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"Difficult relationships come into our lives for a reason. No one would choose them, certainly. But if we let them, they can teach us how to be flexible with others and more forgiving.” –Almost Home
by Joan Bauer
AR Test, Good for Reluctant Readers
Sugar’s life isn’t perfect, but she’s content. She has a best friend, a teacher who encourages her to write, and a home to go to. When life throws difficulties her way, Sugar looks at the bright side. But when Sugar becomes homeless, she had a hard time finding the good in life.
Then Sugar’s mother Reba decides to move to Chicago hoping for a fresh start, but when Reba doesn’t get the job she had hoped for, she has a nervous breakdown. Sugar and her puppy Shush are moved into foster care. Throughout the story, Sugar holds on to her dreams and learns that life can be good, despite her circumstances.
Sugar is as sweet as her name. She is an engaging character that the reader will fall in love with. She pours out her feelings of fear, loneliness, and confusion through poetry, which allows the reader to understand Sugar’s thoughts and emotions. Sugar’s cute, fearful puppy is added to the mix which makes Almost Home even more enjoyable. As Sugar narrators her own story, the reader gets a glimpse of what it feels like to be homeless. Because Sugar is a sixth-grader, the story is told in a manner that is age-appropriate for younger readers.
There is much to like about Almost Home. Sugar meets interesting characters of all ages who add delight to the book. The majority of the adults in the book are shown to be kind people who only want to help. And even though Sugar’s mother Reba has a nervous breakdown, in the end, Reba shows that despite her imperfections, she truly is trying to be a better person because she loves her daughter.
Much of Sugar’s life lessons came from her grandfather, King Cole, who imparted much wisdom about not giving up. Even though her grandfather is dead, his character still shines through. Through sharing Sugar’s story, the reader will learn that sometimes taking one step takes great courage, but it’s necessary to keep moving if you are going to keep your dreams alive.
- One of the character’s dad cheated on her mother and went into hiding. Later the character discovers that after her father disappeared, he married another woman and had a son.
- Mr. Leeland “gives Reba a too-long kiss.”
- A boy tells Sugar, “I had a dog—it died. It keep barking, so my uncle shot it.”
- When Mr. Leeland shows up drunk, one of the children “makes a big run at him from behind, shouts a war cry, and pushes him down. Mr. Leeland is on his face moaning.” Reba then stands on him. “She digs her heels into his back.” And then she kicks him out of the house.
Drugs and Alcohol
- Sugar’s father, who she calls Mr. Leeland, comes and goes, but never stays long. “He only cared if there was food and beer in the refrigeration. . .” Later Sugar talks about when Mr. Leeland got drunk. At the end of the book, he reappears drunk.
- Sugar is living in a shelter that does not allow drinking. Her mother, “normally doesn’t drink, except when Mr. Leeland is around, but she and this lady Evie, who lives at the shelter, they have a drink now and then in Evie’s room.”
- One of the characters talks about her foster daughter who was on and off drugs and ended up dying of an overdose. The character tells Sugar, “Drugs are out there, and they’re looking for kids to destroy . . . You’ll never feel worse than you do on drugs. You could end up like Tonya—stone cold dead.”
- Sugar was born in the back seat of a car. In the narration, Sugar explains, “When I popped out and Reba saw the Sugar Shack sign, she felt it was a sign from God; right there I got my name. At least God told her to stop at Sugar. Sugar Shack Cole would have been a chore to live with.”
- Sugar writes prayers to God. When she is in a difficult situation, Sugar “tried to pray like King Cole told me, but I couldn’t. I felt like the earth had opened up and swallowed us into a dark place—a place no prayers ever got answered.”
- Sugar wonders, “If King Cole can see me from heaven. I wonder if God is paying attention, or if he’s off helping people who have places to live.”