Middle of Nowhere by Caroline Adderson is shortlisted for the Chocolate Lily Award in the grades 4-6 category.
Disclosure: The copy I read is from my local library.
When Curtis’s mom doesn’t come home one day after work, Curtis is absolutely one hundred percent certain that she will come home tomorrow. Except that tomorrow ends up being several tomorrows. Curtis is left trying to cake care of his five year old brother, Artie, and trying to conceal the fact from all the adults in the world – his teacher, Artie’s teacher, his mom’s ex-boss, the landlord, the telephone company, and the old lady who lives across the street. Because there is no way Curtis is going back into foster care. Again. Or ever letting Artie be taken away from him and bullied by a foster-brother, the way Curtis had been years ago, before Artie was born. Except now Curtis and Artie are running out of food. And the mean old woman across the street turns out to be kind, if odd, and a darn good cook to boot. Maybe going on holiday with old Mrs. Burt to her cabin on the lake is Curtis’ big chance to keep himself and Artie out of foster care, at least until his mom returns…
Sixth-grade Curtis’s faith in his mom and admiration for his teacher feel real, as does his love for (and frequent frustration with) Artie. Curtis’s relationship with Mrs. Burt, who has serious flaws and troubles of her own, as well as genuine kindness, is more complicated and develops believeably as their interests and plans begin to collide. Curtis’s conviction that his mom will keep her promise to never leave him again is not entirely supported by the text, with the exception of her ex-boss’s comments on her reliability. However, this does set up a nice tension between what Curtis believes and what the reader believes, which is eventually resolved, although the ending itself felt a bit contrived. It was refreshing to see a single mother character who is wholeheartedly loved by her children despite the financial precariousness of their situation as she completes her high school education while working, apparently without child care assistance or any familial support. The story is neatly paced, as characters deceive and are deceived. Curtis’s contentment with life at the lake and growing competence at necessary outdoors skills – as well as his dismay with certain aspects of roughing it – make for an enjoyable read.