Content Warnings: death of a parent, foster care, cancer, deportation of a parent
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From the author of The Other Boy comes a poignant and heartfelt novel that explores what it means to be a family. Perfect for fans of Counting by 7s.
Nevaeh, Vic, and Mara are veterans of the Los Angeles foster care system. For over a year they’ve been staying with Mrs. K in Echo Park. Vic spends most of his time living in a dream world, Mara barely speaks, and Nevaeh is forced to act as a back-up parent. Though their situation isn’t ideal, it’s still their best home yet.
Then Child Protective Services places Quentin in the house, and everything is turned upside down. Nevaeh really can’t handle watching over anyone else, especially a boy on the autism spectrum. Meanwhile, Quentin is having trouble adjusting and attempts to run away.
So when Vic realizes Quentin just wants to see his mom again, he plans an “epic quest” to reunite them. It could result in the foster siblings getting sent to different group homes. But isn’t family always worth the risk?
Stories of children in foster care are always desperately needed, especially when it comes to the age of middle grade. Kids need to be able to see themselves in stories for a wide variety of reasons, and M.G. Hennessey’s second novel, The Echo Park Castaways, gives them that opportunity. And while I’m glad this book is available to those that need it, I can’t say that it comes without issues.
The overall story of The Echo Park Castaways was fantastic! Things moved at a really great pace and made it easy for me to finish the book in a single sitting because I found myself wanting to know what would happen. The events that took place were also believable. Had the characters been adults, none of the story would have happened, but these were kids and the decisions they made felt authentic.
When it comes to the characters, things were hit and miss. Nevaeh was incredible and so strong when she found herself in an unfortunate and unfair situation. I really loved seeing her growth and development throughout the story. Vic was a little too over the top for me, but by the end, I was able to understand why. He also showed great development which is a crucial component to any story.
Quentin was a wonderful character and I felt that the chapters from his perspective were written well. What I didn’t like when it came to him was how the others treated him and his Asperger’s. This part of him was mostly seen as a laughable thing throughout the entire book. Children are so impressionable and we have to start doing better about the message we are sending them when it comes to people with medically challenging lives.
Something else that bothered me was how Mara was the only character that never got her own POV. It’s mentioned numerous times that she doesn’t speak much English and knows only Spanish, but why does that mean her story is less important? Everybody deserves to have their truth told through books. By choosing to leave this character out, the author erased the chance for kids like Mara to see themselves.
The Echo Park Castaways has great potential to do well, especially in middle school libraries. This story is great for kids who enjoy books about real-life problems and determined characters. I just hope that adults are taking the time to also read this and then talking to their students to help them recognize the good parts and learn from the bad.
A physical finished copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.