘family’, and he thinks winning at a weekly poker game is his surest way.
Increasingly, Maddie comes to realize that she and Q have different goals. He wants to save and get a house in the country and raise chickens, but Maddie’s plan of returning to school doesn’t waiver. One day, in preparation for a high-stakes poker game, Q asks Maddie if he can borrow the money she’s been saving. Taken aback that he even knows about the money she has been secreting away, she refuses. But after bathing Dylan that evening, Maddie discovers that Q has taken all of her meager savings. Here Maddie makes a pivotal decision in order to give herself and her family a chance to survive.
Readers never learn Maddie’s age. Because she is able to drive, she is likely an older teen. Because readers are also not told the name of the city in which the novel takes place, they can imagine that the book’s action could be happening near where they live, and that Maddie could be any teenager. Maddie has strong convictions, and despite coming from a broken and abusive home, she has a solid moral foundation and sense of responsibility. Readers will root for her from the moment they meet her and with every decision she makes. Readers also meet other people struggling to survive; people living in their vehicles, people scavenging food from dumpsters, and others from the Pax Shelter and from the street.
Ryan’s exceptionally well-written novel presents issues of homelessness, abuse and poverty, as well as society’s over-consumption and waste. Characters are clearly written, multi-dimensional, strong and believable. Each main character is well-intentioned but flawed, and it is difficult to fault them for their missteps. People just like these are right in front of our eyes. Pieces of Me is a heart-rending and heart-warming glimpse into the journey of a handful of these people, what they need to deal with daily to survive, and how they succeed. And sometimes fail.
Darlene Ryan has come a long way from winning a poetry contest in grade three. She is the author of several books for teens, including Rules For Life, Five Minutes More, Saving Grace, and Responsible. Her most recent title, Cuts Like a Knife, was a Junior Library Guild Selection.
Chris Laurie is an Outreach Librarian at Winnipeg Public Library in Winnipeg, MB.
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