Where We Belong (by Catherine Ryan Hyde)

I’ve liked all the books I’ve read by Catherine Ryan Hyde, so I’m gradually acquiring more, mostly via my wish-list and generous relatives. I was given this one earlier in the year for my birthday.

The blurb on the back of ‘Where We Belong’ mentions that it’s about 14-year-old Angie and her mum, who are regularly homeless. The problem is Angie’s younger sister Sophie, who is on the autistic spectrum, and prone to loud shrieking. I thought it an interesting premise for a book.

It is narrated by Angie, in the first person, starting when she is fourteen. The book is divided into different sections, ending when she is seventeen. We first meet her family staying with a great aunt who clearly finds it difficult having them in the house. Then Sophie develops a passion for a neighbour’s dog, and although the neighbour is quite abrupt and unfriendly at first, he learns to respect Angie and they slowly become friendly.

Angie’s a dreamer, old for her years; partly this is because she’s had to take so much responsibility for her sister, and partly her inherent personality. Her mother works at any job she can find to earn a basic income, but she has to be with Sophie when Angie is at school.

Disaster strikes when the dog and her owner move away, and it’s not long afterwards that Angie’s family are asked to leave, and set off with no real destination in sight...

The plot is character-driven, very well written from the realistic point of view of a mature, thoughtful teenager. Angie struggles with her own wishes which are often at odds with the duties of a big sister whose sibling has serious learning difficulties. She finds it very hard to make friends of her own age, partly because she has to move schools, and partly because she can never invite anyone home.

There’s a theme that recurs in this author’s books, that of honesty and integrity, and indeed generosity, being their own reward in unexpected ways. Catherine Ryan Hyde popularised the idea of ‘paying forward’ good deeds, in one of her earlier books, ‘Pay it Forward’, that was made into the film of the same name. Angie is sometimes angry, sometimes confused, but she doesn’t hesitate to admit when she has done something wrong, and she always keeps her promises. Nor will she take advantage of others, and despite the family’s economic struggles, she is reluctant to take payment for tasks she enjoys doing for others.

I liked Angie very much, and enjoyed the mixture of other characters, including Sophie herself, who is unable to communicate anything much other than anger. And although it took a couple of chapters to get into it, I enjoyed the book very much indeed. It’s often poignant, quite sad in places, and highlights some of the issues of homelessness and poverty, as well as the difficulties besetting children on the autistic spectrum.

Very highly recommended.

Review copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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